Weekend Breaks in Belgium: The Ardennes
I am a huge fan of weekend breaks! (Who isn’t, right?) It’s just the perfect way to discover the surroundings of your current base. It’s not only a way of slow traveling, but also to travel in a more sustainable way.
Now that I am back in my home country, Luxembourg, I love to discover its surroundings with “new” eyes. At the end, even home countries can satisfy the chronic wanderlust of a frenetic traveler like me.
Let me take you on a weekend break, right across the Luxembourgish border, to the green lung of Belgium: the Ardennes! A region that will make every foodie’s and outdoor lover’s heart beat faster!
Belgium seems to have something to satisfy any traveller’s needs: Bruges’ the most romantic town in Europe (for me), Brussels has the urban lifestyle, the coast is for relaxation seekers, Antwerp for fashionistas, Liege for the off-the-beaten track traveller…
In that sense Ardennes and the southern Gaume region, in southern Wallonia, is for outdoor and nature enthusiasts. And foodies (the common point of all Belgian regions)!
Ardennes, also spelled Ardenne, is a region of extensive forests, hills and enchanting rock creations covering most of the Belgian provinces of Namur, Liege and Luxembourg. It also stretches well into Germany and France. This post will mainly focus on the southernmost part of the Ardennes region: the Belgian Luxembourg province.
The main towns of the Belgian Luxembourg province, the south of Wallonia region, (le Luxembourg belge) are Durbuy, Bouillon, Bastogne and Arlon, the provincial capital. For this weekend break itinerary I mostly recommend sites in the western part of the Belgian Luxembourg province.
You might wonder how the Belgian Luxembourg province ended up having the same name as the bordering Grand Duchy of Luxembourg? Well, the territory of the Belgian province used to be part of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg until 1839. However, the western, French-speaking region became part of a new country – Belgium, while the Germanic-speaking part became the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
As the Ardennes region is mostly covered by large, dense forests with a the Semois and Ourthe rivers creating almost fairy-tale like landscapes, the area is particularly coveted among outdoor and nature lovers. Tourism in the Ardennes is still small-scaled and ecologically minded. Make sure to stop from time to time in one of its countless restaurants and enjoy the food from its local producers.
Let me take you on a fun-filled weekend in Belgium’s green lung: the Ardennes.
Find all locations in a map at the end of the post!
Geographic situation: Luxembourg Province is the southernmost province of Wallonia and of Belgium, bordering on the country of Luxembourg, France, and the Belgian provinces of Namur and Liège. Capital: Arlon
Language: French. English is widely spoken.
How to get there:
- By airplane to Luxembourg Airport, Charleroi Airport or Brussels airport.
- Rent a car to drive from airports of Luxembourg, Charleroi or Brussels. Check rental car prices here
- Public Transport: By train. Check connections and prices here
Economy & Activities: Before the 19th century industrialization, charcoal made from harvesting the Ardennes forest. Lateron the steel industry, using coal which made the region the second industrial power area of the world (after Great Britain) in proportion to its territory and to its population. Nowadays agriculture, industrial centers in Liege and Namur, outdoor activities including hunting, cycling, walking and canoeing
Where to stay in Ardennes, Belgium
|THE Place to Stay in Ardennes, Belgium|
|Le Florentin*** (spacious, luxury rooms with selected interior design)|
|Hotel Le Nid d’Izel Gaume-Ardenne***|
|Hotel Au Coeur de Lacuisine***|
|Hotel Panorama ****
|Hostellerie Le Prieuré De Conques****|
|Holiday Home Libin with Hot Tub VI*****|
|Holiday Home Feel Good 06*****
Hotel Le Florentin in Florenville, Belgium
1. Torgny, the most beautiful village in Ardennes, Belgium
When you enter Torgny in Gaume region, also known as the southernmost village of Belgium, you might feel like in Southern France for a second. Nestled in one of the most remote, southern corners in Belgium, close to the French border, Torgny is famous for its Mediterranean-like charm.
Indeed the hand-hewn stones, colorful flowers growing along the ochre-coloured house fronts with their red curved tiles, rather remind Southern France than Wallonia, Belgium.
But Torgny is not only reminiscent of the Mediterranean by the outside, but it also boasts a very particular micro-climate which allows the cultivation of wines.
The best way to explore and enjoy the beauty of Torgny is by strolling around and absorbing the Mediterranean vibe. I loved to see how the only 200 inhabitants cherish their village and each house front is covered by a different type and color of flowers.
After your walk in the village, you might want to enjoy a locally produced apple juice or glass of wine. 500m below the church, “Vin en Vie” serves Pinot and Auxerrois wines made of grapes growing in their backyard.
