The feeling of being at the edge of the world
Hiking in the Haute Sûre Forêt d'Anlier Nature Park, an invitation to switch off totally
5 mins OF ESCAPE
Walking in the ever-generous heart of nature
Between enchanting forests and never-ending plains, hiking in and around the Haute Sûre Forêt d'Anlier Nature Park, for anyone willing to take the time, is the perfect escape in this area of the Ardennes, close to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
I did take the time and I don't regret it. This region is protected, particularly for its biological wealth, and a nature lover like myself simply must come and explore this Nature Park. Situated in a Province of Luxembourg, this Park stretches over 833 square kilometres and includes seven villages. That definitely promises a wonderful blend of unspoilt countryside and picturesque villages. The Park is surrounded by wooded landscapes and farmland waiting to be explored, on foot or by bike. So, at 9 am, I go to meet Damien, one of the park's facilitators who, of course, has a passion for his environment. He is to accompany me on a day's hiking for a discovery of the park and has chosen the Moulins loop itinerary which starts from the village of Chêne, at Léglise. We park on the village car park, tighten our shoe laces and set off on a small section of road that takes us out of the village. We come to La Géronne, a wonderful educational farm that grows organic crops and is home to at least 30 animal breeds, including Galloway cows. We are greeted by some friendly Ardennais draft horses.
Walking on never-ending horizons
For the next few kilometres, we cross prairies dotted with cows of the Blanc Bleu Belge breed typically found in this region. They quietly watch us pass by. From their impressive size, you'd think they came out of a book about mythical creatures. Although they appear indifferent as they calmly graze on the green Ardennes grass, it's best we don't get too close. Further along are other fields occupied by horses who are just as impressively muscular, and rustic enough to cope with the local winters. I imagine these animals to be the benevolent guardians of this land. They are used to this climate and the morning freshness doesn't seem to bother them at all. As for us, the autumn wind gently lashes our faces and we're happy to be wearing warm jackets. But we'll be down to T-shirts by the end of this hike, under a big blue sky where the sun has come specially to add a poetic touch to these natural landscapes.
A wonderful blend of natural landscapes and country villages
The next village we come to, Lescheret, has been abandoned by the time we get there, as the inhabitants have all gone to work. I admire the facades and beautiful doorways of the typical houses, and instantly succumb to the charm of these greystone country dwellings. On the rooftops, gently smoking chimneys add a cosy feel to this picturesque decor. It's easy to imagine sitting by one of the fires with a cup of steaming hot tea, chatting to the locals and learning about the history of this place. The neo-Norman architecture of nearby Saint-Roche chapel will delight heritage enthusiasts. After taking us through the little valleys, the path goes gently uphill and leads us to some superb plateaus that invite us to enjoy the panoramic views.
Feast your eyes on a blend of nature and heritage
With cheeks reddened by the cold wind, we enjoy the tranquillity of the surroundings that captivate us. In October, the grass takes on a slightly golden tinge and the leaves on the trees turn to shimmering shades reminiscent of an Indian summer in Canada. I have the distinct impression of being miles from anywhere, at the edge of the world. Only a few tractors add movement to these small country roads that we pace quietly as if in a dream.
Then, of course, there are the mills that this hike is named after. Four of these curiosities of history are dotted along the way. The first is in Chêne, where we start and finish our walk, and dates from the 16th century. Then comes Longprè mill, located 1.5 km from where we started off. Next, two other mills await us in the pretty village of Volaiville, one as we enter the village, the other on leaving. The former, known as the "Little Mill", stands on a perfect spot right by a picturesque stream a short distance from the village.
We are transported into another era, when Man lived in harmony with nature and the precious flow of water that supplied the prairies, forests and villages. On exiting the village, the 4th mill encountered on this hike, the second and most recent in Volaiville, is known as the "Big Mill". The village is surrounded by the Géronne nature reserve, a truly unspoilt peace haven that's home to many species of wildlife. Created in 1984, this beautiful peatland reserve covers more than 15 hectares and is regularly upkept thanks to the generosity of volunteers. No doubt about it, the people of the Ardennes love their land and, in return the land looks after them well!
After the wide open spaces, the shady forest
We arrive just before noon at a place known as Jalifè at an elevation of 503 metres, perfect for admiring another beautiful panoramic view. The itinerary ends with a few woodland sections and takes us along paths covered in moss and tree roots that kindly act as steps. At this time of year, the dampness highlights the smell of fungi hiding under the fallen leaves on this fertile soil. Damien knows this countryside well and I'm sure he knows exactly where to find the best specimens. But after our dry summer, we won't be making any girolle mushroom omelettes just yet! The truth is, I could wander for hours in this bewitching forest, admiring the treetops and harvesting all the treasures it has to offer. But hunger gets the better of us after 14.5 kilometres and 3 1/2 hours of walking! The path takes us back to the car park and we drive off for the next part of the programme, to finish the day in style!
After just a few days in the region, I'm beginning to understand that Ardennes rhymes with sharing and authenticity. So my Belgian hiking companions take me to enjoy a meal in a typical bistro-style restaurant. There, we try some artisanal products washed down, naturally, with a beer after toasting this beautiful walk! We leave a little heavier but it was all in a good cause; my companions just had to make sure I tried the local specialities... After this day, I can definitely say that there's no combination more perfect than mother nature and a good meal to fully experience the Ardennes adventure!
Try this experience
Maison du Tourisme Cap Sûre Anlier
Grand-place 2, 6840 Neufchâteau, Belgium
Tel.: 0032 (0)61 21 80 05
The feeling of being at the edge of the world, or an invitation to switch off totally