Bewitched by nature
Furfooz Park invites walkers to contemplate an abundance of plant life and a host of curiosities.
5 mins OF ESCAPE
Canada? Provence? No, the Ardennes!
I'm filled with enthusiasm by my first trip to Furfooz Park, a wonderful little cocoon in the middle of nowhere, South East of Dinant in the Walloon region. As I enter this timeless nature reserve, a classified Natura 2000 site, I look around, eager to explore this mystical landscape. We instantly find ourselves in another world, especially when we enter the wood cabin reception where we're greeted by the keeper of what feels like a Canadian park. Armed with an itinerary map, we take to the footpath on this October day, our feet crunching the leaves fallen from the trees that reign here. Just above the reception, we utter our first "wow!" at a dizzying view of the entire valley where a few kayakers are braving the tranquil waters of the River Lesse. The plunging rock face just below us is home to the specific wildlife that's typically found on limestone grassland but quite surprising for the Ardennes! The path reveals one marvel after another, no less than fifteen remarkable features that fill this 4-km family walk with surprises around every corner. This is an educucational nature walk, and details of all its remarkable features are given in booklets handed out at reception. The first sight, just a few metres into the walk, is a fascinating reconstitution of the old thermal baths and the remains of a Roman fortress, one of the region's main archaeological features.
A blend of geological curiosities and mythical folklore
Then there are the enormous holes and cavities carved out of the Provence-style decor of limestone rock. These caves were prehistoric dwellings and their shape and formation, and the discoveries we make inside, have us imagining all kinds of legends.
The caves tell their story
We reach the first cave, known as the Trou du Grand Duc, via steps cut into the rock and which seem to descend into the bowels of the earth. Observed through the natural curved frame of the stone decor., the view over the Lesse is beautiful. We go back up the steps to the dry vegetation of the plateau before following the path into a damper, wooded area that provides the perfect habitat for its abundant vegetation. Now it feels like the Amazon rainforest and the forest floor and the leaves seem to be permanently moist. A tiny detour leads to a rocky spur which offers yet another epic view of the Lesse valley. The ambience changes again, this time becoming magical, as we approach the "Trou des Nutons" cave, an enormous triangular cavity right by the path. Legend has it that this cave is home to the famous Ardennes elves, or "nutons", who are not known for being the nicest of creatures. In fact, the word "nuton" has come to mean "taciturn misanthrope", which says it all! But the cave is also occupied by a few bats that come to hang from the rock as winter approaches. Unfortunately, in broad daylight, I can see neither elves nor bats. The area around the cave is covered in a density of ferns that create a real fairyland and help us to picture the little creatures living in their cavern. Further along the path, the Trou du Frontal cave has been the scene of some wonderful discoveries, as it was a burial site at the end of the Neolithic era. We feel drawn to the gentle flow of the bewitching River Lesse, which we can now see below us.
Taking our time by the River Lesse, watching it flow and losing all notion of time
A well-deserved break
Great, it's time for a picnic and Furfooz Park is the perfect place to enjoy it. Without hesitation, we make ourselves comfortable at the park's imaginatively yet simply decorated snack bar, "La Flobette". On the seats by the river, we enjoy a few craft beers.
And we're not the only ones to have had this great idea. There are other people here too, a whole gathering made up of separate groups of families and friends, all enjoying the same pleasant background noise of the water and the soothing atmosphere of this open-air café. Whether you want just a drink or a full meal, this snack bar is an essential part of the Furfooz Park experience. Even kayakers can stop here as a mooring platform has been installed specially for them.
Our energy fully restored, sandwiches eaten and washed down with some excellent beer, we're very tempted to stay on the banks of the river to laze in the sun. But the rest of our hike awaits us and I can't wait to find out what other curiosities are in store. Just a few metres on, we come across the Gatte d'Or Cave. A legend invites visitors to come with a torch and hunt for a treasure that was once wrapped in a goat skin and hidden here by some local inhabitants. Then we reach the awe-inspiring Puits des Vaux, an enormous gaping hol in the middle of the forest. Here flows an underground section of the River Lesse, and there's an underground lake too. There's an impressive 30-metre drop between the forest path and the bottom of the cave! Last but not least, we visit the Trou Reuviaux cave, where we find a number of human bones and some flints dating from the Late Roman Empire. Just a few more metres and we're back at the car park.
My imagination is running wild by the time I leave Furfooz Park, totally inspired by this fantasy land that I'm certain must be inhabited by a few secretive creatures.
Try this experience
Parc de Furfooz
Rue du Camp Romain, B-5500 Dinant, Belgium
Tel: +32 (0)82 22 34 77
Bewitched by nature
at Furfooz Park