A few kilometres upstream from Houyet, to the southeast, lies one of the Ardennes’ most beautiful regions, centring on the tourist resorts of Han-sur-Lesse and Rochefort. The district offers one or two specific sights, most notably the Han-sur-Lesse caves, as well as a scattering of castles, but the real magnet is the splendid countryside, a thickly wooded terrain of plateaux, gentle hills and valleys, and with quiet roads perfect for cycling. The best base for these rural wanderings is Rochefort, a middling sort of place with a good range of accommodation – and few of the crowds that swamp Han-sur-Lesse. By public transport, access is easiest from Namur; take the train to Jemelle, from where it’s about 3km west to Rochefort, 6km more to Han; there is an hourly bus service linking all three.
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Just 6km southwest of Rochefort, the busy village of HAN-SUR-LESSE has got one thing going for it, the Grottes de Han, rue J. Lamotte 2 (wwww.grotte-de-han.be). Discovered at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the caves measure about 8km in length, a series of limestone galleries carved out of the hills by the River Lesse millions of years ago. The caves are actually just outside the village a little way downriver, but special trams (no extra charge) leave from a central ticket office in the heart of the village. Tours leave every half an hour during summer (hourly in April, Sept & Oct), last around an hour and are well worth it, although you visit only a small part of the cave system, taking in the so-called Salle du Trophée, the site of the largest stalagmite; the Salle d’Armes, where the Lesse reappears after travelling underground for 1km; and the massive Salle du Dôme – 129m high – which contains a small lake. After the tour, you make your own way back to the village on foot, which is a five- to ten-minute walk.
For an insight into how the caves were formed, head to the Musée du Monde Souterrain, at place Théo Lannoy 3; it’s behind the tourist office and church, across the street from the caves’ ticket office. A section of the museum explains the process, while others display the prehistoric artefacts unearthed during a series of archeological digs in and around the caves. Most were found where the Lesse surfaces again after travelling through the grottoes – among them flints, tools and bone ornaments from the Neolithic period, as well as weapons and jewellery from the Bronze Age.