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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 depict 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:
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.
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
||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
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.
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
|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