Of all the Belgian rivers that give character to the Ardennes and the Wallonian region, the one that does so much with so little is the Semois. The Semois travels between Arlon, Belgium and Montherme, France where it joins to the mightier River Meuse. As the crow flies, these two villages are merely 80 km (50 mi) apart. Yet, in between, the Semois meanders like a drunk man, doubling-back on itself many times over, traveling in total 210 km (130 mi), carving out a charming landscape of dramatic river bends, majestic vistas, and isolated villages.
There is something mysterious and beautiful about a peninsular stretch of land formed in a sharp river bend. They are places protected by natural boundaries on all but one side. They inspire legends, provide strategic locations to build fortresses in times long forgotten, or cloak village communities who wish to remain hidden away, blending into their tranquil natural paradise. For centuries, this was coveted frontier land between France and the Prince-Bishopric of Liege. Later it became the center of Belgium’s tobacco industry.
Those tobacco fields looked prosperous, and the houses of Bohan… are all dependant on tobacco. The villagers, loyal folk, even smoke it themselves, and have it done up in pound packets to sell to wayfarers. I tried it, and a small boy in Bohan was the richer by fifteen and seven-eighths of an ounce.A Wayfarer in Belgium by Fletcher Allen (1934)
Today, you will not find children hawking tobacco packets in the streets looking to swindle unwary travellers out of an eighth of an ounce, nor do you have to worry about to whom you need to pay fealty. This is a hiker’s paradise offering some of the best views in the Ardennes with the fun and challenge of dealing with the natural obstacle course created by the winding Semois.
On one of the more picturesque bends on the Semois sits the flower box village of Frahan.
Here we crossed to the other bank of the Semois, and began to climb again to Rochehaut, there to look on Frahan… so lovely as to quicken the heart-beats of a cynic.A Wayfarer in Belgium by Fletcher Allen (1934)
It is in Rochehaut where this Beer & Hike begins.
Just up the road from the center of Rochehaut is a craft brewery-restaurant with an impressive brewery shop, tours, and a vast restaurant area with a great view. But before we get to the beer…
Note: For those looking for the well-known Promenade des Echelles hike from Rochehaut, this is a neighboring hike which does not include any ladder segments.
|Starting Point||Brasserie de Rochehaut|
|My Moving Time||2:35|
|Eating Point||Brasserie de Rochehaut|
It’s Not Just a Beer, It’s a Journey
The hike starts from the Brasserie parking lot and heads toward Rochehaut village. Even around noon, a fog still covered the valleys.
Behind Frahan is a beautiful hike along a ridge with some viewpoints and rock formations, one of which has been named for the legend which has made several appearances in my hikes around Belgium. The Quatre Fils Aymon or Four Sons of Aymon.
The hike then comes down to the river where it backtracks along the road to Frahan to cross over the footbridge again. Note that bridge crossings are rare, and trail apps, like Komoot, can sometimes show what appears to be a crossing when, in actuality, it is a place known to be shallow enough to wade across. On a cold November day, when I did this hike, I wanted to avoid that.
After an ascent, the hike crosses over towards another fold of the Semois. This is the side with the Echelles (ladders) but I did not take them down. Instead, I was eager to head back to the Brasserie.
One of the local delicacies of the Ardennes is a delicious smoked ham which I knew was waiting for me back in the Brasserie. On the way back, I had to confront a bit of carniverous guilt.
Back at the Brasserie, it was time for the reward. Unfortunately the kitchen was closed on a Tuesday, but they offered some tasty ham shavings with their beer.
I savored the Pils, Autumn Ale, and an extra helping of the ham before raiding the shop and taking home the stronger stuff for later.
Looking over the Semois, the Autumn clung to the last vestiges of its glory. The orange, yellow, and green dulled by a blanket of empty tree branches. Another year was passing by and despite straining to hear the voices, the air whispered little of the past. Legends survive, marked by a sign on a lonely tree. Another leaf flutters to the forest floor, quietly, without fanfare. The river flows carrying with it the memories of the people who have come and gone. Nothing makes you reflect more than being alone in nature, and no season reflects the hands of time like late Autumn. I felt someone’s loss as my eyes traced the contours of the horizon. In a few months, the forest will bring back its copious palette of green. The Semois will flourish again with life. New experiences will fill the valley with awe, and the river will whisk them away on its winding journey to France. A day which felt like pale shades of fading colors will someday burst into the brightest explosions of orange, yellow, and green whenever this adventure is shared. And all of those that came before, wherever they are in the universe, will be smiling.