Exploring Torgny feels like traveling back in time within one of these classical Southern French movies. Just a perfect way to spend your weekend in Belgium.
If you can’t get enough of cute, picturesque villages, you might want to visit more villages bearing the label “Wallonia’s Most Beautiful Villages” such as Celles, Clermont-sur-Berwinne, Crupet, Laforêt, Nobressart, Ny, Ragnies, Soiron, Sosoye, Soulme or Wéris.
Without any doubt Durbuy completes this list of the most beautiful villages in Belgium.
2. Hiking in Ardennes, Belgium
The Ardennes region in the Belgian Luxembourg province is heaven for hiking and trekking lovers. In case you love well indicated trails leading through lush green, dense forests, Ardennes will be like your playground.
Indeed the region is very variated when it comes to landscapes as high plateaus contrast with picturesque valleys created by the rivers Ourthe, Semois, Salm or Lesse.
Hundreds of well maintained trails adaptable for every level make it very hard to choose only one. The longest and most famous trails are the Transardenneaise, the Transgaumaise-Trans Semoisienne or the Escapardenne-Eisleck Trail connecting Belgium to Luxembourg.
Hiking and trekking is the perfect way to spend your weekend break in Belgium.
We didn’t go for any of these super long hikes (we wanted to see as much as possible from the Ardennes in one weekend), thus we opted for the playful trail “Sentier des Fees” (“The Trail of the Fairies”) between Virton and Etalle (at the parking of Croix Rouge crossing, see map below) in Gaume region below the Ardennnes.
Indeed the setting reminded me of an enchanted forest and I wouldn’t be surprised to spot a little fairy… The trail is about 1.5 km and leads through a magical forest, with curious rock formations, home to the fairies of course. During the summer months, thematic trails are organised for kids (and supposed grown-ups like me) where a fairy will guide you through the enchanted woods and you’ll need to meet certain challenges to work for the fairies.
But the Ardennes region cannot only be explored by foot but also by bike, by horse or following the routes of former stagecoaches. It’s simply a paradise for people that enjoy traveling slow and sustainable.
You can find here a selection with the most popular hikes in the Ardennes, Wallonia.
3. Visit Orval Abbey in Ardennes, Belgium
You can’t leave the Ardennes region in southern Belgium without having visited at least one of its legendary Trappist abbeys.
Not only are all of them absolutely stunning attractions and spiritual retreats, but they also produce delicious food and the world-wide coveted trappist beers.
There are a few trappist abbeys in the Belgian Luxembourg province, but we opted to visit the imposing Orval abbey in the Gaume region, south of the Ardennes. Surrounded by lush forests, Orval abbey is close to the French corner an one of the remotest corners of Belgium. It’s an absolute oasis of peace, tranquility and spirituality.
Supporting the Cistercian regulations, the monastery boasts a cheese factory, bakery and confectionery. All of their products can be found in the restaurants or grocery shops in the Ardennes region.
The roots of Orval abbey go back to 1070 when it was founded by Benedictine monks. Later on in 1132, the abbey was incorporated into the Cistercian Order. Many locals gave their lands to the monastery hoping for the eternal prayer of the community.
Slowly Orval Abbey became one of the richest monasteries in southern Belgium. However wars and fires disrupted the routine several times. After the passage of the French Revolutionaries the abbey was left abandoned for over a century… it simply became uninhabitable due to the massive destruction.
The old abbey was used as a stone quarry as long as it was seen worth to be protected by the Belgian government. Soon, the territory was sold again to the Cistercian Order and became a new home for French monks.
I particularly liked the contrast of the old, medieval ruins with the modern, imposing abbey which boasts gorgeous Art Deco details. Monks came back to Orval in 1927 and they follow the spiritual traditions of the Trappist Order until today.
Only a part of Orval abbey can be visited as several patios and buildings are restricted to the monks and accommodated guests at the guesthouse. Guests can even eat together with the monks and the meals are often prepared with Orval beer and the delicious Orval cheese. I’d might start thinking to do a retreat at Orval abbey…
Other trappist abbeys in southern Belgium that are open to public (and brew delicious artisan, trappist beer) are Abbey of Our Lady of Scourmont in Chimay,Abbey of Our Lady of Saint-Rémy in Rochefort. Visiting trappist abbeys is just the perfect road trip for your weekend in Belgium.
Don’t forget to stop by at one of the 2 restaurants (L’Ange Gardien and L’Hostellerie d’Orval) near the abbey to taste some typical Belgian meals prepared with Orval cheese and beer.
