Choosing where to walk in the Ardennes is not easy; there are so many wonderful areas to explore. But if you have never been to the Ardennes before, I would recommend La Roche-en-Ardenne. It’s an excellent place to start getting acquainted with this marvellous area of Belgium.
One advantage of this location is that if you set off from Brussels in gorgeous weather and arrive in La Roche to find it pelting down with rain (which in the Ardennes is quite possible), then you can simply change your plan and visit one or more of the town’s museums: the Milling Museum, the Second World War Museum, the Pottery Museum, or even the Ardennes Ham Museum. The town also has a castle with a ghost, which conveniently appears every evening through the summer (although apparently not if it’s raining).
If you go to La Roche intent on a nature ramble, no matter what the weather, then first visit the tourist office on Place du MarchÃ© 15. Here you can choose from a wide selection of maps: walking maps, mountain-biking maps, horse-riding maps, even canoeing maps. I was keen to explore the river, so chose the River Ourthe walking map for 4.50 â‚¬. It has no fewer than 58 colour-coded walks of various lengths and difficulties. I selected the one marked “8 km, 4 hours, very difficult”, starting from Maboge. Here’s a small map of the route: Maboge walk
I was thrilled with it. It took me to the top of the world (or so it seemed), alongside the River Ourthe, and down enchanting forest paths. Just when I was beginning to wonder why it was classified as “very difficult”, I found out towards the end: an almost vertical clamber down through the woods to the riverside. (If you follow this walk, a word of advice: keep left at this point, it’s easier and less dangerous than if you drift right, as I did).
As to the nature, there is plenty to see and hear: kingfishers on the river, woodpeckers in the woods, buzzards in the skies, butterflies along the hedgerows. The highlight for me came when I was resting at the top of a hill: the amazing spectacle of a huge flock of cranes majestically soaring overhead on their annual northerly migration from Portugal and Morocco to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.
La Roche-en-Ardenne is 90 minutes drive from Brussels via the E411, N4 and N89. By train, take the Brussels-Arlon-Luxemburg train, get off at Marloie and take bus no.15 to La Roche.
For the kids – Along fast-flowing rivers in the Ardennes, look out for a fascinating bird called the dipper. If you don’t know what it looks like, imagine a very fat dumpy robin, with a white breast instead of a red one. It’s fascinating because it feeds on water insects by walking upstream along riverbeds — completely submerged and using its wings to maintain balance. Also look for it bobbing up and down (hence its name) on boulders in the middle of the river.
(First published in The Bulletin, August 2007)