Beguiling BOUILLON, close to the French border on the edge of the Ardennes, some 50km southwest of La Roche, is a well-known and quite handsome resort town, enclosed in a loop of the River Semois and crowned by an outstanding castle. It’s a relaxed and amiable place, and an excellent base for exploring the wildly dramatic scenery of the countryside around, in particular the Semois river valley.
More about Belgium
Find out more
Bouillon’s pride and joy is its impossibly picturesque Château, set on a long and craggy ridge that runs high above town. The castle was originally held by a succession of independent dukes who controlled most of the land hereabouts. There were five of these, all called Godfrey de Bouillon, the fifth and last of whom left on the First Crusade in 1096, selling his dominions (partly to raise the cash for his trip) to the prince-bishop of Liège, and capturing Jerusalem three years later, when he was elected the Crusaders’ king. However, he barely had time to settle himself before he became sick – either from disease or, as was suggested at the time, because his Muslim enemies poisoned him, and he died in Jerusalem in 1100. Later, Louis XIV got his hands on the old dukedom and promptly had the castle refortified to the design of his military architect Vauban, whose handiwork defines most of the fortress today.
It’s an intriguing old place, with paths winding through most of its courtyards, along the battlements and towers, and through dungeons filled with weaponry and instruments of torture. Most visitors drive to the entrance, but walking there is easy enough too – either via rue du Château or, more strenuously, by a set of steep steps that climbs up from rue du Moulin, one street back from the river. Among the highlights, the Salle de Godfrey, hewn out of the rock, contains a large wooden cross sunk into the floor and sports carvings illustrating the castle’s history; there’s also the Tour d’Autriche (Austrian Tower) at the top of the castle, with fabulous views over the Semois valley.
Semois valley hikes
Semois valley hikes
You can see the countryside around Rochehaut and Poupehan on foot by doing a half-day’s circular hike from Rochehaut to Poupehan and back again. From Rochehaut, take the path out of the southern end of the village, which leads into thick forests high above the river, from where a series of fixed ladders help you to negotiate the steep slopes down to the water. This is by far the hardest part of the walk, and once you’re at the bottom you can follow the easy path to Poupehan; from there, take the path that follows the river north back up to a quaint bridge over the river to the hamlet of Frahan, a huddle of stone houses draped over a steep hillock and surrounded by meadows. From here various paths will deliver you back up to Rochehaut on its perch high above.