After brainstorming a few ideas for our weeklong staycation in Belgium, I really couldn’t fix on one particular location. So, I decided to keep moving from one place to another from Marche-en-Famenne to Liege. Come along as I discover Wallonia along the valley of River Ourthe, one town after another!

DAY 1 - HAN-SUR-LESSE

Day One was dedicated entirely to Domaine des Grottes de Han at Han-sur-Lesse. I got there from Brussels, by taking the train to Rochefort and then a short bus ride.

There are 4 places to visit in Domaine des Grottes de Han which took our entire day. We started with the Wildlife Park, which began with a short ride on a heritage train. This used to be a functional railway line, but now, it is a part of the Grottes de Han experience. The train took us to the starting point of the walking trail inside the wildlife park. The path took us past reindeers, wild pigs, boars, mountain goats, bisons, owls and wolves. On the way, my toddler got super excited by a series of obstacle courses, whilst I was equally delighted by Canopy Walk, which is a series of suspension bridges that connect trees, offering magnificent views of the vast greenery beneath. It was just breathtaking! Almost midway through this walk is the Belvaux Chasm, the pride of Domaine des Grottes de Han, the logo of UNESCO Geopark Famenne Ardennes! It is the point where the river enters a cave and disappears! It siphons underground and then reappears a few kilometers away. A short shuttle-bus ride from here is the Grottes de Han caves. The cave was filled with thousands of glittering stalactites and stalagmites creating fabulous formations and emulating illusions of waterfalls, tulips, draperies and many more. Then came the most magical thing I have experienced in the whole of Belgium - the sound, light and video-mapping show! It was wow… like an underground nightclub of transient colors & sound… surrounding us with shoals of fish, giant mammoths, majestic stags, brave explorers…  It was just mind-blowingly, stunning. The way the video was mapped over the stalactites and stalagmites was unbelievable!  After that, we got back to the entrance/exit point where the 2 museums are located - Han 1900 and Prehisto-Han. After an entire day of exploring both the Wildlife Park and Underground Caves, we were exhausted but still managed a quick tour of the 2 museums. Han 1900 is dedicated to the lifestyle of people a century ago and Prehisto-Han is of course, as the name specifies, is the archaeological museum of the geology and history of the region since its prehistoric times.

Domaine des Grottes de Han location : Rue Joseph Lamotte 2, 5580 Han-sur-Lesse

DAY 1 - STAY AT COCOON VILLAGE, HAN-SUR-LESSE

The glamping experience in the Cocoon Village in Domaine des Grottes de Han was something else! It was a super comfortable stay that felt like I was in a proper hotel and not a tent pitched in the midst of a forest! It combined the best of both worlds with the atmospheric bonfire and barbeque dinner at night. The night was phenomenal with the magical sounds of nature permeating the silence. Luckily the sky was clear that night and lit with innumerable stars. The bathroom is not in the tent, but in the common area. A midnight walk in the midst of the forest is an experience that you really cannot describe in words! Undeniably, this is one of the best glamping experiences in Belgium.

DAY 2 - ROCHEFORT & JEMELLE

On day two, we checked out of the phenomenal glamping tent and headed to Rochefort by bus. Like Grottes de Han, there’s a cave here as well, called the Grotte de Lorette. It is fondly referred to, as the sister cave of Grottes de Han. Going down into the caves, I certainly did not expect to see - a little hot air balloon! In absolutely pitch dark underground, the guide lit up the hot air balloon and let it go all the way up to show us the height of the caves. Of course, there are several formations made of stalactites and stalagmites creating many magical illusions.

Grotte de Lorette location : Drève de Lorette, 5580 Rochefort

After the visit of Grotte de Lorette, we walked to Chateau Comtal (Rochefort Castle). This castle is in ruins and can only be visited using a guided tour. The fascinating part here was that the guides are dressed as medieval characters! We were guided by a witch - no kidding! To add to the experience even further, we were asked to do some historical role-playing!

Chateau Comtal location: Rue Jacquet, 5580 Rochefort

From there, my next stop was Malagne Archeoparc, a short bus-ride away, which is the ruins of an ancient Gallo-Romain villa. The entire floor plan of the villa is still intact and like every other ancient Roman architecture, which includes an extensive bathing area! Apart from the Heritage area, there are areas dedicated to Nature and Culture. The Nature area includes vegetable farms and ornamental gardens true to its Gallo-Romain past. Also, there are farm animals to help with farming in the historic way. My toddler absolutely adored watching these farm animals and interacting with them.

