Trip Planner: Touring the Ardennes on Motorbike

Deep in the folds of French and Belgian borderlands, twisty, forested roads connect old castles with quaint churches, and village restaurants with fantastic B'n'Bs. This is an area of Europe best toured by motorbike.

 

Motorbike Touring in the Ardennes

In Europe, curvaceous roads normally exist because they're built on hills or mountains. Not so in the western Ardennes. Think of the area as an inverse mountain range, where the region's multitude of rivers have dug themselves down into the landscape. Here, the roads burrow along the edge of valleys, or pass over hills from one valley to the next. Further east, the landscape raises itself up to meet the Eifel region of Germany, and the roads keep on rewarding you with curve after curve.

The area also has its fair share of racing spectacle, thanks to the Belgian Classic Trophy's use of a historic road circuit near the town of Gedinne, the Spa Francorchamps circuit to the north west, and the region's proximity to Germany's Nürburgring. The Gedinne race takes place in August each year, when the roads are sealed off with hay bales. Miss the event, though, and you'll be able to ride it yourself.
 

 

Road Spotlight: D31, Route des Légendes 

 

The Route des Légendes leads you along the route of the Semois river, from France and across the border into Belgium. Don't miss the viewpoint east of Monthermé. Ride up out of the valley, and then turn into the lay-by on a left-hander for great views over the village of Tournavaux to the south.

 


 

Riding The Belgian Ardennes

 

From east to west, the Belgian Ardennes rises higher and higher, breaking free of deep river valleys and shedding some of the thick forests. Roads like the N660 are wide and fast and allow a bike to travel through the area quickly. That's not to say that the area becomes tedious. Far from it. Roads like the N860 from Houffalize to La Roche-en-Ardenne is smooth, full of curves, and isn't interrupted by as many villages as similar roads of the region.

Road Spotlight: N589, Baileux - Regnionwez

 

The Belgian Ardennes continues from France eastwards and northwards to the town of Chimay. The N589 takes you from the French border to the village of Baileux, close to Chimay. Skipping along the border, the road begins with shallow and fast curves. Further north, it tightens to a tasty s-bend before stretching out into an absolute dead-straight for nearly 2km. If you're feeling flush, treat yourself to lunch at L'Attrape Loup, the restaurant right at the end of the straight. The Chimay abbey, famous for the trappist beer of the same name, is close by in Scourmont.
 


 

Where To Stay in the Ardennes

Stay in Rochefort or Bouillon when you're in the area. Rochefort sits at the top of the Ardennes, but centrally, so that east and west are both accessible from the one spot. It's a small enough town to be able to ride out after breakfast and be on fantastic roads within a minute or two. Bouillon, on the other hand, is nestled deep in a bend of the Semois river to the south. Not only is it absolutely prime Ardennes territory, but it's also quite a vibrant place. Visit the castle, sold by Godfrey de Bouillon to pay for the first crusade back in the 11th Century.

Interested in trying the local specialities? Look for wild boar or game on restaurant menus. Need to stick to a budget? You could always survive on chips and beer. This sort of diet won't cost you the Earth: Belgian beer will cost around €3 for a glass, and every town has its own 'friterie', serving delicious chips.

 

Road Spotlight: N819, Tombeau du Géant
 

 

Don't miss the panoramic view of Frahan village when riding the N819. Ride into Rochehaut and look south down over a bend in the Semois valley, and cosy Frahan nestled within it, surrounded by farmland and thick forest. This is one of the most characterful Ardennes views you can get. The rest of the N819 is twisty and challenging, as the road surface isn't always triple-A standard.
 


 

See The Sights

 

Riding through Dinant? Take a minute to appreciate the dramatic Rock Bayard, as it stands erect over the bank of the Meuse River. It's named after the magic horse Bayard who, according to legend, leaped from it's crest to the other side of the river. That's no mean feat. In more modern history, the Ardennes saw fierce fighting in both World War I and World War II in three major battles. In one of the first actions of the First World War, a French offensive between the 21st and 26th August 1914 was fought off by the German Empire within the Ardennes. During World War II the area was subjected to the initial stages of the Fall of France and the infamous Battle of the Bulge. The Henri-Chapelle Cemetery in Hombourg is one of the largest American Military cemeteries in Europe. The Battle of the Ardennes Museum in La Roche-en-Ardenne houses a collection of artefacts from the time, including one of the last surviving Enigma decoding machines. The Chateau de La Roche, which sits above the town, is worth exploring for its wide-angle views along the various river approaches.

Road Spotlight: N838, Steinbach - Tavigny

 

Riding further east to the Nürburgring, or south towards the deep valleys of Luxembourg? Then take in this 11km Belgian route from Steinbach to Tavigny. Close to the town of Houffalize, the road starts with long straights past fields of sheep. Use these to warm up on. After the village of Cetturu, get ready for a smooth s-bend that will take your breath away.
 

Images: Jonathan Godin


 

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