Things to do in Rochefort - Chateau Comtal & more! (Wallonia - Belgium)

This article first appeared in My Travelogue by Bhushavali
   
Remember Grottes de Han? Well, it is a part of the UNESCO Geopark of Famenne Ardennes, Belgium's only UNESCO Geopark. This Geopark covers a huge area of 911sqm across 8 municipalities, all in Luxembourg province of Belgium. Domaine des Grotte de Han is located in the Rochefort municipality. Recently we headed to Rochefort on a day-trip from Brussels to explore that town itself. So here's my Rochefort travelogue of things to do in Rochefort and more on why it is one of the best places to visit in Belgium with kids!
  
Geopark Famenne Ardennes is based on the valleys of three rivers (the Lesse, the Lomme, the Ourthe). This region is called 'Le Calestienne'. This begins are Remouchamps and continues through Durbuy, Marche-en-Famenne, Han-sur-lesse, Chimay and enters into France and stops there. The specialty here is the Karst Phenomena, meaning the play of erosion of soluble rocks like limestone, which is present excessively here, that gives way to very unusual geological formations here like caves, sinkholes, etc. 

While Grotte de Han is considered the bigger sister and this Grotte de Lorette is considered the little sister! Like Grotte de Han, this place too, has a guided tour inside the cave. The tour begins with a small film and then continues to the staircase to descend into the cave. After a short descent, the beautiful stalactites & stalagmites begin, including a few pillars, draperies, waterfalls & tulip formations. Further ahead are some fossils of shell fishes and more on the rock-face. There is water in this cave too and when it rains, it does get filled a lot with water. The silt that the water carries is deposited on the rocks here and the wet layer of silt is present throughout. Some of the rocks even have the wavy pattern of erosion created by the water. 
  
Grotte de Lorette Rochefort Belgium

Things to do in Rochefort Belgium

UNESCO Geopark Famenne Ardennes Rochefort

Hot-air balloon inside Rochefort Caves Belgium
 
At its deepest point,  it is 65m below ground and we are made to realize that depth with a..... take a wild guess...... with a mini hot-air balloon!!! This is the largest chamber in this cave called the Salle de Sabbath. The depths of the cave is made pitch-dark and with an apt music, the hot-air balloon is let to fly high and then brought down. Its quite an amusing experience. This is actually called the 'Witch's Sabbath' because of one of the Stalactite Stalagmite formations here that look like a witch!!! 
Keep in mind that it has 600+ stairs, so people with reduced mobility cannot descend this cave and obviously its not stroller-friendly. Kids, esp. toddlers and upwards would have fun though. I wore Atyudarini in a ring-sling throughout. 

How to reach Grotte de Lorette: Nearest bus-stop is Rochefort Ancienne Gare which is served by regular TEC buses from Jemelle railway station. It takes about 25mins (incl. a 10 mins walk).
Grotte de Lorette Ticket: €9.5
Grotte de Lorette & Grottes de Han combined Ticket: €26.5
Grotte de Lorette Hours: 
            Jul & Aug: Open everyday. Tours begin every 45mins from 10:30AM to 4:15PM; 
            Dec-Mar: Annual closure; 
            Otherwise: Open on weekends & holidays only with 4 tours per day (10:30, 12:00, 14:00, 15:30)
 
Chateau Comtral Rochefort Castle

Chateau Comtral Rochefort Castle

Chateau Comtral Rochefort Castle
 
Our next stop after the caves was the Rochefort Castle (Chateau Comtal de Rochefort) which can be accessed only with a guided tour, which is available only in French & Dutch simultaneously. With my nascent stage of French, I did manage to understand when she spoke in French, but there is an English handout available as well. The most curious thing here is that the guide is always dressed up as a medieval character (a witch in my tour) and speaks like one. This makes it one of the must-things to do in Belgium with kids. 
This was built in 11th C and has been documented since 1155 CE. However the current structure belongs to 1746 CE which is already in ruins. It was in 1966-71 that this was listed as a Walloon heritage building after the efforts of Father Albert van Iterson of Remy Abbey. 
The first structure here is a tower which was originally used as a prison. Next to this is a little museum with re-creation of how the castle was in its heydays. There are some catapult balls on the floor as well as some coins, pottery, beads etc excavated in this site. Then the guided tour goes through whatever is left in the ruins. There are 2 interesting points - the view from atop the tower accessed by a spiral staircase and then, the only remaining standing structure amongst the ruins - the bench window that looks like triple arches. At this point, the tour gets very interactive with role-playing and more!

How to reach Rochefort Castle: 9 mins walk (700m) from Grotte de Lorette
Rochefort Castle Ticket: €4
Rochefort Castle Hours: Guided tour only at 2:00PM on specific days mentioned in their official site.
  
Malagne Archeoparc Rochefort Gallo Romain

Malagne Archeoparc Rochefort Gallo Romain

Things to do in Belgium with Kids - Malagne Archeoparc

Things to do in Rochefort - Malagne Archeoparc
  
Malagne Archeoparc, as the name suggests, is the archaeological excavation which unearthed an almost complete Gallo-Roman villa that was inhabited till 4th C CE! It is an elaborate complex with 3 major sections - Heritage, Nature & Culture. The entire space is very large and has a couple of large vegetable and floral gardens as a part of the Nature section. There are also a farm for livestock including ponies, donkeys, mountain goats and other regular goats. Atyudarini had so much fun watching the mountain goats!
A major feature of Heritage section is the ruins of the ancient Gallo-Roman villa's main building! Like most ancient Roman structures, this too seems to have had an elaborate bathing area - the Roman baths (like BathCaerleonTrier etc) complete with cooling room, steam room, heating room etc. The main building also has had a reception, kitchen, master bedroom, toilets, cellars and more. Apart from this main building there are a couple of reconstructed historic houses to give a feel of how life would have been then incl. a forge, a bakery, a barn etc. Also sometimes demonstrations happen to enact & explain how iron forging or cooking or domesticating animals would have happened then. 