Malagne Archeoparc location: Rue du Coirbois 85, 5580 Rochefort

After that, we took another short bus ride to the town of Jemelle to visit the Museum of Rail and Stone. As the name suggests, it is an unusual museum that combines Railway history as well as Nature - the Stones of the region. This region is rich in limestone and its extraction has historically been a major industry, over the years. And why railway? Well, Jamelle is almost the centre-point between Brussels and Luxembourg. So, Jamelle was where the railway maintenance workshop was historically set-up. It made the perfect location due to the abundant supply of coal and water!

Centre of Rail & Stone location: Av. de Ninove 11, 5580 Rochefort

Finally, we took a bus to Marche-en-Famenne, and directly headed to the hotel for a little rest & relaxation before our early start the next day.

DAY 2 - STAY AT HOTEL QUARTIER LATIN, MARCHE-EN-FAMENNE

© Quartier Latin

Hotel Quartier Latin is located in the heart of the city of Marche-en-Famenne. It is a charming heritage hotel, housed in a historic, 18thcentury  Jesuit church. The hotel was luxurious, pampering with its own spa and a fantastic gourmet package. We opted for room service and dinner arrived in a wine crate of all things! Our vegetarian gourmet dinner had a starter of garlic bread with pesto & salsa, a main course of tortellini pasta and a dessert of a yummilicious chocolate mousse. The breakfast buffet was nice, especially the coffee cake which was a delightfully chic way to start the day! The hotel rents city bikes as well as e-bikes and that is perfect if you choose to explore Rochefort or Hotton with Marche-en-Famenne as the base.

DAY 3 - MARCHE-EN-FAMENNE

©  Ville de Marche

We began our day very early and went on a hike through Fond des Vaulx to see the fantabulous vertical cave - Trotti aux Fosses. This is a short 3.4km hike from the heart of the city. Though it was only a short hike, there were a few steep climbs and descents, but nothing too complicated. We soon reached the majestic Trotti aux Fosses. It is a very deep, slanted vertical cave, which is typical of La Calestinne region which forms the UNESCO Geopark Famenne Ardennes. To see humans standing there, behind it, looking so tiny, was surprising! The most unbelievable part is that the river runs at the very depths of this cave! On the way back, we stopped at the Resurgence du Sourd d’Alve, where the river goes from underground to emerge over the ground!

After the hike, we were back in the city to take the bus to visit the glorious Saint-Etienne Church of Waha. Although it is a historic, Romanesque church, its magic is in the Belgian artist Folon’s magical, contemporary stained-glass windows! In fact, these were the last works Folon did. There are 6 windows that depict the life of St.Stephen and 10 smaller windows of flying birds.

Fond des Vaulx hike starting point location : Intersection of Rue du Viaduc & Rue du Fond des Vaulx

Saint-Etienne Church, Waha location : Rue du Maquis 5, 6900 Marche-en-Famenne

By afternoon we were back to Marche. After lunch, we walked around Marche to explore Marche-en-Famenne’s unusual street-art of and also to visit the museum, FAM. The sculpture, La Religueuse (A Nun), was very intriguing with her white skin, flowy robe and two children crawling beside her. Instant d’amour (Moment of Love) is just beside St.Remacle church. It is a delicately, endearing modern sculpture of a mother holding a child. There are so many more interesting ones: a unicorn, a whistling boy etc. FAM (Famenne and Arts Museum) is an interesting museum where one section is dedicated to modern art and another to the history, geography and geology of Famenne Ardennes region.

Famenne & Arts Museum location: Rue du Commerce 17, 6900 Marche-en-Famenne

DAY 3 - STAY AT HOTEL QUARTIER LATIN, MARCHE-EN-FAMENNE

DAY 4 - CYCLING AROUND DURBUY

©  WBT - Bruno D'Alimonte

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel very early and headed to Durbuy. We took a train to Barvaux and then a bus to Durbuy. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we hired e-bikes at Durbuy Tourisme Office and headed out.

BARVAUX TOP TIP: If you visit the region in summer or autumn, one of the most fascinating places to visit here, is the Durbuy Labyrinth.

