International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Belgium’s southeastern corner is by far its most picturesque, with forested hills and steep river valleys concealing villages, monasteries and castles. While its countryside is popular with walkers, towns such as Liège – Francophone Belgium’s largest city – merit a visit.
The Semois Valley, with its river framed by meadows and steeply rising wooded slopes, can claim some of Belgium’s most beautiful scenery. One of the region’s best views is from the village of Rochehaut.
Built from golden sandstone, the Abbaye Notre Dame near Villers-devant-Orval is a monastery famed for its Orval Trappist beer. The brewery is normally closed to visitors, but you can buy the monastery’s produce at the shop (shop admission free).
Built from golden sandstone, Grottes de Hotton has a fascinating assortment of stalagmites. The highlight of a visit is descending into a former siphon and emerging into a 37m-high chasm (Chemin du Spéléo Club; admission £7).
The Hautes Fagnes (High Fens) are an upland plateau of swampy See heath and peat bogs, and one of Belgium’s most popular day-hiking spots. The Nature Centre of Botrange is the park’s visitor centre, and has details of walking routes in the park (Rt de Botrange; admission free).
Although not immediately beautiful, the city of Liège has a gritty charm of its own. A highlight is the Musée de La Vie Wallonne – a museum exploring the history of Belgium’s Walloon community, with exhibits ranging from 12th-century metalwork to 1960s interiors (Cour des Mineurs; admission £4).
Eat and drink
Le Pot au Lait is Liège’s most eccentric pub-café, with stuffed animal heads, African masks and space-age furniture. La Chouffe, the region’s famous blonde beer, is on draught (Rue Soeurs de Hasque ; pints of blonde beer £2).
A butcher’s shop with a tasting salon, Maison Bouillon et Fils in La Roche-en-Ardenne is a long-time local institution. Sandwiches come with pickles – best eaten with a shot of plum liqueur, Prunalet, available from stores nearby (Pl du Marché 9; 11am–5pm, closed Tue; taster plates from £9).
Stylish Wagon Leo in Bastogne partly occupies a 1940s tram carriage. The restaurant menu skips seasonally between oysters, mussels, steaks and seafood. An informal bistro menu is also available (Rue Du Vivier 4-8; closed 2–14 July; restaurant mains from £8).
Beer steins dangle from the beams at La Vieille Ardenne, a café-restaurant in Bouillon with outdoor tables in the summer. Fairly priced trout and quail are on the menu, alongside local game in autumn (00 32 6 146 62 77; Grand Rue 9; closed Wed; dinner mains from £12).
La Petite Fugue in the town of Namur offers a modern spin on classic French cuisine that mirrors its minimalist décor. Typical dishes might include filet mignon with asparagus wrapped in bacon, and sea bass with artichoke tartare and roasted almond oil (Place Chanoine Descamps 5; mains from £14).
Facing the 12th-century Château Comtal de Rochefort, Hôtel le Vieux Logis occupies a venerable old stone building. Cosy rooms are peppered with antique furniture, and there’s an attractive courtyard garden (Rue Jacquet 71; rooms from £70).
Julevi in Eupen is a former linen merchant’s house turned b&b retreat, with smart rooms, a library and an attractive communal lounge with an honesty bar. When the weather permits, guests can eat breakfast in the small garden (Heidberg 4; from £80).
Spread across a number of cottages in Rochehaut, the rambling Auberge de la Ferme has good-value rooms in a variety of sizes and styles, the smartest of which have terraces. And Rochehaut’s famous river views are just a stone’s throw away from the hotel itself (Rue de la Cense; from £110).
Dufays is an exquisitely restored, 200-year-old stone building in Stavelot with six lavish b&b rooms, each individually furnished. The Art Deco decadence of Années 30 and the safari theme of the Africa Room are highlights (Rue Neuve 115; from £130).
Occupying a half-timbered mansion a short distance west of Verviers, Hostellerie Lafarque in Pepinster was once a boarding school, and now plies its trade as a genteel hotel. Plush rooms overlook the verdant grounds, and there’s a Michelinstarred restaurant on the premises (Chemin des Douys 20; closed Tue & Wed; from £150).
How to go
One of the easiest ways to get to the Ardennes is via Brussels – Eurostar services run from London to Belgium’s capital (from £70). From Brussels, trains go to Namur (from £8) and Liège (from £12).
Some trains operate in Ardennes, with various lines converging at Namur and Liege, while TEC operates buses in the region. However, private transport is best – car hire is available at Brussels airport (from £55 per day).