The Ardennes

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Home Page > Travelogues > Belgium/France > The Ardennes



A Drive Through the Ardennes 



The Ardennes region of continental Europe is known for its deep river valleys, thick forests, and strategic roles it played in the two World Wars.  The region is considerably larger (and concentrated more to the East) than I depMap of Route Covered in this Travelogueict on the hot spot on the Belgian map page, but the hot spot is there to reflect the specific area I drove between the abbeys of Orval and Notre Dame de Scourmont south of Chimay.

The climate lends itself to only a very short window where tourists can hope to appreciate the region's natural beauty.  Apart from July and August, the weather is often foggy, rainy, and cold, and the roads are narrow, windy, and treacherous.  I was fortunate to enjoy this drive on a balmy August afternoon with maximum visibility.

My tour took me through several towns over an eighty-mile stretch.  In this travelogue, I devote a section each to the various towns I stopped.  But before I do, I'll highlight a couple things that these towns all seemed to have in common:

bulletThey all exhibit the same look -- lots of red or gray brick buildings closely lining the main streets, and lots of flowers as decoration.  Some look new and well-kept, others looked a little worn down and slummish.
bulletThey all have World War I monuments, engraved with the names of the town's honored war dead.

Rochehaut, Belgium

Scenic View in Rochehaut

Rochehaut's claim to fame is the scenic view at left of a tight river bend that definitely requires friendly weather to see well.  The above shot is from a scenic vista near the downtown.  The village shown is part of Rochehaut, built inside a very sharp bend in a river.

The upper part of Rochehaut is very pretty and has a number of restaurants and hangouts perched at cliff's edge.  The surrounding area is very pretty, too, but can be a treacherous drive if you're not careful!  The road is windy and not protected by a guardrail the whole way.  So, take it slow.

Vresse, Belgium

Ever pass something that is so hideous that you can't avoid staring at it?  That was my reaction when I saw this sculpture just outside the downtown of Vresse, a riverside town at the bottom of the valley some ten kilometers beyond Rochehaut.

Vresse is a pretty town that seems to pride itself in the arts.  The section of wall you see above is actually part of a town exhibit of local artwork that's about fifty meters wide.  While the center of town maintains the common brick-laid appearance, the outer reaches showed much more flair and character.  When I drove by, there was a regatta taking place on the river.

Traffic Circle in Vresse

Haybes, France

Main Street of Haybes This is the best shot I took to demonstrate what I meant by the 'red-brick look' which is common to this region and to much of Belgium.  Row houses made of red brick in various levels of maintenance are crammed along the streets.

Haybes is a very pretty little town on the border with Belgium.  Not well represented in this digital photo is the gleam of the polished stones that actually made up the entirety of the sidewalk on the right (here it just looks like dull stone).  The church you see is also common for the style seen in the region -- smallish, with a circular floral-style window and one tall, thin spire.  This picture was taken from directly in front of the Hotel de Ville (the town hall), which was also a magnificent building. 

Fumay, France

Fumay reminded me of some of the riverside towns I've visited in Bavaria, although the pic I chose to post here perhaps doesn't show that.  Fumay's economic roots lie in the lumber industry -- as the bridge I crossed here was preceded by at least one major lumberyard.

The flags you see above continue along the river and are a not-to-uncommon display honoring either the nations that liberated the town during WWI, or as a tip of the hat to the European Union (the blue flag just below the church is the EU flag).  Germany, France, and Belgium all pay homage to the EU in such a manner, but it has been my experience that the EU flag flies most prominently in France.

Riverside View of Fumay

Rocroi, France

Battlements of Rocroi

WWI Monument Outside Rocroi

Rocroi, France is a very interesting place -- it is a fortified city that retained its battlements and is a living museum to the battle fought there in World War I.

The center of town is surrounded by a tall wall overlooking wide trenches, such as those seen in the above photograph.  The wall is shaped like a pentagon with towers at each corner (most of which are still well preserved).  One of the walls has been levelled, providing easy access to town for modern visitors, but apart from that,  the only other access is provided in the form of the above bridge -- also lined with the flags of the town's WWI liberators, plus the EU flag and the white flag that I don't recognize (local flag?).

When I took the pic of the bridge,  I was standing not too far away from this monument, which was the more elaborate of the WWI monuments I encountered on this drive.  The obelisk in the back honors the locals who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Each town along the route had a monument and a cemetery devoted to World War I dead.  It is actually rather striking to me that we are quickly approaching the centennial of that conflict that has shaped much of our modern world.  If only we were to preserve the memories of it before they are lost to history, condemning us to repeat them...

Trip Taken 3 August 2001 -- Last Updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin

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