Well, sometimes I forget how close Belgium is to my new home in the Netherlands and it so often becomes a country that is overlooked. It is though, a place worth visiting, with a wealth of history, cultural sites and diverse range of interesting and beautiful landscapes.
I was lucky enough, on this recent excursion, to visit the fabulous Ardenne region. Which includes the unique exposed landscape of the High Fens - Eifel, in the north and the densely wooded Ardenne forest located in the south.
The Ardenne is an area that I've read a great deal about, past through several times (en route to somewhere else) and from time to time seen on the movies. Especially, old war films that depict epic WW2 battles like the 'Battle of the Bulge'. As a result of this, I've always found it a pretty inspiring place and have therefore looked forward to visiting and exploring it for some time.
So, now was my time to get out, explore and enjoy these wonderfully natural landscapes and after doing so, it definitely makes me want to visit more regularly in the future.
The Ardennes region is situated in the south-east corner of Belgium and is one of nature's unspoilt areas. It is a diverse landscape, that is rich in fauna and flora. It is home to vast swaths of forests, like broadleaf woodlands and dense fir forests. It is home to undulating hills and fast flowing rivers, as well as the open expanses of the amazing High Fens - Eifel Natual Park.
It is a naturally beautiful area, with an abundance of interesting natural scenery and interesting range of wildlife. Here you will see a variety of deer, wild boar, insects, reptiles and a wide range of birds species. Living harmoniously within their natural habitat and adjoining farmlands.
During the seasons the Ardennes becomes a popular area for many visitors and tourists, who come to enjoy wandering through the many picturesque villages nestled in the valleys, where many traditions and folklore still live on, and to also enjoy the region's many arts and crafts, unique to this particular region.
Enjoying the active life
All seasons are popular in the Ardennes, with a variety of different activities there to be enjoyed by any visitor.
Springtime in the Ardennes is the season for walking, cycling, fishing, canoeing and kayaking. With a many areas, catering for such pursuits. During my time there, many hours were spent walking woodland trails, following routes through dense woodland and crossing the remote high fens.
Many of the walking routes differ in difficultly, from gentle strolls to more challenging affairs. Be sure to check out the following websites, that will help you plan your route.
During this visit we spent a few days exploring the surroundings of the spectacular High Fens, walking on many of its popular routes. We also enjoyed hiking in the forests, where gps and the essential guide markers, helped to keep us on the right path.
Horse riding, climbing and mountain biking are other examples of popular sports in the Ardennes, with many miles / km of trails there to be explored and discovered. Again, the majority of these routes differ in range of difficulty, so be sure to check out the potential route before setting off.
Furthermore, the keen mountaineer has many an exciting choice of challenges, with rocky outcrops there to be discovered and conquered.
In the Winter months, an abundance of snowfall turns the Ardennes into a fun paradise for downhill and cross country skiers, or perhaps you prefer tobogganing and snow scooter racing, is more to your liking.
Finally, there is action, to be discovered, even underground. With a large network of splendid caverns to be enjoyed and explored. These caverns resemble, 'show caves' and even more challenging routes for the intrepid caver. All of these caverns are certainly worth a visit.
I'm personally not into caving. I'm a geographer and have experienced 'life underground' and although not a great fan of being in tight spaces. The geographical structures and appearance were pretty amazing.
The Ardennes area is steeped in history. Amongst the beautiful greenery lies the silent witnesses of the past, such as castles, forts and citadels. These unique historical sites are dotted all around the landscape, so be sure to look carefully, in case of missing something worthwhile.
They come to life again during many special events and displays, where knights and their shield bearers turn the neighbourhood into a battlefield.
On this particular visit we stumbled across the Reinhardstein Castle, which is strategically positioned at the bottom of a steep sided river valley.
If you blink, you'll miss it, but if you manage to find it, it is well worth a visit. With good viewing points all around, a great hike at the bottom of the valley and waterfall.
During WW2 the Ardennes was the scene of a major battleground once more, where the German Army offensive attempted to push back the Allied forces into northern Belgium and France.