Our first destination for the day was Hotton. Hotton is the home of Grottes de Hotton (Hotton Caves). It has been nicknamed ‘Caves of 1001 nights’, for its beauty & mystery! This is accessible by a guided tour as well, just like the other caves. Of course, there were so many formations of stalactites and stalagmites. The most surprising feature of the caves is the Galerie du Spéléo Club de Belgique with its huge wall of 200m x 30m situated deep in the depths of the caves!!!

Grottes de Hotton location: Chemin du Spéléo-Club 1, 6990 Hotton

Our next stop was Rochers de Renissart, a huge rock face towering over the river. This is considered the best place for rock climbing in Belgium. Since I’m not really a rock-climber, we chose to hike the rock from behind and reaching atop it, to the imposing view of River Ourthe and the town of Hotton. After that we did a quick stop at the Riveo Centre, a museum dedicated to the river Ourthe itself!

Rochers de Renissart location : Rue Haute 43, 6990 Hotton

Riveo Centre location : Rue Haute 4, 6990 Hotton

From Hotton we rode to Ny. This tiny street is incredibly beautiful with cattle and haystack on either side. This road is a part of the Ravel network. Ny is a charming little village and one of the most beautiful villages of Wallonia (plus beaux villages de Wallonie). With just 7 streets, this little village is very picturesque. As soon as we entered the village, we spotted a house with several hundreds of swallows flying around. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a serene, beautiful, countryside scene in my life. The entire little village is between 2 streams and there are so many fountains in such a small place. Apart from the few houses here, there’s also a Farm Castle! This was a 17th century castle and was never used for defense purposes. Though it is not open now, it is once a year during the Medieval event.

From Ny we started riding to Weris, but we did have to stop at lots of places in between. This was due to the cycling route being filled with so many pre-historic dolmens & menhirs in all the villages along the way, including Oppagne, Danthine etc. It is after all called the ‘Megalithes route’. The Dolmen d’Oppagne was huge and just beside it are 4 Menhirs. The beauty in it was also that there was not another soul around and we had the entire place to ourselves.

Our next stop was Maison des Megalithes de Weris, a museum dedicated to how this region was in the megalithic age and the modern scientific discoveries and archaeological excavations here as well. Our final stop in this route the Weris Dolmen. This is a bit smaller than Oppagne and since this is closer to Durbuy, there were only few visitors.

Soon we were back in Durbuy to return our bikes and explore the Vielle Ville of Durbuy on foot. Durbuy is also known as the ‘smallest city in the world’, since in medieval times, it was raised to the status of a city in order to expand its fortifications! With about just 10 streets, it is a really pretty and quirky little place. The highlight of Durbuy is its anticline - a huge marvel of nature and a feature of the Geopark Famenne Ardennes as well. There’s a castle in the middle of the town but it is a private property. After a quick visit to the Topiary Park, we just chilled out on the riverbanks for the rest of the day!

DAY 4 - STAY AT LE VIEUX, DURBUY

Our stay in Durbuy was at Hotel Le Vieux. This is a part of the Maison Caerdinael hotels. This is a charming, historic hotel completely renovated to fit in all the modern amenities. The room we stayed in, had wooden ceilings, wooden cabinets, vintage décor and more, but the bathroom was modern with all sanitary facilities. The breakfast buffet and restaurant are at Hotel Victoria, also under the same family, located in the next street. Having a dinner here, late in the evening, sitting on the seating arrangements outside, sipping Durboise beer is definitely a relaxing way to unwind!

DAY 5 - DURBUY ADVENTURE & RADHADESH

One of the truly unique places to visit in Durbuy is Radhadesh - Chateau de Petite Somme. How often have you visited a Hindu temple housed in a Castle? Here it is! We began our day visiting this very place. The Castle of Petite Somme dates back to the 19th century and has played a role in both world wars! Since 1975, this is the home of Iskcon temple of Radhadesh.

See the world from up high at the Adventure Valley Durbuy park© La Petite Merveille

After a quick visit to Radhadesh, we spent the rest of our day at the highlight of Durbuy - Adventure Valley. This great place is located in 5 different premises and we went to the main one. There are 2 types of tickets here - Fly Pass & Adventure Pass and we got both. The Fly Pass is for a first class adrenaline experience with the longest zipline of Benelux, free-fall jump and more. The Adventure pass has a lot of treetop activities as well as other challenges. Apart from the main premises, there are 4 more spots for the laser game, escape room, kayaking and challenge park. It is very much possible to spend an entire weekend just at Adventure Valley Durbuy, but with our schedule, we had almost a day here.