How to reach Malagne Archeoparc de Rochefort: Well, reaching here by public transport is slightly a challenge. While the nearest bus-stop is only 900m away and is an easy 13mins walk, the challenge is that it is partially a highway with no footpath (N836) followed by a another motorable-road again with no footpath. On the side of the highway, there's a 'path' with damaged/fallen grass because visitors had apparently walked on it over and over again. While the second part of the route also doesn't have a footpath, this is not a highway, so the risk of speeding vehicles is less, but still exists. 

Nearest bus stop to Malagne Archeoparc de Rochefort: Jamelle Hall Omnisports 
Malagne Archeoparc de Rochefort Ticket: €7.5 (included in museumPASSmuseees)
Malagne Archeoparc de Rochefort Hours: Apr - Nov everyday 11:00AM to 6:00PM

Chapel Notredame de Lorette in Rochefort (associated with the legend of Chateau Comtal), Rochefort Touristic train (a 1-hr long, fun, toy train experience), Rail & Stone Centre Jamelle

ONE DAY IN ROCHEFORT ITINERARY: 
     Chateau Comtal de Rochefort, Grotte de Lorette, Chapel Notredame de Lorette, Malagne Archeoparc, Tourist train
TWO DAYS IN ROCHEFORT ITINERARY: 
     Day 1: As above; 
     Day 2: Day-trip to Marche-en-famenne or Han-sur-lesse
  

Grotte de Lorette Rochefort Pinterest Chateau Comtal Rochefort Pinterest
  
The nearest railway station to Rochefort is actually Jemelle. Direct trains are available from Brussels (Noord, Centraal, Zuid, Schuman, Luxembourg) to Jemelle, once every hour and the journey time is 1:45hrs. 
From Jemelle regular and frequent buses are available that connect to Rochefort. Buses here are operated by TEC and its tickets can be bought online and loaded onto the MOBIB Card.

Rochefort has a few hotels, not many, a few. As an alternative, an amazing idea would be go camping in Rochefort or stay in a tree-top house at Han-sur-Leese. For a luxury stay, a good choice is Le Quartier Latin Marche-en-famenne which is just 10 mins from Jemelle both by car as well as public transport (train+walk). 

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

13 comments:

  1. It's always been a dream of mine the Rochefort castle. I'm glad you talk about accommodations because we were considering an Airbnb but to get there, if we want to camp like you mention, we'd have to pack all of our camping stuff and travel with it! We shall see how we do it! Thank you :D

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  2. I must admit that we have never been to Belgium. So it was good to get some information on places to visit like Rochefort. We would definitely want to do the guided tour of the grotto and look for the witch. I love visiting castles but my French is not good enough for a tour of the Chateau Comtal. But then we usually head off on our own for pictures. And I guess I could learn more about the chateau in advance in English. Some good spots for a day visit.

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  3. I am doing all the homework for our much-delayed europe trip, and Belgium is part of it. Now Rochefort will also be added to the list. Thanks for the recommendations.

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  4. Had never even heard of this place before today even though it is a UNESCO site! When I think of Belgium I think of historical sites like castles and cathedrals, sure, but never associated them with cave chambers - this was such an eye opening article! Would definitely wanna learn more about Grotte de Lorette by taking the guided tours. 65m underground, well the 'witch' really likes hiding I guess! Loved reading your experience! :D

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  5. These two sites are the perfect combo of history and geology! I love caverns and have seen my share to know these are quite dramatic. Add a castle to the itinerary and that sounds like a fabulous day in Europe!

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  6. Awesome post...so do you think that CD ave would be ok for a 5 year old that was respectful of rules? Might take my neice there. Thanks so much!

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  7. Wow! What an adventure. It is nice that they offer a guided tour inside the cave. It would be fascinating to see the stalactites and stalagmites especially the Witch's Sabbath. Thank you for sharing this. I would really love to visit in the future if given the chance.

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  8. Since I live in London it’s kind of embarrassing I haven’t visit Belgium yet as it’s only 2h away by train! I definitely have to plan a trip soon! To be fair I’ve never heard about those caves or the castle! I love that mini hot-air balloon inside ! It’s insane haha I don’t think it I could do that ! The area around Rochefort Castle is so beautiful as well!

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  9. Stalactite and stalagmite always amazed me and how they name the formation in the caves amazed me more. The mini hot air balloon presentation looked really great! First time I read about this thing. I also like seeing the tour guide at the castle dressed up as a medieval character. It's a smart idea to make tourists come to visit.

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  10. Geopark Famenne Ardennes looks interesting to visit and good to know it is located on the valley of three rivers. It really looks huge as it is spread across 8 municipalities. Your next stop at Rochefort Castle looks amazing as this castle is really very old since 11th CE. I loved the nature section of Malagne Archeoparc with lush green fields. Even your daughter looks super happy with greenery all around.

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  11. Your photos are amazing! This is the perfect destination for a trip. Reading your blog has definitely got me thinking about coming up with a plan to visit Geopark Famenne Ardennes in the future at some point.

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