Picture of Pierre Pauquay travelling the Ardennes on a long distance mountain bike trail by Pierre Pauquay

The time I travelled tHe Ardennes on a mountain bIKE

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Pierre Pauquay

Member for 3 years

The Ardennes in all directions

Culture and Hiking

I have finally found a boundless landscape where I can be reunited with my sweet companion: solitude!

The time I travelled tHe Ardennes on a mountain bike

I can smell the sweet scent of adventure in the air…

2 DAys Roaming the woods

The ‘Grande Traversée de l’Ardenne’ is a long distance mountain bike trail through the Ardennes, taking you on a discovery tour of an ancient massif with gorgeous rivers running through stunning landscapes clad with majestic forests. I enjoyed a magnificent journey in the area around the Saint-Hubert forest. It was the perfect opportunity to roam this beautiful area while travelling solo. It was early September when I set off for my adventure…

Belgium is a great place to escape; so close to home, yet so different. And the journey starts as soon as you start reading the Ordnance Survey maps (in Belgium they are published by the I.G.N., the ‘Institut Géographique National’). For a long time, I have been in search of vast territories where seemingly boundless landscapes stretch out to the horizon. One area in particular has caught my eye; the lands around Saint-Hubert and Nassogne where the landscapes offer uninterrupted stretches of deep forest, with no enclosed valleys or farmlands to mar the beautiful continuity of the seemingly endless forest and its infinite nuances of green. I grab a pencil and start marking out a stretch of the trail known in French as the ‘Grande Traversée de l’Ardenne’ (the crossing of the Ardennes), sometimes just referred to as GTA…. The southern stretch starts in La Roche-en-Ardenne and then leads you to the enclosed Ourthe valley before winding its way to the Saint-Hubert forest. Eureka! I have finally found a boundless landscape where I can be reunited with my sweet companion: solitude!

 

A few days later, I find myself nearby Saint-Hubert where I am about to cycle along a section of the southern GTA trail.  I will be pedalling through the very heart of Belgium, discovering its essence. I only pack the bare essentials for my journey through the stunning Ardennes landscapes.

Discovering the Ardennes landscapes - Pierre Pauquay

Travelling the great wide open

Setting off for a long distance cycling tour, is embracing a totally different approach to  cycling. Your mountain bike becomes a bicycle in the strictest sense of the word, a wonderful piece of machinery that allows you to travel through magnificent scenery, not a useful piece of equipment to save time,  to climb hills or whizz downhill. It is a totally different and novel state of mind: the cyclist becomes a globetrotting wanderer, a lonesome traveller. I cycle through the land of vales, of gentle slopes and deep forests, with swiftly flowing rivers dashing through rugged landscapes. In these wild spaces everything is beauty, mystery and inherently poetic. The paths cling to the sides of curvaceous mountains, resplendent with the patina of time… The road is my friend, the path is gentle, no need to get all psyched up.  The track taking me towards the Masblette brook is exemplary. Once on the Transardennaise, speed is no longer important. As you roam free, you slow down…to take a deeper journey…

 

On this long journey, I have no travelling companion to entertain me. But I find the sound of my rubber tyres meeting the road and the sweet clicking sound of my bicycle’s cogs and gears strangely soothing. My bicycle is alive, it is my travelling companion, as is a knight’s trusted mount. I cycle along, sparing no effort, but not getting too athletic either. I am far removed from the world of the trail runners and hikers; I become a kind of Homo Bicyclus without constraints, with no stopwatch nor a set number of kilometres to travel. I am the perfect incarnation of an inordinately happy man, who can travel anywhere he wants and stop wherever and whenever he feels like it!

GTA - The long distance mountain bike trail through the Ardennes

This neck of the woods, especially the area around Nassogne is really peaceful. Roads seem to be rejected at the fringe of the forest; there are no signs of city lights polluting the sky. While cycling through this gorgeous area, you experience a feeling of pure bliss and wellbeing. Amidst unspoilt nature, you glimpse tiny hamlets, small clusters of human occupation that seem almost unreal. Between Masbourg and Mormont, the trail weaves its way between fences that seem to mark out infinity: I feel like breaking through them to open up the horizon.

My reward for travelling so many kilometres will be a nice spot of food. This is my perfect moment, divine, and the morning’s ultimate reward. Somewhere near Mirwart, I fish a lovely bit of Ardennes nut ham and a rustic loaf of rye bread out of my satchel. The forest is resounding with the sound of gaily chirping chaffinches and nuthatches. It is at this precise moment, sitting on the banks of the Marsau brook that I feel I am the happiest of cyclists, a famished, vigorous man who will devour with relish the tasty and honest bread that he has carried by the sweat of his brow. I relish the feeling of pure unadulterated bliss familiar to every wandering cyclotourist…

Time for a break - Pierre Pauquay

When I arrive in Redu, my bike satchel and bags attract sympathy and I am warmly welcomed by a couple of local inn owners. I decide to treat myself to a meal before continuing my journey towards Daverdisse. I cycle along a wide path and hardly leave a trace on the plains.

At the end of the day, I climb uphill to reach my evening tryst with my muse, the one who haunts my dreams. Around eight in the evening, I leave the trail to head towards the official “Bois de Bané” bivouac area. I take my tent out of my bike satchel, it is a light and easy to pitch tent. It makes me feel totally self-sufficient and gives me a sense of total freedom. No one is waiting for you, you don’t need to book ahead…The importance does not reside in the accommodation, the village where the self-catering cottage or bed and breakfast is, but lies in the location, this enchanted spot, the ideal location…It doesn’t really matter where you are, what matters is the sheer exhilaration of finding your very own perfect haven of peace…Those who have enjoyed bivouacking know the feeling, that unique moment where you take possession of your little corner of paradise, where you are the guest of a beautiful natural spot that is inevitably idyllic. My tent is pitched and my mountain bike is resting for the night, I am ready to enjoy a beautiful night under the stars.

The tent is pitched and the mountain bike put aside, ready for night - Pierre Pauquay

The wonderful fresh scent of dawn

In the early morning, as day breaks, the first rays of sun caress my face. My first order of business is to heat some water for a nice cup of coffee. The sky is a stunning dark blue; I need to break camp and leave. I cycle for another three hours before heading back to my daily routine and my point of departure. The Ardennes have given me beautiful gifts: a wonderful breath of fresh air and a feeling of total freedom. Although tales of the Mongolian steppes fascinate and bewitch travellers, the Ardennes, from La Roche-en-Ardenne right through to Bouillon, are an infinite source of freedom and have provided me with countless delights. Treat yourself to two days roaming the Ardennes and enjoy the joy of a freewheeling adventure first-hand. Never again will a mountain bike ride  seem the same!

Sunrise - Pierre Pauquay

Enjoy this experience

 

There is also a long distance 'Transardannaise' hiking trail through the Ardennes, it is 160km long and leaves from La Roche-en-Ardenne and takes you to Bouillon.

The 'Transardennaise' long distance mountainbike trail is 270 km long. It leaves from Malmedy and leads to Bouillon via La Roche-en-Ardenne. The trail is not signposted, but a roadbook is available on 
www.gta.be
Or you can download the GPX trails via www.cirkwi.com

 

You can also book a hiking or cycling holiday with luggage transfer with Europavanture. Rates from € 303 for a 3-day hike and two nights.
www.europaventure.be