To compensate for the prematurely terminated Kyrgyzstan trip I make a cycling trip through the Ardennes in August. The trip goes from Maastricht to the French border, from Sedan to Luxemburg-City, and via the High Fens back to the Netherlands. The landscape is varied, the road surface mainly asphalted and the temperature very high. In six days, I cover more than 600 kilometers and climb 7,200 meters. (Unfortunately, I have lost most of the pictures).
Day 1: Maastricht > Barveaux (91 km)
I arrive early by train in Maastricht. I cycle via the Sint-Servaasbrug, the Onze Lieve Vrouweplein and the Sint Pieterstraat in the direction of the Sint Pietersberg. After the viewpoint at the ENCI marl quarry, I continue south along the Meuse and the Albert Canal. For a while, I cycle along with two gentle psychology students. The route through Liège goes smoothly: it is well signposted, and the stretches of bike path along the quay are nice.
After Liège I follow the Ourthe for a while. Sometimes the cycle path is squeezed between the river and the railway. Usually the road surface is fine; only once I have to walk over a stony path. Because just cycling along the river is boring and not very challenging, I also add some unnecessary climbs. Eventually I reach a family campsite along the Ourthe, crowded with Dutch people. For the first time since my first cycling holiday (in 2000) I’ve taken a little chair with me.
Day 2: Barveaux > Poupehan (107 km)
From Barvaux I cut off a part of the Ourthe and cross the by now narrow river again at Hotton. After a few stretches of jeep track and footpath, I follow more boring roads, through heavily wooded landscape and hardly any river valleys. This is one of the higher parts of the Ardennes, with climbs up to about 400 meters. It’s also ‘summer camp country’ here: everywhere I see groups of adolescents walking and even cycling – and that in this heat!
At Rochehaut I reach the Semois (beautiful view!) and follow a nice descent to Poupehan. I end up on a family campsite that is too expensive: I pay no less than 24 euros for a spot near the toilet block. There I defend my miserable spot with all kinds of attributes against the camping idiots who put their feet agonizingly close to the tent pegs. But it could be worse: at the neighboring campsite, anti-social people party on Dutch music until late in the evening.
Day 3: Poupehan > Arlon (102 km)
From the Semois I immediately climb from 200 to about 450 meters. In Corbion I have breakfast on the sidewalk of the supermarket. Just after this village, I pass the border with France, turn off the main road, and ride on good gravel roads southwards through the forest. Via hamlets with names like Olly and Illy I descend further to Sedan in the Meuse valley. The landscape on this side of the border is much more beautiful and open than on the Belgian side. Also the road quality is significantly better.
Sedan houses one of the largest fortresses in Europe: the Château de Sedan. In recent military history (1870, 1914, 1940) the town played a strategic role. I ride a few blocks through the stately streets of the city center and then cycle out of the town along an excellent cycle route along the Meuse and next the Chiers – a good preparation for e-biking along the Danube, later when I’m old.
At Tétaigne I cross the river and gradually climb over small roads and through small villages. After Matton-et-Clémency there is a nice stretch on a narrow road and a jeep track through a forest to the Belgian border. In Chassepierre I ride parallel to the N83 east for a while. My planned route is sometimes blocked because whole stretches of forest are closed due to the hunting season. As a result, I have to take alternative stretches over duller roads.
At Étalle, instead of the N83, I take a dead straight roman road, which at a certain point gets quite bumpy and dusty. Just before Arlon I cross the Semois: early this morning at the camping this was still a wide river, but in the upper part only a small stream remains. In Arlon-North I end up on a campsite on the N4, with a fine restaurant and a friendly reception.
Day 4: Arlon > Vianden (100 km)
From the back of the campsite I cycle on a barely visible path to Bonnert, and from there on narrow tarmac roads and a forest path through the lovely Vallée des Trois Moulins towards the border. From Eischen I take the ‘piste cyclable de l’Attert’ southeast. In Luxembourg, several old railway lines have been transformed into cycling routes with good road surface, which makes it easy to cover longer distances.
After Steinfort the landscape opens up and I ride via villages like Garnich and Holzem over cycle-friendly roads to Luxembourg-City. There I go through the car-free Vallée de la Pétrusse, a gorge that lies between the old fortress (the ‘Gibraltar of the North’) and the districts on the south side. I cycle under the Pont Adolphe (in 1908 the largest stone arch bridge in the world), climb to the Rocher du Bock, and descend again to the Alzette.
