Take a break from your normal, busy routine and stimulate your senses in Wallonia’s nature. Savor the sweet scent of wild meadow blossoms, malty Trappist beers and delicious Wepion strawberries while indulging in rich Belgian chocolate and lip-smacking Leige Waffles – all to the backdrop of cascading emerald green valleys and crystal-clear rivers.
The region’s grand citadels and chateaux provide excellent historic vantage points from which to soak up the exquisite surrounds. Nature is in full force here, where thick foliage steeped in poignant stories of war is home to wild deer and other beautiful wildlife whose mating calls can be heard echoing through the trees. As you gaze across the horizon, graceful birds float across the horizon with calming birdsong in trail.
A magical place, Wallonia is Mother Nature’s playground perfectly positioned just 1.5 hours from Calais. Brimming with wildlife reserves, forests, valleys and Geoparks, the setting provides a truly tranquil retreat for you and your family. Horse riding in the Ardennes forests, bird watching in the misty Hautes Fagnes planes and animal spotting in Pairi Daiza will open up a whole new world of unforgettable experiences. Imagine seeing eagles soaring and swooping to catch their prey, admiring parading peacocks as they spread their glorious feathers, spotting naughty orangutans as they go about their day or watching elephants bathe as a family in a free-roaming zoo. You can be your very own David Attenborough, exploring Wallonia’s rich landscapes and diverse wildlife by foot, bike, canoe and railbike.
The region’s inviting nature also provides the chance to sleep under the stars, sail in underground caves and navigate treetops by rope. Children and adults alike can learn new nature-orientated skills, including beekeeping, snail breeding, zookeeping and falconry. For those who like fairy tales, the stunning castle gardens are a stage where they can parade dressed-up as lards and ladies. Every activity is immersed in the environment, whether its playing golf in a field of cows or breakfasting with wildlife – Wallonia is far from boring.
Despite being a land-locked region, Wallonia still offers a great deal of water access and aquatic activities. Shaped by four great rivers – the Meuse, Escaut, Semois and Ourthe rivers – this region offers visitors an endless opportunity for exploration from the water via kayaking, wakeboarding, windsurfing or even aqua golf. For those looking for a more stylish, Riviera-style experience, the Grand Large with its Mons leisure marina – home to 157 moorings, various chic restaurants and a modern harbourmaster’s office – is the place to be.
Listed below are some of the region’s most endearing activities:
Prehistomuseum Adventure Park – here children’s imaginations can run wild, channeling their inner Flinstone as they explore caves, learn about ancient remains, adventure through the 30-hectare forest and try their hands at spear throwing.
Treetop Adventure Park – reminiscent of Mowgli’s playground in the Jungle Book, this forest adventure is all about adrenaline. With 40 zip lines, the longest of which spans 250m, thrill-seekers can explore the surrounds from a truly unique perspective – the sky.
The Euro Space Center – nature in a different realm, this incredible educational center invites those inquisitive to learn more about the universe and being an astronaut. Experience zero gravity with simulators, build your own demo rocket, learn the tricks of living in space and visit Mars in the virtual Space Flight Unit. The Euro Space Center is a must-see for galaxy dreamers.
Countryside golf in Stoumont – a twist on the original golf game, here you can practice your swing in grazing fields amidst cows and other farm animals. The Golf Champêtre de Stoumont course is set in the picturesque Parc Naturel des Sources and features a 12-hole, 1,7km trail through meadows surrounded by awe-inspiring views of the Amblève valley.
Han Wildlife Reserve – this 250-hectare wildlife wonderland offers animal lovers the opportunity to see the European ‘Big Five’, and is the only place in Belgium that has all five – the wolf, bear, lynx, bison and wolverine – in their natural environment. Set out on foot or safari bus to marvel at the wildlife, and after a day exploring and forest bathing, relax under the stars in tree-top tents.
Plopsa Coo – this family-friendly theme park offers a fantastic balance of fun, adventure and, of course, nature. Rides include water slides and roller coasters among others, with the Maya Splash being a fan favorite. Take a chairlift over the valley to see its true beauty, including the dramatic 15m-high Coo waterfalls that lie at the heart of the village.
Pairi Daiza Zoo and Botanical Park – wrestling pandas and mischievous chimps bring joy to this wild and free park. A whopping 4000 animals from all five continents live here, including giraffes, hippopotamus, white tigers, giant pandas, monkeys and lions. Voted the best zoo in Europe multiple times, this magical place also offers unique accommodation options as well as various other activities such as a zoo keeping course.
