Whoop whoop! After all these months of work on the van I’m finally taking off with my van! First destination: Province de Namur in Belgium. At only a couple of hours from home in the Netherlands, you can find the stunning area of the Belgian Ardennes. Although so close to home, I had never taken the time to properly explore this region famous for its great nature, cycling, climbing, kayaking and much more.
So, time to change this! I spent a lovely 5 days in the province de Namur. Visiting landmarks, enjoying the local cuisine and getting some exercise!
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Sites to visit in the Province de Namur
You can find some beautiful historic places and cute towns in this area. Ranging from really really old sites 🙂 to sites a bit more recent. Some of these places can get terribly busy, especially on weekends so a little planning can be recommended.
The big missing piece in this list, the city of Namur itself 😉 I decided to spend some time discovering smaller towns and landmarks that I could easily reach by bike.
Abbey de Maredsous
The Abbey de Maredsous is probably one of the highlights of this area. The Abbey is worth a visit, but I mainly enjoyed the surroundings a lot. The whole area, gardens and park is beautifully maintained and a great place for a stroll.
When you arrive there is a large parking lot right in front of the main buildings. Here you find different restaurants, a great terrace, an ice cream shop and a souvenir shop. A great place to drink one of the famous Abbey beers :-). There is a large grass field to relax or to have a picknick, and there is a playfield for children.
When you walk on to the Abbey itself, there is only the one main building (the Cathedral) that you can enter, all the other buildings are closed to visitors. In my opinion, the outside was more impressive than the inside, although definitely worth quick peek inside.
All in all, a lovely visit, but try avoiding the weekends. Parking lots and restaurants will be full and it will just be crowded with people.
I got here by bicycle, you can read more about the route in the cycling section below.
Dinant is beautifully situated alongside the Meuse. If you keep following the Ravel cycling path (as described in the cycling section below), you will simply bump into the start of town. Here you also find the tourist office. The tourist office is located in a nice building right on the opposite side of the river as the Citadelle and the Cathedral. I was able to park and lock my bike there after I asked the ladies inside. They were very friendly and gave me a map of the town so I could head out for a walk.
The highlight of Dinant is its Citadelle which looks out over the town from the top of a hill. You can get there by car, with the cable-car or climb the stairs leading to the Citadelle. The entrance to the Citadelle is €8,50 no matter if you walk or take the cable car. Of course, I walked 😉 The view gets better the higher you get!
Up at the Citadelle, you can take a good walk and learn about all the terrible things that happened here in World War I. Of course you can also just walk around, take in the sights and enjoy the view 🙂 If you are interested in history and the world wars, you can also find Bastogne, about one hour away, interesting. There, you find a war museum and a memorial site for World War two.
If you want to keep it a bit more light, the Esplanade of Dinant has many nice restaurants but it was under the construction at the time I was there. There are also caves and other tourist attractions in Dinant.
Chateau de Freyr
I accidentally bumped in to this one! If you keep going down south after Dinant you will find a beautifully paved road leading to France (eventually). Because it was such a pretty road I had to ride it with my bicycle 🙂 At some point I saw this castle popping up on the horizon with some beautiful gardens and had to go have a look!
The Freyr castle is very pretty from the inside and is still in possession of a very old family. There’s dozens of different rooms to explore and on the ground floor there is even a little chapel. After you’re done inside (about 30 min) there are still the gardens, a labyrinth and some side buildings to explore. Lovely when the weather is nice!
What I loved about the labyrinth is that, in the old, days, it was used as a match making tool :-). Man would follow a woman he’s interested in in the labyrinth, and if she were interested too she’d stay in the horizontal ways. If she had no interest, she would “hide” in the diagonal lanes. Those were the real dating times 🙂 !!
The entrance fee is a couple of euro’s and when I was there it was pretty quiet. When I left, a touring boat from Dinant popped in and the place flocked with tourists. I undestood that the touring boats from Dinant do pop in here occasionally, but the times this happens it’s indicated on a sign so you’re not surprised by “boatloads” of tourists.
Chateau de Freyr, well worth a visit!
Forteresse de Poilvache
On the way from my campsite in the town of Purnode to the town of Yvoir, a route I took almost every day, a brown “landmark sign” caught my attention. Fortresse de Poilvache – no one had pointed it out to me to visit so obviously I had to go and see it 🙂 After a bumpy gravel road (which was very exciting for me haha! But another check off the how to drive a Van list”) I ended up at a small parking lot from which I could walk up to the site.
The fortress is not very well preserved and there are mainly ruins to be seen. There are however some larger pieces and walls that are quite impressive and fun to watch!
For the entrance fee of €2 it’s possible to take a booklet that explains some of the layout of what once must have been an impressive fortress. I think the real highlight of this place are the views you have from the different points of the fortress. Beautiful panoramic views over the river and forests.
It’s interesting to see how little developed this site is! There are two picknick tables and in high season (early July) there were only a handful of other tourists around. All in all a good visit for €2 and easy to spend an hour or two there!
Camping Du Bocq, Purnode, Belgium
To make my first stay with the campervan as easy as possible, I was looking for a small, relaxed camping in the middle of nature :-). I got the recommendation to go to Camping du Bocq in Purnode, Belgium. This camping is used by climbers a lot as it’s close to a lot of great climbing places. It’s well located next to a lovely small river, the owners are friendly and even in high season it has a good price.
I got a great spot to camp next to the river so I could simply open my doors and feel surrounded by nature. Good facilities, a nice restaurant and easy going people made for a great first stop with the van.
Thinking about staying here or looking for a great base to explore the area? Click here for a full review and more pictures of Camping Du Bocq, or check their own website for actual prices and more info.
Cycling the Province de Namur
Whilst traveling with my van, I love the fact that I have my bike with me. It allows to camp outside of towns and cities and simply cycle in or explore the surroundings.
The first trip I made was from my campsite in the town of Purnode, to the Abbey de Maredsous. After cycling from Purnode to Yvoir and on to Anhee, it’s quite easy to catch on to the Belgian network of cycling paths or “Ravels”.
The Ravel nr. 5 goes all the way from Namur to Dinant along the Meuse, and has some detours here and there :-). All in all, it was about a 40km return trip with the only pain in the ass the 11% ascent to get back up to Purnode from Yvoir. This greatly contributed to the 690 altitude meters of in the trip 🙂 Otherwise the cycling route was great, with lovely views and nice cafe’s and restaurants along the way.
The second cycling trip I did was to visit Dinant. I started off the same way to finding the Ravel route, and this way took it all the way down to Dinant. After climbing the Citadel here and having lunch, I followed the river alongside an initially very busy road. Past Anseremme, things calmed down a bit and there was a beautiful stretch of road to follow. By accident I stumbled upon Chateau Freyr and decided to have a look inside. Afterwards I headed the same way back which ended up in a trip of about 45km with 525 altitude meters.
Entertaining yourself in the Province de Namur
These 5 days were well spent! Bit of exercise, nature, culture, cute towns! More activity like climbing or water activities are also not far away. If you have any additional questions, feel free to shoot me a message or leave a comment below!