Winter ( Feb.) :10.30am – 5.30pm
Mid-season (March-May, October) : 9.30am – 6.00pm
Summer (June to Sept) : 9.30am – 6.30pm
Adults : € 6,00
Reduction senior, student : € 5,00
4. Trappist Beer Tasting in Ardennes, Belgium
Of course you cannot visit Belgium, without tasting (at least) one of its world famous trappist beers.
The Belgian Luxembourg province boast several small and larger breweries producing high-quality beers like l’Ardwen, la Woinic, la Cuvée d’Arthur, la Margoulette, la Sedane,l’Oubliette…
However the most intriguing beer production are the trappist beers that are only produced in monasteries. Only 12 beers in the world can bear the label “trappist”: the beers of Achel, Chimay, La Trappe, Orval, Mont des Cats, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle, Mont des Cats Stift Engelszell, Zundert (NL), Spencer (USA) and Tre Fontane (IT). Most of them are thus produced in Belgium.
In order to be a trappist beer, the breweries need to respect strict standards when it comes to production, advertising and communication.
The beer must be produced within the walls of a Trappist abbey, either by monks or under their supervision. Spiritual life should still be more important than the beer production and the brewery shouldn’t be a profit-making venture. The income from the beers should cover the production fees, expenses of the monks and maintain the buildings and ground of the abbey. All the rest is supposed to go into charity, social welfare and people in need of help.
When it comes to marketing, the advertising language of the beers should be marked by honesty and modesty and in respect with the religious setting of the beer production.
As we visited Orval abbey, we couldn’t leave without a trappist beer and cheese tasting at the Ange Gardien Restaurant which served us 3 kind of Orval beers and 3 different Orval cheeses. A delight!
Orval beer was first brewed in 1931 by a brewmaster originary from Bavaria. It has a fruity note with little bitter hint. The brewing process only uses spring water, hop cones, barley malt, candy sugar and the special Trappist yeast.
The special characteristic in the Orval beer production are the 2 stages in the brewery process: First, in the brewing room, a large quantity of very fine hops are added – creating the famous bitter taste and is the reason why the beer keeps for a longer period of time. In a second stage hops are once again added. The 2 stages produce the very characteristic Orval aroma.
The Orval beer makes a great match with the Trappist cheese from the Abbey, an uncooked, semi-soft cheese, with a naturally washed rind. It is not very strong in taste, but characteristic, thus it appeals to a large public. Just the perfect way to enjoy your weekend break in Belgium.
Orval beer and cheese can be enjoyed in the surrounding shops and restaurants of Orval abbey. However the restaurants next to the abbey created a unique menu card incorporating Orval cheese and beer in their pasta, meat dishes or even their desserts! It’s the perfect stop after visiting the abbey.
5. Bouillon Castle
The town of Bouillon will immediately enchant you by its fairytale setting. Located along the Semois river, the charming town with its towering castle on a rock, boasts an impressive history that goes back to the medieval ages.
Indeed the castle of Bouillon was first mentioned in 988 and still today it impacts by its size and good condition. In 1082, Bouillon Castle was inherited by Godfrey of Bouillon, who sold it to the Bishop of Liège in order to finance the first crusade. The castle was later fitted for heavy artillery by Vauban, Louis XIV’s military architect in the late 17th century.
In order to have the best view on the castle I recommend to take the road to Panorama Restaurant. If you want to enjoy a view on the backside of the castle, you should take the road down to the gothic bridge from 1935 on the Semois river in order to admire the castle in all its beauty. Sitting on the old bridge and being surrounded by lush forests just made me feel like a fairytale.
The castle of Bouillon is open to visitors and the entrance fee includes a falcon and owl show. A treasure hunt can be organized upon request. Visiting the Bouillon Castle is definitely a highlight of your weekend break in Belgium.
Schedules and opening times depend on the time of the year you want to visit and I recommend to check schedules here.
6. Town Center of Bouillon, Belgium
After visiting the castle you shouldn’t leave Bouillon immediately! The charming city center of Bouillon is perfect for strolling around and along its river. And of course enjoy Belgian cuisine in one of its numerous restaurants.
Also known as the “pearl of the Semois” river, Bouillon is one of the most important tourist attractions in the Belgian province of Luxembourg.
For those that are interested in the medieval past of Bouillon, I recommend to visit Musée Ducal who boasts a dedicated section of to the croisades and the architectural evolution of Bouillon castle.
When in the city center of Bouillon, you’ll pass along the Liege Bridge, which was the first structure to be built over the Semois River. It was part of an important trade route connecting Verdun and Liege.
