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Posted by Jon Hicken on
In mid June, my friend Greg and I decided to go on a three-day bikepacking trip. As the borders were still closed, we thought to visit our own country instead of always trying to go as far as possible. We don’t know that much of Belgium after all, so why not try it for once? We wanted to focus on the South part of Belgium, Wallonia, as we were looking for a good challenge in terms of elevation gain and the Ardennes are quite famous for offering rough terrain. Finally, we wanted this journey to be a good opportunity to visit our families so we designed a beautiful route between Namur, Spa and Chimay.
Starting by a little warm-up along the Meuse, it gives us the opportunity to enjoy the villages at the bottom of the cliffs and the spectacular landscapes. But it does not take long before we tackle the famous Mur de Huy, that I recently discovered is way harder than I expected. So we start quietly as it is only the beginning of a very long day! Now that our legs are warm, we leave the Meuse Valley and we are heading to the Ardennes. Several climbs will follow, like the Roche-aux-Faucons and Col du Rosier. We are now riding for more than 130 km and it is time to think about a little refuel. And that’s an understatement. After having identified a little restaurant, we decide to eat the whole menu, including the famous Liège meatballs.
And it’s only when we get back on the bike that we regret this decision. Not that they were bad, but we are now struggling to move decently on the road, dealing with side stitch and indigestion.
But we eventually manage to get back to a normal speed. We are now heading towards the highest point of Belgium and the ascent starts by a beautiful and calm road through the forest. Exactly what we were looking for! But the fun is only temporary and the only way to get to the “summit” of Belgium is via a crowded state road. Never mind, we have a goal and it’s not a few cars and trucks that are going to stop us. Well no, but these are the ones that are going to scare us! Not only is it unpleasant to ride along vehicles, but the road is very busy with drivers passing by pretty closely. Our punishment is now over as we just reached the “Signal de Botrange”, the highest point of Belgium at 694m. Sure it’s not that much and the climb to reach it is pretty easy, but it’s already one of the highlights of our journey.
The rest of the afternoon consists mainly of a smooth and long descent towards our destination. Not that it’s all easy, we still have to tackle two steep climbs, including the Haute-Levée on the exit of Stavelot. A light and typically Belgian rain falls on us to make this day complete, a few kilometers before arriving at Spa, our destination of the day.
We are welcomed by Stephane, a cousin of my father, and his wife. We are starving but at that very moment, we need a good shower before we start the appetizer!
The good thing with them is that they are both passionate about cycling and we spend most of the evening talking about long distance adventures, famous climbs in the region and cycling legends who inspired us. It’s a very pleasant evening and I’m glad I can share it with my family, but our new aim is a good sleep to recover from that long day.
And it’s well rested that we can start our second day. I’ve designed the route thanks to the Komoot app but the knowledge of Steph’ is very interesting to adjust it and make us pass by little-known places. Another good thing with him is that he’s totally up for coming with us for part of the day.
Our second day starts with an even shorter warm-up than yesterday, before tackling La Redoute, one of the hardest climbs in the Ardennes. But we are fresh and the climb does not seem that hard so far. A few kilometers later, it’s the Kin-Stoqueu climb, another big piece right after the first one. It’s only the beginning of the day and we already feel the pain in our legs. Here we go on the Thier de Coo climb. I can’t follow Greg anymore, and let’s not even talk about Steph’ who is literally flying in these climbs. He may struggle to follow us on flat roads, but this guy has no problem lifting himself to the top of these steep climbs. Last big climb of the morning, the Côte de Wanne, is where we come across Oliver Naessen and the whole AG2R La Mondiale squad. And they are not the only pro riders we saw that day as many of them are training for the “Spring” Classics happening during the fall season this year.
We now rode a hundred kilometers and it’s time for a good lunch. Not a heavy one this time- we can also learn from our mistakes! So a small spaghetti is the perfect dish to recharge the batteries and share a last meal with Steph. I’m glad he could join us till La Roche-en-Ardennes as we had a lot of fun riding with him and discovering the Ardennes with his explanations.
He’s now heading back home while our destination is Mariembourg, a small village near Chimay, where my in-laws will welcome us. The second half of the day is way quieter and our route leads us to the Fagnes through the fields. We slowly leave the Ardennes and all the beautiful pictures we are going to remember. The terrain is now smoother and we decide to increase the speed in order to catch up on our initial timing. After licking the French border, we take a road that is under construction. The poor asphalt does not slow us down in the fast downhill, but a flat tire sure does! A good bikepacking trip wouldn’t be a good bikepacking trip if it wasn’t for a good flat! Never mind, we deal with it pretty easily and it does not take long before we are back on the saddle.
We finally reach Mariembourg around 7PM, after two tough days spent in the Ardennes, busy tackling most of the majors climbs featured in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège classics.
Our last day started by a delicious breakfast prepared by Elodie’s mother and she even made some cookies to take away. A thousand thanks and we were on the bike for the third part or our bikepacking trip. It is the easiest day on paper, but the first climbs near the French Ardennes hurt the legs. It doesn’t matter, because in these conditions the reward is even better. And we were not expecting such beautiful landscapes in this region. So we take our time and enjoy riding through these lovely forest roads.
We are now heading to the Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure, an artificial lake made by a dam on which we can ride and cross the water. We keep moving up North and decide to stop in Philippeville, a small fortified village that is usually a lovely place. The main square is under construction but the lunch is delicious! We decide not to wait too long before getting back on the road and ride through the fields before arriving up the Vallée de la Molignée, another highlight of this journey. This valley is clearly not the most spectacular, but the sweet downhill, the smooth asphalt and the fun curves make it very nice to ride. Se we decided to go all out to have fun and take full advantage of this natural race track!
We are now back in the Meuse Valley and its high cliffs. We head for an ultimate loop to a viewpoint located on the heights of Dinant, offering one of the most spectacular views of the trip. You should not be afraid of heights while standing there as we are on the edge of a cliff over a hundred meters high. That's absolutely stunning!
A few pedal strokes later, we are back to Wépion where Greg’s mother prepared us another delicious meal.
We were not sure we could ride these three days due to a rain that magically disappeared from the radars a few days before the weekend. But we are glad it took place because it was really amazing to rediscover our own country on a bike, especially when carrying all our equipment and clothes on the bike. Sharing it with members of our families on our way was also very special and we can only thank them a thousand times for welcoming us so well. We are always looking for exotic places while our own country has so much to offer. Finally, I am used to long MTB rides with Greg, but this journey initiated him to bikepacking and long distances on the road and we can already say it was not our last adventure!