Spent a few days last week hiking in the Belgian Ardennes, specifically the region known as Hautes Fagnes, French for High Fens. Oh. Em. Gee. Crazy beautiful. Want proof? Here ya go.
The Hautes Fagnes are the wildest, highest mountains in Belgium, and apparently they are the last of the Ardennes before the Eifel Hills, on the border with Germany. Spring can be an iffy sort of time for this area, and the weather report called for snow the week after I left! Luckily for me, the few days I was in the high country, I had good weather, not warm but when you’re hiking you don’t want warm. Not if you’re really hiking, anyway. I learned to hike in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, very rugged country. Did you know that the highest peak east of the Mississippi River is in my home state of North Carolina? Yep, Mount Mitchell, just around the bend from where I was born in beautiful Mitchell County. But enough about me. Hiking. Ardennes. Belgium. Here’s what you need to know.
There are literally hundreds of hiking trails, as well marked as any I’ve ever used. Of course, you CAN get lost — be aware of where you are and in spite of the temptation to look down, keep looking up. That’s where the signs are posted. Trail markers tend to be colored shapes: green diamonds, blue crosses, etc. The trails criss-cross each other sometimes, and you shouldn’t be surprised to maybe meet the same person twice on the same trail in spite of the fact that you are following different markers. The hikes also double onto some of the GR (Grandes Randonées) trails. These are hikes that may be as long as 180 kilometers and are marked with squares of two lines, one red and one white. There are many hundreds of kilometers of GR’s in Belgium. Find out more here. You can pick up a booklet of potential hikes at any hotel or tourist spot. Most of the booklets are in French, Dutch or German; I suppose you can find versions in English; I didn’t. There are good websites to guide you as well; I’m a fan of this one.
The hikes vary from three or four kilometer strolls to many kilometer mountain trekking and everything in between. The hike I chose for the first day out was a long one, fourteen kilometers, and definitely mountainous. I wanted some nice views, so I asked at the desk for advice, and I ended up on a hike called Vallées et Cretes which promised beautiful views and advised “hiking boots which support the ankles well.” They were certainly right about that. The hike was supposed to be about four to four and a half hours long; I supposed it would be if you had taken it in the right direction, but as I am directionally challenged, I did the hike backwards from how the booklet advised. As a result, the same thought kept running through my head — haven’t the Belgians ever heard of switchbacks, for crying out loud??? However, uphill is probably preferable to going downhill at my age; my lungs got a serious workout but my knees were saved.
It was a decent workout, as you can see by the photos above, and it also gave me a lot of opportunities to enjoy some nice views and clean air. The hike took me about five hours, largely because I stopped fairly often to thank our Creator for his spectacular beauty, and to try to capture some of it in photos. And of course, it’s Europe, so there was at least one surprise along the way.
I hiked another day, a short one, and again it was beautiful, moreso, in fact, than the first day, with spectacular views. On this day, I was heading back home, so I hiked only for a couple of hours. You can see all the photos I took on both days if you click on this link.
I used a Belgian site to book the mini-vacation: travelbird.com. The trip was a bargain at 200 euros for three nights in a four-star resort located in the village of Ovifat, near Robertville, and included free parking, a three course dinner in the restaurant and breakfasts. The resort, Domaine des Hautes Fagnes, boasts a spa, and they do speak English. It isn’t much of a “spa,” though. Indoor pool, small whirlpool, sauna and steam room, with the opportunity to purchase massages and such. Relaxing, comfortable, but not really a spa. (If you are looking for a spa, choose Thermae Boetfort, near Brussels (profiled here) or Spa itself, also in the Ardennes, or Thermae 2000 in Valkenburg, Netherlands. All of these are world-class spas, offering just about everything you could imagine, including accomodations.) I did get a pretty decent massage, but it was pricey. That wasn’t what these few days were about, though. I needed a good base from which to hike, and Domaine des Hautes Fagnes was just right for that; there were a lot of other hotels around, too. If you want to stay on water, there is Robertville, which has its lake. Very near where I stayed, and still in the Hautes Fagnes, this is where I want to stay next time. Find more information here. I drove by the Hotel des Bains, and it looked really super, also four-star, I believe. I didn’t stop, though; do your research. There are plenty of hotels to choose from.
Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany: if you live in one of these places, get out there! The hiking rivals any I’ve experienced anywhere.