The battle was referred to as the 'Battle of the Bulge'. It not only took many lives, but also took place during the depths of winter, within the months December 1944 to January 1945.
Heavy snowfalls and rough terrain meant that the battles intensified and obviously displaced many people and took a large number of casualties.
Throughout the Ardennes region there are many commemorative sites and museum, to mark and respect the people lost during this time.
Images from the trip
Below are a selection of images I took on my Samsung Smartphone and also my old, but trustworthy Samsung NX1000.
I have edited these photos, with basic editing techniques, through the use of Snapseed and also Instagram.
Where did we stay?
During this visit we stayed in two different locations, the small town of Eupen and the popular destination of La Roche-en-Ardenne. Both places are well known, along the tourist trail and are ideally located around 2 1/2 hours driving time away from our home in the Netherlands. They are also located close to airports in the southern part of the Netherlands and also Luxembourg.
Eupen is a great town and as previously pointed out it is located close to major road networks and other locations of interest. The has good restaurants, which again cater for all culinary types. Here are 10 of the best. During our visit we stayed at the Ambassador Bosten Hotel, which is situated on the road to the popular Wallonian town of Spa and also Mont Rigi, which is located close to the Haute Fagnes.
The hotel was perfectly located, only a short distance from the pretty town centre and also close to roads that would serve the extensive Ardennes region. The stay was really great and we were lucky enough to be located in the brand new wing of the hotel. It turned out to be just perfect, as everything was simply comfortable and new!
Due to the accommodation and food already being paid for, we chose to eat at the hotel restaurant, which is something we don't always do, but after long days of walking in the cold, it served as a restful break.
Now... I have to admit, I'm not really into fine dining myself, so it doesn't take much to impress me. I do like my food and I generally like it it to be hearty and simple, so much so 'Mum's home cooking'... sorry mum, or good old English 'Pub Grub' always seems to satisfy me.
Although, this place was different. It was a gourmet experience and I have to say... I was really impressed. The food was good and there was course after course, of really great 'locally sourced' produce and wonderfully presented on the plate. The service was friendly and prompt and the taste were divine, fresh and well balanced. So much so that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.
I find being a food critic an uneasy task, so I will stay in the 'safe zone' and recommend it as very good. I think food is a personal thing and who am I to argue with the so called experts. Further reviews can be found here.
La Roche is a popular location and there is plenty to see and do here. We obviously spent a large quantity of our time walking and wandering through the fabulous countryside and forests that surround, but La Roche itself also has plenty on offer.
During our relatively brief stay, we spent one afternoon walking round the town and just enjoying the many different attractions. There are obviously too many to mention and all catering for different interests.
Here are one or two of the highlights we discovered.
Castle ruins provide a prominent vantage point and focal point within the town. It is a great experience to explore with all the family. It was a feudal castle dating back to the 9th century. The towers, murder-holes and oubliettes give you a real feeling of an age-old medieval atmosphere.
A fantastic museum, located in the centre of the town. It is well resourced museum, that has a wide range of artefacts and explanations behind the history of this region, during the Second World War.
Located in an outstanding setting around 2 km (1¼ miles) from the town centre lies is the Parc à Gibier [Wild Game Park]. It is a self contained reserve, that is viewed from a walking trail. Here you'll be able to spot a range of animals from stags, hinds, fallow deer, wolves, lynx, wild cats, foxes, owls and farm animals. A great place for all the family.
4. The Deister viewpoint
A short walk from the centre of the town is a walk, well worth completing. Follow the path next to the little chapel that climbs up to the viewpoint, from where you'll get a stunning panoramic view. We had a guided tour here during our stay and from the top took in the most splendid views of La Roche, nestled in the river valley below.
5. Sainte Marguerite's Chapel
Close to the viewpoint and again on walk numbert 4 is a charming little chapel. The chapel is said to have been built in 1600 near the site of a hermitage. The legend goes that it was built over the spring feeding the castle water tank. This tank is still in existence and can be seen. It is a great place to see and the chapel provides an outstanding setting alongside the old Liège road.
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