From Dommeldange I climb steadily to an altitude of 400 meters on a bicycle route that largely follows the track of the old railway line to Echternach. At Hemstal I turn off to Hersberg. Here I descend through the forest along the Härdbaach on a trail on which cycling is easy. In this lovely valley one can find the Kuelscheier: a dark, narrow rock tunnel of about 100 meters long through which you can walk.
After a bit on the tarmac road I go off-piste again in the Hallerbaach valley. This time the path is so difficult that I have to get off the bike once in a while. But I don’t care because it is beautiful here! In the touristic Beaufort I reach the main road again and after a short descent I end up 200 meters lower in Reisdorf on the Sûre. In Wallendorf I turn left and cycle the last part along the German side of the river Our on a nice little road to the camping in Vianden.
Day 5: Vianden > Troisvierges (83 km)
From the campsite I climb over a nice piste cycable to Fouhren, and from there on to Brandenbourg. Here is the beautifully situated ruin of the castle baring the same name. I buy myself an apple turnover and coffee in Diekirch. A bit further, just before Ettelbruck, I arrive at the Patton Monument: a statue of General George S. Patton Jr. holding binoculars in his hands, probably thinking of a brilliant tactical plan to hunt down the Germans (‘those lousy Hun bastards’).
From Warken I cycle north again through a beautiful, quiet valley. In Welscheid I climb via several hairpin bends to a plateau, followed by a grandiose descent on a car-free road to the valley of the Sûre. Next is a somewhat annoying climb to another plateau, followed by a descent to the valley of the Clerve. The piste cycable along the meandering river up to Wilwerwiltz is really beautiful!
Located in Clervaux is the Benedictine Abbey of St-Maurice and St-Maur, built in 1910 and modelled after the famous Abbey of Cluny. So it’s fake. By now it’s 4 pm, but still hot. After eating a delayed reward – an enormous orange, two peaches and a can of Fanta – I’ve cooled down a bit. What remains is an easy stretch of cycling along the river, which by now is called the Woltz, before I arrive at the campground in Troisvierges.
Dag 6: Troisvierges > Heerlen (124 km)
Today is already the last day of this short cycling holiday. Because of the long distance and the expected heat, I get up very early. This allows me to cycle the first part of the Vennbahnradweg in peace. This cycle route is nicely constructed, and offers the possibility to cycle all the way from Luxembourg to the Netherlands in just one day. In Sankt Vith, where during the Battle of the Bulge in WW2 a lot of fighting took place, I have Torte und Kaffee for breakfast.
At Waimes I cut off a part of the Vennbahn road, which makes very wide loops here. Further on I cut off again, this time through the High Fens. With more than 600 meters this area is the highest point of the trip, but definitely not the highlight. The road leads mainly through and along boring stretches of forest. So I’m glad when after the Wesertalsperre the route becomes a bit more varied again.
In the shade of the ancient Aachener Dom I order coffee and a sandwich. Next I ride out of Aachen via a nice route. I cycle for a while with Fabian, who invites me to drink Apfelsaft at his place in Kohlscheid. Guter Vorschlag! He turns out to be a professional photographer and has travelled a lot, among others in Pakistan (for work) and Mongolia (cycling). It is nice here and I could stay for hours, but I really have to move on!
The last part of the route is diverse and follows narrow roads along Wasserburg Haus Heyden and the Amstelbach to Kerkrade, and via the Wilhelminaberg to the city center of Heerlen. With a record-breaking temperature of over 40°C this is the hottest place in the Netherlands. In Heerlen, the railway station is being renovated and the elevators are not working. Packed like sardines in a tin, I hold my bike by hand in a busy, hot train back to Den Bosch.
– Day 1: Maastricht > Barveaux (91 km; 837 altitude meters)
– Day 2: Barveaux > Poupehan (107 km; 1,604 alt.m.)
– Day 3: Poupehan > Arlon (102 km; 1,131 alt.m.)
– Day 4: Arlon > Vianden (100 km; 1,159 alt.m.)
– Day 5: Vianden > Troisvierges (83 km; 1,298 alt.m.)
– Day 6: Troisvierges > Heerlen (124 km; 1,159 alt.m.)