Hautes Fagnes

Two winter hikes in the Belgian Ardennen region


On new year's day 2005 I packed an amazing amount of stuff in preparation for a three day hike in the neighbourhood of the Belgian town of Spa. The plan was to pitch my tent at the Spa d'or campsite near the village of Sart, and to make three separate hikes that were patched together from the hikes in a guidebook that I received for Sinterklaas (thank you Juvira).

La Statte

The first hike started in Solwaster, just a few km from Sart. The track lead from the town along the Statte, a charming stream through the woods, made all the more charming by the pretty wooden bridges that led the track from one bank to the other. After a few kilometers the track along the stream ended and I headed more or less straight south west through the woods to find the point on the river Hoegne where I could follow the second "official" hike in my book back to Solwaster.

La Hoegne

The Hoegne carries more water, and is somewhat rougher than the Statte. It also carried more tourist traffic, all told about 20 people. Not quite what I expected on a winter hike. It was pleasant though, and there were a few big rocks in the river that were ideal for a rest and a snack.

Bois de Staneu

When I got back to Solwaster it was half past one, and too early to head back to the camp site, so I decided to tack a truncated hike three onto this one. This was a walk through the Staneu forest, on a hill just north of Spa. This wasn't a great decision because I didn't have the map for this hike with me, and I thought it was too much trouble to go back and get it. In the end I could more or less figure it out with the map and the instructions in the guidebook, but I ended up getting lost, and with sunset on the way, I had to skip half the walk. On the positive side, this wasn't the most interesting area to walk in, and I expect I didn't miss too much.


The second hike started in Xhoffraix. Worth going to just for the name - I don't know how to pronounce it. In fact it was three hikes in the guidebook. One following the Warche river, one through Ovifat, and one through Longfaye. I started with the hike along the Warche. The beginning of this hike is particularly interesting, with a steep walk from the village down to the riverbank, through a thick forest, along a track that seems dug out of the treeroots at places.

La Warche

The Warche is bigger still than the Hoegne, and an altogether more peaceful river, winding its way in a semi-circle under Xhoffraix through a valley with impressively steep walls. Here, and elsewhere on this hike, some of the tracks were hard to navigate because they were completely iced over. I reckon that this occurs because water trickles from the hills over the path and freezes over. Even more interesting were the spots where you could see foot and pawprints frozen in the ice. Maybe these were formed in earlier snow, with the ice forming over them.


The second leg of the walk took me to the dam of Robertville, and from there to Ovifat. The lake at the dam was pretty, and also attracted a fair number of cars with the familiar Dutch number plates. There was a convenient bench for a quick snack, but the icy wind discouraged a longer stay. Ovifat was not particularly exciting, and it wasn't until I crossed a small ski slope (no admittance in winter, but seeing as there was no snow...) that things got interesting again. From here there was an easily sloping track that slowly wound its way down a steep slope to a racing stream below. I crossed the stream and hiked a couple of kilometers up it's tributary, the Bayehon. Very nice views along this leg of the trip. Now I decided to avoid Longfaye, and loop back through the forest. This meant retracing my steps for a kilometer or so later on, but this seemed preferrable to a walk through another village.

Return leg

The last leg of the hike took me along the Warche again, back to Xhoffraix. A few more slips and slides along the icy paths, a quick walk through some fields, and I was back by the car. Off with the hiking boots, and two hours later I was back home in time for dinner.


All in all this was an great trip. I particularly liked the walks along the streams and rivers because of the sound of the rushing water and because of the lovely wooden bridges so well kept by the forestry department. The only major disappointment was that my Garmin eTrex gave out on the very first day. This meant that I had to plot the walks on the map from memory, rather than from the trackpoints I would otherwise have used. There was an upside to this as well, however. I had to depend completely on my map and compass for navigation, and that turned out to be fun, and easier than I expected.