Encircled by wooded hills and lapped by the waters of the River Ourthe, La Roche-en-Ardenne is the centre of Ardennes tourism. The town welcomed its first day-trippers and tourists in the nineteenth century: they came to visit its mediaeval castle and to enjoy its stunning panoramic views and delicious, reinvigorating food. Today, La Roche is very popular among outdoor sports enthusiasts, with its 250km of waymarked footpaths and mountain-bike trails. Touring cyclists go there to take part in the annual “Vélomédiane” time-trial and it also attracts fans of orienteering, kayaking and volleyball. The town also hosts events such as its unmissable Carnival, the Soup Festival and the BAM Contemporary Art Fair. In addition, its splendid viewpoints, game park and museums are all worth more than a passing glance.
The first nineteenth-century tourists
The untamed beauty of the town of La Roche-en-Ardenne attracted its first tourists in the nineteenth century. Most were members of the wealthy classes who could afford the time for leisure activities. Among them were some famous writers, such as Victor Hugo and Oscar Wilde who met the Perks, father and son, whose books about the town drew attention to it in the northern provinces, then other writers, members of the Tachtiger group, such as Van Dyssel and Van der Goes. The first tourist guides, including some in English and Dutch, praised the town’s restaurants “where good soup and often game and very fresh fish from the rivers” could be enjoyed, as well as its honest and hospitable hoteliers.
The Battle of the Ardennes museum
In December 1944 and January 1945, La Roche-en-Ardenne was almost wiped off the map when 348 of its buildings were destroyed in American artillery bombardments and air raids which aimed to destroy the bridges and thus halt the advance of the German panzer divisions. “Instead of a charming little town, we found a valley of death” wrote the war correspondent M-G. Levy. More than 115 civilians, including some entire families, lost their lives. The Battle of the Ardennes museum invites visitors to remember this sad episode in the town’s history. La Roche-en-Ardenne was liberated on 11 January 1945 by the Allies, more precisely by the Scots of the British 51st (Highland) Infantry Division, joined shortly afterwards by the US 84th Infantry Division. Today, the meeting point of these two forces is commemorated by a plaque. On the heights overlooking the town, on the Route du Chalet, an Achilles tank pays homage to the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry, a British regiment whose troops supported the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division, and symbolises the town’s liberation.
Few traces of the town’s history remain except for the massive ruins of the castle, St Margaret’s chapel and the furnishings of St Nicholas’s church. The castle ruins bear witness to the major changes made to the building in the seventeenth century by Louis XIV’s military engineers under the French occupation.
Many tourists come to see the ghost of Berthe, which appears on the castle walls as part of a major Ardennes legend that mixes love, revenge, jealousy, pacts with the devil and a tragic end.
Walks, a game park and a tourist road-train:
Waymarked footpath N°4 is 6km long and is named “The Devil’s Castle”. It leads to the game park, 10 hectares of wooded countryside that are home to around 30 species of local wild animal and a few domesticated animals. The road train departs from the Place du Bronze and takes tourists to the most beautiful parts of La Roche, such as the Deister Corniche viewpoint, without them having to make any effort. Every Wednesday in July and August, it also calls at the Marcourt Farmers’ Market, where visitors can enjoy local food, drink and crafts.
Walkers, hikers, mountain-bikers and touring cyclists all know that La Roche-en-Ardenne is a real "must" for outdoor sports. After all, with "roche" and "Ardenne" in its name, it couldn’t be anything else...