"Deep wooded gorges and farmland."
I recommend the Forest Explorer (premium link) activity.
My favourite part of the Ardennes is the Foret d'Anlier South (premium link) walk. If only there were less hunting I think the Foret d'Anlier could be a premier ecotourism destination. I also liked the woodland at Lac des Deux Ourthes (premium link) when I visited in 2016.
This is a popular area, particularly with Belgian and Dutch tourists, particularly during holiday periods. There are a series of national parks in this region including Ourthe National Park http://pndo.be and others as shown on the location map. The hills rise up to 500m. You can choose almost anywhere at random and there will be hiking trails http://blog.escapardenne.eu with scenic views. Canoeing and kayaking on the rivers is popular in the summer and offers the chance for some fun wildlife watching. However, more adventurous tourists will often bypass the Ardennes to get to more extreme landscapes such as the Alps where the same activities and arguably even better wildlife is possible.
The forest extends into France, Luxembourg and Germany. Birdwatching is good with typical European forest birds found everywhere. Mammals include Roe Deer, Red Deer, Wild Boar, Badger, Red Fox, otter (difficult to see according to reports), beaver and Wildcat (supposedly possible in the Foret d'Anlier but I've not heard any concrete reports).
Limestone has eroded and formed steep-sided river gorges. There are also a number of caves to visit in the area. The caves are often closed in the winter and even if they are open for Christmas the higher water levels often limit the amount of the cave network that can be explored.
In winter it sometimes snows enough cross-country skiing. If the rain is heavy footpaths can become muddy, particularly in the forest where moisture is held for longer.
- Foret d'Anlier East (site 1) (premium link) is a walk through the eastern part of the forest with a mixture of tree types and a section of river. (GPS coords 49.7951N 05.6943E)
- Foret d'Anlier West (site 2) (premium link) is a walk through the western part of the forest. In the extensive areas of broadleaved woodland I have seen many signs of (maybe) Badger and/or Wild Boar disturbing the ground. (GPS coords 49.7951N 05.6943E)
- Maison du Parc for Foret d'Anlier (site 3) is a visitor centre http://www.parcnaturel.be/en/ with some landscaped grounds in Martelange. It has limited opening hours. (GPS coords 49.8311N 05.7357E)
- Dinant (site 4) is a tourist town with sightseeing opportunities. It is possible to take footpaths through farmland, woodland and alongside rivers but for me it is a little too urban. The river to the south-east of Dinant has a relatively secluded footpath. It is also a popular place for walking and canoeing/kayaking. The Gendron-Celles and Hoyet train stations offer the chance to take public transport away from Dinant and then walk back along the river. (GPS coords 50.2607N 04.9118E)
- The Lac des Deux Ourthes (site 5) (premium link) has a hike through broadleaved woodland south-east of La-Roche-en-Ardenne. There are woodland birds and scenic views of the river. (GPS coords 50.1417N 05.6711E)
- The town of La-Roche-en-Ardenne (site 6) (premium link) is a possible starting place for visiting the Ardennes. There are hiking trails in the forest and I have enjoyed a circular walk to the east. (GPS coords 50.1820N 05.5753E)
- The Tourist Information for Bouillon (site 7) is another possible starting place with typical river and forest walks nearby. (GPS coords 49.7940N 05.0668E)
- Rochehaut (site 8) (premium link) has a hike along a river and through woodland with scenic views. There are plenty of walks including longer routes to Poupehan. (GPS coords 49.8399N 05.0040E)
- Han-sur-Lesse (site 9) has a safari park, a cave and footpaths. The safari park has native European mammals and birds that would have been here hundreds of years ago set in the typical Ardennes landscape. If you don't want to support a safari park you can just do the popular 2km guided walk through the cave http://www.grotte-de-han.be instead. Alternatively, there are walks/trails in the countryside around Han-sur-Lesse including a long walk towards Rochefort that passes through a nature reserve http://ardenne-et-gaume.be/ where I have seen a lot of wildlife. (GPS coords 50.1255N 05.1873E)
- Tombeau de Geant (site 10) is a popular tourist destination. There is a viewpoint over the river that is similar to the views elsewhere along the river. A number of footpaths run from here as well. There are information signs describing the impact of spruce plantations in the Ardennes. (GPS coords 49.8209N 05.0429E)
- Foret d'Anlier South (site 11) (premium link) is a walk through the southern part of the forest. This includes possibly my favourite footpath in the whole forest. (GPS coords 49.7767N 05.6950E)
- I saw mainly forest birds during a 2 day visit to Ardennes in winter (premium link).
Limestone caves are found throughout the Ardennes. Many are open for tourists to visit.
- birds seen on a 2 day visit (winter): 26 species (average of 17 in 1 day)
- birds most often seen on a 2 day visit (winter): (starting with the most common) Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 6x2 (m2), Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 5x6 (m25), Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) 5x2 (m2), Jay (Garrulus glandarius) 5x2 (m2), Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 4x5 (m12), Blackbird (Turdus merula) 4x2 (m2), Great Tit (Parus major) 4x2 (m2), Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 4x3 (m7), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 3x14 (m15), Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) 3x1 (m1), Common Buzzard/Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo) 3x1 (m1), Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) 3x2 (m3), Marsh Tit/Willow Tit (Poecile palustris/Poecile montanus) 3x2 (m2), Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) 3x2 (m2), Magpie (Pica pica) 3x2 (m2), Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 3x2 (m4), Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 3x9 (m20), Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) 2x4 (m5), Great Egret (Casmerodius albus) 2x1 (m1), Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 2x1 (m1), Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) 2x1 (m1), Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 2x1 (m1), Coal Tit (Parus ater) 2x1 (m1), Treecreeper/Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris/Certhia brachydactyla) 2x1 (m1), Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) 2x3 (m3)
My experience of the Ardennes is that it has good-quality forest with a lot of European forest bird species. I see lots of tits/titmice, Goldcrests, finches, thrushes and woodpeckers when I visit. It is in broadleaved woodland, particularly beech and oak trees, that I have seen the most birds.
I think designing a birdwatching itinerary for a visit to the Ardennes is relatively easy. My experience of all the sites is that they make good destinations for a day-long visit. At one site, you will typically be able to explore woodland, farmland and rivers in a single day. This habitat variety can help you see a longer list of different bird species.
If you have a car then basing yourself at La-Roche-en-Ardenne can be a good choice as it makes most of the suggested sites a short drive away and it also has excellent woodland and hiking in and around the town.
A conservation debate in the Ardennes is the planting of spruce trees. They are relatively fast-growing and a profitable source of wood pulp for the landowner. However, it is argued that broadleaved woodland is better for wildlife. It is also argued that historically the farmland had fields for grazing that provided open habitats to compliment the natural woodland.
Mistletoe is common throughout the Ardennes. This photograph was taken on the public footpath to the east of Han-sur-Lesse.
This article is part of the Nature Travel Guide and was published on October 19th 2018.
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