Following the Semois river to the north, you’ll also pass along the stronghold of French-Brittany which is part of the remaining ruins of the city fortification. It is a particularly picturesque place located near the river which invites to sit down for a moment and enjoy the place in all its beauty.
I particularly liked how different each quarter of Bouillon was. There’s the old town, right below the castle which has vast streets and open plazas, bright colored houses. Then right next to it, you’ll find yourself in the Quartier de Bretagne (Brittany Neighbourhood) where soldiers from Brittany used to live. They were in charge of the protection of the town in the 17th century. The houses have a very particular style and it is the perfect place to relax.
7. Chocolate Tasting in Ardennes, Belgium
Chocolate is the undoubted star in Belgium. It doesn’t matter the region or the town, you’ll always find a shop selling the most creative chocolate creations. A chocolate tasting is definitely a must-do on your weekend break to Belgium.
We visited Edouard, Maitre Chocolatier, Chocolat Consultant and Ice-Cream Maker in Florenville, aka the man that you need in your life. And, dear readers, after this visit I see chocolate and ice-cream with different eyes. There’s a before and after having tasted the ice-creams of Edouard.
After living for 8 years in Italy, where Edouard needed to adapt his knowledge about Belgian chocolates to the Italian public, and working in Turkey and Libanon, he came back to Florenville where he opened his shop, tea-room and atelier. Visiting Edouard is not about eating, but about “giving yourself a pleasure”. From the tea-room you have a direct view into the atelier where Edouard’s team is preparing tasteful delicacies.
But first, let’s talk about chocolat! Edouard prepares his creative chocolate creations with only the best and finest ingredients. Quality and selection standards are very high. He generally prefers the combination of 1 or 2 high quality ingredients than mixing 10 of less quality. His creation are real and and surprising in taste, eating a chocolate at Edouard’s is like going back to the origins of chocolate making.
Edouard’s chocolates are creative but not daring. It’s all about the absolute quality standard of the primary ingredients. The combination of the finest cocoa and top ingredients from all over the world result in such alluring creations like melting praliné with rosemary, chocolate with violet flowers, back chocolate with black tea from China with a hint of pear and hazelnut. The one that will definitely leave you speechless is his Gianduja with the finest hazelnuts from Piemont. When it slowly melts in your mouth, you’ll get an idea what heaven must taste like.
If heaven tastes like chocolate, paradise must have the flavour of Edouard’s ice-cream! Edouard learned the art of ice-cream making in Italy and nowadays he gives lessons at the University of Ice-Cream in Bologna (!!) And trust me, eating ice-cream will never be the same again after having tasted Edouard’s Black Chocolate or Madagascar Vanilla Ice-cream. His artisan sorbets are a refreshing and light mix of fruits like pineapple, mango and banana or pineapple, mango and basilic!
Edouard shares his god-like knowledge with anybody who’s interested in doing a workshop at his atelier. Here you’ll learn about the fine art of combining flavours with chocolate and the history of chocolate production. Tailor-made workshops are available upon request.
Edouard will be one of THE reason why you should include Florenville in any Ardenne itinerary. And even if it means a detour, I would run miles for his ice-creams!!
LES CHOCOLATS D’EDOUARD
Place Albert 1er, 36
8. Visit Ardennes Sausage Factory and Tasting
You’ll never Belgium being hungry! Especially the Ardennes region is famous for its hearty and delicious food. But the Belgian Luxembourg province has something more to offer than only beer and chocolate: le Saucisson d’Ardenne, the Ardennes Sausage. You just can’t miss tasting them on your perfect weekend in Belgium.
Recently recognized as a protected geographic product, the Ardennes sausage is a dry sausage with pork or mixed pork and beef meat. After being minced and spiced, the meat is stuffed into natural gut. It’s then fermented and smoked with beech and oak wood and finally dried. The main characteristic of the Ardennes sausage is its pronounced smoked taste.
In fact the Ardennes sausage was only created by the producers of Ardennes ham to enhance its by-products.
The other star of Ardennes’ meat production is the Ardennes Ham which is obtained from the pig’s hind leg by immersion into salt water, dry salting or rubbing with salt, maturing in cold storage and finally being smoked using different wood types. In order to wear the label, the meat must be produced in Belgian province of Luxembourg.
Several factories can be visited, but we opted for the Blaise Salaisons (Blaise Saltings) in Florenville founded in 1910. The craft of salting meat is family-run since three generations. The mid-scale factory is specialized in high-quality artisan products based upon traditional methods and recipes.
