La Roche-en-Ardenne is a small village beside a bend of the River Ourthe in the province of Luxembourg, Belgium. Last weekend we had the pleasure of visiting this historical place and its surroundings. Locally, the town is well known for its smoked hams, kayaking and WWII decimation.
A little bit of history first
La Roche has a fascinating past with a wealth of history, legends, and even a ghost. It’s believed to have first been settled in the Neolithic era. It later served as a Celtic, then Roman stronghold. The town’s medieval castle was used between the 9th and 18th centuries. It provided protection to the many barges that plied their trade along the local river systems. In 1331, permission to build city walls was given by John the Blind, King of Bohemia and Poland and a Count of Luxembourg. During World War II the town suffered severe damage. Having been liberated by the Allies in September 1944, the town was recaptured by the Germans, during the Battle of the Bulge. The Ardennes Offensive was launched and the Germans entered the town again on 21st December 1944. La Roche was then bombarded with 70,000 American shells. On 11th January 1945, the Highlanders of the British 30th Corps on the left bank of the Ourthe and the Americans of the 1st Army on the right bank finally liberated the town for good. Many civilians died, 350 buildings were destroyed and 327 building were damaged. There is an American Sherman M4A1 tank and a British Achilles SP 17 displayed as monuments to the town’s liberation. Nowadays La Roche-en-Ardenne is one of the most visited places in the Ardennes.
5 things to do
Musee de la Batailee Des Ardennes
This museum, in the middle of the town, tells the story of the battle of the Ardennes and how La Roche was destroyed. The story is told through all sorts of memorabilia from that time, such as old uniforms, weapons and other items. In addition, video and footage tries to clarify the story. Definitely worth visiting when you’re into history or looking something to do during rainy days.
The Feudal Castle of La Roche-en-Ardenne
The Château de la Roche lies high above La Roche. From the original castle, there is a ruin left with walls, gates and waiting towers and of course and beautiful views of the surrounding area. According to survivors, the castle is haunted at night and during hot summer days, when there are many tourists. Apparently, you can still see the ghost of the clean lady on the walls of the castle. In addition to visiting the castle, there are also many activities in the castle. In the weekends there is often a medieval market with demonstrations of medieval crafts and bird watching.
La Cave du Venitien
This beautiful shop in the centre of La Roche offers a wide range of Belgium beers, souvenirs, whiskey, jam and chocolate. Definitely worth a visit when you’re looking for some local treats.
This beautiful neo-Gothic church is on the main street of La Roche and very popular with tourists. The church is from the 1900’s and is a mix of old and new architecture. Outstanding is the stained glass, made in the early 1980s by Louis Marie Londot, a Namur artist. This stained glass alights the church with bright modern colours. Organ concert concerts are held regularly with international artists.
The caves of Han
Just 40 minutes from La Roche-en-Ardenne you’ll find the mysterious caves of Han. These caves form a system of subterranean caves in Han-sur-Lesse near Rochefort. It is known as one of Europe’s largest cave complexes. The caves are the result of the underground erosion of a limestone hill by the river Lesse. In the cave, the temperature is 13°C all year and a humidity of 95%. From the centre of the village of Han-sur-Lesse, a small picturesque tram will take you to the entrance of the caves. Multilingual guides will help you discover a diversity of chambers, each one more entrancing than the last. Excavations show that the caves were always known to residents of the area. Early prehistoric objects could already be found in the water in the caves. It is assumed that people didn’t live in the caves. The excavated objects would indicate that the caves were used especially for funeral ceremonies. These prehistoric and other items can be seen in the PrehistoHan Museum.
The Ardennes offer a wide range of meandering rivers, dramatic cave systems, forested hills and deep valleys. These special landscapes are perfect for outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, climbing, abseiling, kayaking, horse-riding and much more. Unfortunately, the water was too low for kayaking when we were in La Roche. Apparently, this happens quite often due to little rain. Camping is also very populair in this area. Camping sites are widely available and usually located next to the River Ourthe with a gorgeous view over greenery surroundings.
Would you consider the Ardennes as a holiday destination?