Belgium // The Ardennes //

Walking, cycling and canoeing in the Ourthe valley

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The tourist office in La Roche sells a rather rudimentary walking map (Carte de Promenades), with a dozen circular walks marked in the vicinity. The longest and most attractive of these is the 13km Walk 5, which takes about six hours and is mildly strenuous. It starts on rue Bon Dieu du Maka, near place du Bronze, and rises steeply before levelling out through the woods above town and across fields of wildflowers. The walk follows GR route 57, dropping sharply to the river at Maboge, where several cafés offer lunch, then rejoining the main road for 500m until it turns left alongside a tributary of the Ourthe as far as the farm at Borzee. From here the route is easy to find, again heading through the woods with fabulous views, but when it descends towards the town keep your eyes peeled for a right and then an immediate left down an unpromising footpath that drops you onto the main road by the river. From here, take the second right for a final gentle stretch above the road, with good views over the town. Allow around three hours’ walking time for the 13km; to extend the route by an hour or so, pick up Walk 12 at Borzee, joining Walk 11 as far as the small town of Samree and returning through the forest to La Roche.

If you’re after a shorter hike, follow Walk 4, a 6km route that takes about two hours. From the tourist office, head for place du Bronze and before you cross the bridge turn left on rue Clerue, and sharp left again up rue St Quolin. Turn left at the top and follow the road round to St Margaret’s Chapel, built in 1600 and once connected to the castle by an underground passageway. Just left of the chapel, a scramble up the steep slope leads up to a lookout point with views over La Roche, while continuing up the footpath brings you to the attractive but often crowded Parc Forestier du Deister. If you continue through the park you’ll rejoin Walk 4, looping briefly north and then dropping back to town, all along the roadway. Alternatively, GR route 57 provides a full half-day’s walking between La Roche and the hamlet of Nadrin, a distance of around 15km. Nadrin is home to a belvedere – actually a high tower with a restaurant attached – from which you can see the River Ourthe at six different points on its meandering course in and out of the tightly packed hills. The return journey can be completed by bus, but this only runs twice daily, so be sure to check times with the tourist office before you leave.

Cycling, canoeing and other activities

Obviously enough, renting a mountain bike allows you to see more of the surrounding forests: eight circular routes are set out in the Carte des Circuits Cyclotouristes, on sale at the tourist office. Bikes can be rented from Ardennes Aventures by the north bridge. They also organize canoeing trips on the Ourthe, bussing you (or letting you mountain bike) to Maboge for the 10km paddle downstream to La Roche (€15 per person, €30 with the bike ride), or to Nisramont for the strenuous 25km river trip (€20). They also organize river rafting and cross-country skiing in the winter.

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