Later that evening, we were off to Liege via a train from Barvaux.

EXTRA DAY TOP TIP: If you have one more day to spare - Take the train to Liege, but get down at Sy and stay at Villa Palogne for the night.

Next day, hire bikes at Domaine Palogne and explore the region including Chateau de Logne, as well as embarking on some treetop adventure activities & ziplining etc at Fun Adventure at Sy. Take the train from Sy to Liege that evening.

If you’re smitten by the fascinating underground after touring the Grottes de Han, Grotte de Lorette, Grottes de Hotton and you want to see yet another cave, take the train to Liege next day, but get down at Poulseur and take a short bus ride to reach Comblian to see the Grotte de Comblian. Close to it is Bat Information centre as well.

DAY 5 - STAY AT HOTEL NEUVICE, LIEGE

Hotel Neuvice is a relatively small hotel in the heart of Liege city. It was once the residence of the master printer of Liege’s Prince Bishop! So, all the décor here is influenced by printing press! Though it is housed in a historic building, the hotel has been completely revamped with all modern amenities. The breakfast buffet needs a special mention. It is served in the cellar of the building and is prepared with local produce. When you’re in Liege, have your toast with Liege syrup and obviously, eat some Liege waffles!

DAY 6 - FLEMALLE

© Châteauform' - Fabien Barrau

On our first day at Liege, we headed out of Liege to visit Prehistomuseum, and we had a short pit-stop at Val Saint Lambert.

Val Saint Lambert is a crystal factory that produces such exquisite pieces of crystal art. It had been a prized possession throughout the world including the royal palaces as far as India & Russia!

Our next stop was the Prehistomuseum which is an amazing place, more so for children! Within this area is not only a museum of prehistoric finds but also a cave, a workshop, a playground and more. The cave is called the Ramioul Cave which is filled with many stalactites & stalagmites formations and is in 2 levels. Then there is the ‘Reconstructions’ area which recreates scenarios of how prehistoric people would have lived, their houses, tools, how they would have hunted, gathered and more. It was here that we also had our lunch. The Archeobistro is an innovative restaurant where the food is inspired by, yep, you’ve guessed it, pre-historic life!

LIEGE TOP TIP: If you’re intrigued by the industrial heritage of Wallonia, check out Blegny Mine. It is one of the historic coalmines of the region and is one of the 4 mines listed together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most fascinating thing is that, this is the only one of the 4 mines where it is possible to go down into the mine!

DAY 6 - STAY AT HOTEL NEUVICE, LIEGE

DAY 7 - LIEGE CITY TOUR

©  FTPL - P. Fagnoul

Liege is a vibrant city and needs a couple of days aside to explore but we were already on the last day of our Belgian staycation, so we just stopped by at the top attractions of Liege.

We began our day at Montagne Bueren. It’s a staircase with 374 steps that leads atop to the Liege Citadel and its Hillsides. The Citadel itself is in ruins, but it is one of the most picturesque, green, serene walks in the region. The Hillsides of Citadel have 4 way-marked trails and many spots felt like I was in the middle of a forest. It is unbelievable such a natural haven is in the middle of a city!

Our next stop was just beneath the Montagne Bueren - Brasserie C, which is where we had our lunch. But before lunch, we checked out Brasserie C microbrewery which organizes visits & beer tasting sessions.

After lunch our first stop was the Museum of Walloon Life followed by Archeoforum. Archeoforum is under the Place St-Lambert in the centre of the city. It was quite amazing to witness the evolution of Liege from prehistoric times through Gallo-Romain civilization to medieval times. Our last stop for the weeklong Belgian staycation was at Aquarium Museum. It has 2 major floors - one dedicated to natural history and the aquarium in the underground floor. This is one of the top attractions in Liege, especially if you are visiting with kids.

Hillsides of the Citadel walking map

RETURN TO BRUSSELS BY EVENING BY TRAIN

About the Author: Bhushavali is an Indian travel blogger, currently living in Belgium. Her background in art-history gives her the interest and insight to explore the historic & heritage sites in Belgium. Her primary interest is UNESCO Sites and she has visited 14 of the 15 Belgian UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as the UNESCO Global Geopark. Visit her blog here: My Travelogue by Bhushavali.

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