Virelles butterfly atrium – one of nature’s wondrous processes is the transformation of caterpillar to butterfly. This butterfly sanctuary overflows with tropical flora and is home to 30 species of exotic, vibrant butterflies. The perfect detour on the way to Chimay Brewery where visitors can learn about the life cycle, ecosystem and significance of butterflies in nature. This venue is happiness personified for children and adults alike.
‘Beeyoutiful’ activities – bees are some of the planet’s most important and hardworking creatures, and Belgium honors these amazing insects through a variety of experiences for the public, including museums, farms and festivals that have bees as their central focus. The Apicole des Neufs Bonniers invites visitors to learn about the life of bees and honey, while the Bee Museum in Tilff shares some of Nobel Prize winner Karl von Frisch’s research on the “language” of bees. The Honey Museum in Lobbes is a great place to learn about hives and beekeeping work.
Spa escapes – Wallonia is well-known for its spas and wellness retreats. The town of Spa is renowned for its iron-enriched waters, and boasts a large assortment of exclusive spas. Château des Thermes of Chaudfontaine is an exquisite Ardennes castle that excels in wellness retreats, using its natural spring waters to guide its offerings. The ivy-clad castle hotel Manoir de Lébioles in the Ardennes is a luxurious affair that is home to its own wellbeing hideaway while the Aubange salt cave is a one-of-a-kind Belgian wellness retreat, providing treatments in a 200-year old caved lined with 15 tons of Himalayan salt.
Dam dawdling – tree-lined dams are the perfect setting for long walks in nature accompanied by water-based activities such as fishing, swimming and kayaking. Lake Nisramont, Gileppe Lake and Lake Vesdre all offer their own exciting adventures, whether it be nature-spotting, cycling, abseiling, thrilling Accropark activities or a scrumptious waterside meal in a panoramic restaurant with endless views of Wallonia’s natural beauty.
Riverside rendezvous – take in the Dinant’s history and beauty with a river cruise in an electric boat. Explore the city in your own time by renting a licence-free boat, and soak up the stunning surrounds dotted with medieval castles, prehistoric caves and audacious rock formations.
Fun on foot – Wallonia is a region filled with a great variety of walking routes and trails, allowing the whole family to have fun exploring on foot, from crossing countryside planes to climbing over rock formations, navigating dense forests and venturing the plunging valleys. Every season offers its own prime walking expeditions, along with gourmet Trappist-filled walks shoulder-to-shoulder with monks. Forage for mushrooms and other produce with experts, go on a night-walk to experience the nocturnal wildlife or follow Napoleon’s footsteps into the famous battlefields of Waterloo. With 31 beautiful villages in Wallonia, you’ll be able to make your own picturesque postcards for home too.
UNESCO utopia – Wallonia has been identified as having areas of exceptional geographical significance by ‘The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization’. These ‘Geoparks’ hold within them all that is rare and precious on Earth, such as million-year-old rock formations, prehistoric caves, noteworthy castles and ancient villages. The Famenne Ardenne Geopark spans 600 miles and overflows with beautiful villages, caves and, of course, nature. Durbuy is home to some of the region’s most quirky attractions such as a topiary garden, giant labyrinth, multiple museums and archaeological digs. The list of unique experiences is endless.
Royal escapades – Belgium boasts the second most castles per hectare in the world and each one of these castles has its own characteristic charm. From divine decor to enthralling history, there are five castles in Wallonia that are must-visits. Chateau de Veves is the classic fairytale castle of your dreams with its pristine towers, sprawling lawns and top-notch turrets. Chateau de Beloeil is nicknamed as “the Versailles of Belgium” for its sumptuousness, while Bouilon takes the crown as the most solid and authentic medieval fortress, with its moats, bridges and dark dungeons. Chateau and Gardens of Annevoie draw the most attention for their paradisaical water gardens that are classified as a major heritage site, and comprise of 4 springs and 50 water features in its 48-hectare expanse. The Lavaux-Saint-Anne castle is the most historically preserved, with 3 museums onsite.
Belgium’s liquid gold – Belgian Beer has been identified as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO, with the abbeys and their monks lying at the heart of the fabled beer brewing process, which they have practiced for hundreds of years. With more than 224 breweries in the region, there is plenty of gourmet exploring to be done here.
Bicycle bliss – one of the best ways to traverse Wallonia is on a bike, hopping on and off at all the most exciting locations. Soak up the splendid sights while cycling through the countryside and the cities, with bicycle-friendly routes scattered throughout the region. Try out one of the 45 plus RAVeL routes or ‘points-noeuds’ paths that will show you the ins and outs of Wallonia’s nature. With technical support and extensive sign-posting, cycling around is effortless here regardless of the season or the weather.
With nature-steeped activities for every kind of adventurer, there is no better place to holiday than Wallonia. For more information on the region, visit their website.
Images copyright: WBT/Olivier Legardien