Blaise Salaisons produces Ardennes ham, pâtés, regional specialities and, of course, the Ardennes sausage. I particularly liked the creative variations of the traditional sausage by adding Orval beer, shallots or even honey.
But the best of the Blaise Salaisons are definitely the power ladies behind this business! Indeed the business is managed by women since 60 years! You can still greet Andree, the wife of the founder aged 96, at her butcher shop where she follows her passion of selling top quality, artisan products. Stephanie, Andree’s granddaughter, is running the company today with her aunt. (Besides she also manages Le Florentin Hotel and a few shops in the region, a real business lady to look up to!)
9. Canoe Ride on Semois River
The Ardennes region offers a wide range of possibilities for those that are looking for a more active getaway. You can choose among equestrian excursions, skiing (in winter), golf, swimming and climbing activities.
But is there a more relaxing and enchanting way to enjoy Ardenne’s beauty than by canoe? While there are several routes on different rivers that can be explored by canoe, we went from Poupehan to Frahan with Semois Kayaks.
Semois Kayaks also rents kayaks, Stand Up Paddle Boards (SUP) and pedalos. Kayak and canoes routes can be adapted to your needs upon request.
It is an easy ride of 1 hour (there’s the option to do 4 hours as well) which will let you immerse in Ardenne’s beautiful natural landscapes. I did the ride with my sister and it was the perfect opportunity to chat while enjoying the absolutely relaxing movement of our boat. A canoe ride makes your weekend break to Belgium even more relaxing.
After your ride you might to enjoy a refreshing bath while you wait for Kayak Semois’ pick-up service. Followed by some crunchy French fries or a Belgian chocolate ice-cream at their friterie in Poupehan.
10. Food in the Ardennes, Belgium
In case you might still be hungry, you should also try other typical dishes from Ardennes. The lands of the Belgian Province de Luxembourg have a very rich soil which makes it easy to grow a large variety of vegetables and Northern European fruits. The large forests gave birth to a long tradition of wild game meals and the rivers teem with fish like trout, carp and perch.
You can’t miss indulging typical Belgian food during your weekend break in Belgium.
Other typical meals (some of them can be found in other parts of Belgium too) that you need to try when visiting the Ardennes region are:
- French Fries: the best ones are sold in a traditional friterie. These fry shops can be anything from a small truck or established restaurant with a dining room. They also serve all kind of other deep-fried food (frikandeels, curryworst, bitterballen, chicken skewers…), but the main star of the kitchen are crispy French fries. What makes Belgian fries so different? The perfect fry is two-fold! The potato must be soft and fried twice. You can choose among a large variety of sauces in any friterie
- Boterhammen / Tartines: Slices of rustic bread and an uncovered spread, often pâté or soft cheese typically accompanied by a glass of beer
- Filet américain: One of my favorite Belgian meals. Finely minced ground beef eaten raw and cold. Usually served with fries. When served as a dinner, it is mixed with onions and capers like steak tartare, but it retains the name américain. You can optionally add chopped onions, mayonnaise, Tabasco, egg yolk, capers, salt and a bunch of other things.
- Blood sausage: Type of meat sausage mixed with blood and breadcrumbs. EVen if the the mention of ‘blood’ might scare you from this but you should give it a try! It can be served grilled, sauteed, barbecued or eaten raw and best served with potatoes and apple sauce.
- Wild game terrine with mushrooms
- Pâté gaumais: Pâté with pork meat, wine and herbs
- Pikes and trouts
- Gratinated endives with ham and Bechamel sauce
Where to enjoy Belgian food in Ardennes region:
I hope some of these, admittedly very personal, highlights of my visit to Ardennes Region in southern Belgium could convince you to include the beautiful north in your travel plans.
Have you been in Ardennes, Belgium? Did you enjoy it? I would love to hear about the things you loved (or loved less) in the comment form.
Map: Highlights of Ardennes, Belgium
Before You Go: Top Tips for your Trip
- You’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. I travel with a FUJI XT2 (mirrorless, takes amazing photos) and our Action Camera GoPro HERO5 Session (takes beautiful photos in the most extreme situations, sim & lightweight) – all of the cameras are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- To edit photos and answer mails while traveling, I usually take my Touchscreen 2-in-1 Business Laptop with me.
- When spending a lot of time on the road I love to wear my trekking sandals.
- Travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected against all odds with World Nomads.
In order to get more information on tourism in Ardennes, I recommend the site of Luxembourg Belge
Disclaimer: I have been a guest of Ardennes Marketing. All my opinions, as always, are my own. This posts contains affiliate links. In case you purchase one of the items, I’ll receive a small commission. The price remains the same for you.