A DAY TRIP TO LA ROCHE-EN-ARDENNE
The Ardennes region is renowned for its thick forests, jagged cliffs, and many charming villages nestled in picturesque river valleys. The countryside is this area is popular with hikers too thanks to its hilly terrain and great views. After visiting so many towns and cities across the Netherlands and Belgium over the past few weeks, we were pretty keen to do some walking again and so made our way to the tiny town of La Roche-en-Ardenne for the today to explore some Ardennese forests and hills.
This part of Belgium is named for the vast forest that covered the land in Roman times – the Arduenna Silva. Although that original forest is gone, this is still a very lovely part of the world. As our bus made its way down to La Roche, as the locals call it, the landscape unfolded around us and all we could see were tree-lined country roads, charming cottages, rolling farmland, and dense forests all the way to the horizon. The rural parts of the Ardennes are by far the prettiest parts of Belgium we’ve seen so far.
We reached La Roche within a hour or so of leaving Namur and immediately fell in love with the little village under the shadow of a big rock.
La Roche sits along the banks of the River Ourthe, beneath wooded hills and under the shadow of Deister Hill. As we’ve come to expect from this part of Belgium, there was a fortress on the rock above La Roche, and a beautiful church in town. There was also a lovely riverside promenade that we got to stroll along.
Our first stop was the town’s 19th century church, which was nice enough, though a little PINK on the inside for our tastes.
From the church we walked up the steep cobbled path to the town’s Medieval castle. There we found out that La Roche was first settled in the Neolithic era. It was the Romans who first built a fort there following their conquest of the Ardennes. After the retreat of the Romans the Gauls settled here and built the first stone fortress atop Deister Hill to guard the River Outhe and the trading town of La Roche below. The current castle was built in the 11th century and is made of large interlocking of pieces of local shale, held together by a mixture of chalk and sand.
As we clambered around the various towers and ruined rooms of the castle we got some superb panoramic views of the town below and the Ourthe valley.
While we were at the castle, there was a falconry display on. We joined the crowd of families watching the display of the falcon’s swooping and hunting abilities, and later got to see the falconer’s collection of birds of prey (which included a gorgeous eagle and a viciously ugly vulture).
From the fortress we continued on uphill, taking our time as we hiked through the national park behind La Roche. The forest there was dense and very, very green. We got to see rabbits and squirrels frolicking amongst the undergrowth, and enjoyed a whole lot of peace and quiet.
On way our back into La Roche we came across a tiny chapel which we later learned was built in the 16th century and dedicated to St Margaret. No longer in use, the chapel sits high above La Roche and made for a good place to stop and enjoy the views.
Once we’d made our way back down into town it was well and truly time to eat so we went seeking sustenance. Knowing that this part of the Ardennes is renowned for its smoked ham and cured meats, we made a beeline for the large charcuterie (i.e. deli) in the town’s main square. Here we were able to select a few locally made cured meats and have it served to us with a generous salad in the small restaurant area next door. Needless to say it was AWESOME!
After lunch we strolled through town for a little longer before catching the bus back here to Namur for our last night in Belgium (tomorrow we’re moving on to Luxembourg). We’ve had an interesting time here in Belgium, and although the architecture and history has been fascinating, we’ve struggled a little to “find our groove” here. Interactions with people have been… awkward and difficult; most people have been quite cold and unfriendly, and seem to resent having tourists around. It’s actually been a bit strange because, in most places we’ve been, the people have been one of the highlights. Here, the people have been one of the lowlights. Maybe it’s because it’s August and things are busy, so the locals are just sick of there being SO MANY tourists around; or maybe it’s because most Belgians seem to be holiday at the moment so the ones left working (serving us) just wish they were on holiday too. We haven’t quite been able to put a finger on it, but as much as we liked parts of Belgium, we just don’t feel like we LOVED it. Everyone’s experience is different obviously, but in all honesty we’re not sad at all to be leaving tomorrow! Hopefully Luxembourg will be a little more welcoming…
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