Soft and well-behaved after it leaves the earth at its source in the Rue Sonnetty in Arlon and when it bathes the Gaume, the Semois then reveals its wild, rebellious side, sometimes languorous, sometimes tumultuous, as it squeezes along the narrow valleys of the Ardennes. On its banks are a succession of distinctively different, picturesque villages and towns, including Florenville, Chassepierre, Herbeumont, Cugnon, Dohan, Bouillon, “Pearl of the Semois” with its castle, Poupehan, Frahan and Vresse. Places where you can enjoy fish and local cured and fresh meats.
The most feminine of our rivers
Then the Semois slips over the French border and is rebaptised the Semoy. This queen of meanders has enchanted painters and poets, and also anglers, nature-lovers, sports fans and the less active. The Semois is “the most feminine of our rivers” in the words of the poet Adrien de Prémorel, and it and its valley continue to enchant, relax, surprise and even astonish us. Rocky escarpments, languid meadows, delightful villages, turnings off a country road or a forest trail, each offers new discoveries and new enchantments.
Famous castles, such as Herbeumont, Bouillon and Sedan, fortresses which tell the history of this in-between region, crossed in all ages and in all directions by the world’s most powerful armies… Majestic road and rail bridges and more modest footbridges thrown between the two banks and always leading to places you might not always have expected.
The Semois is also a collection of soils, varied and ideal for raising tasty meat, especially in autumn hunting season when you will find game dishes on many restaurant menus in the valley that will titillate the most sophisticated of palates. Those who love eating fish will have the pleasure of tasting pike with beurre blanc sauce, eels or even a simple trout cooked in traditional style.
The meat from animals raised all along the valley is processed with extraordinary skill by pork butchers and curers to produce hams, black puddings, salamis and terrines…all food that tastes better when washed down with a local craft beer.
The valley, an iconic place
Access to the Semois valley is via roads cut through greenery and forests to enter beautiful woodland where stags, does and wild boar can spread out over hundreds of hectares. Hundreds of kilometres of waymarked footpaths take walkers and hikers from famous rocks to footbridges strung above the water.
Who could have imagined that the small stream of water running through two basins in the rue Sonnetty in Arlon would, after travelling for almost 200km, become the beautiful Ardennes river that flows into its big sister, the Meuse, at Monthermé? On its journey, it has crossed the Vance marshes, then the Sinémurienne ridge, then Belgian Lorraine and then the Ardennes. Its waters are augmented by those of the Rulles and the Vierre and many other streams with evocative names: “la gouttelle des Naux”, “le ruisseau des Aleines”, “le ruisseau de la Foulerie” and “la fontaine Maîtrejean”… From a little trickle, she has grown into the imposing lady who mixes with the abundant waters of the Meuse.
An exceptional landscape
The River Semois also flows past hundreds of magnificent landscapes, including the famous “Giant’s Tomb” at Botassart: the legend says that a giant is buried under the huge, wooded, barrel-shaped hill squeezed into a large meander of the river. From the hills above Rochehaut, the river offers a panoramic view of the hill and also of Frahan, which is particularly delightful when the hamlet emerges from the morning mists of early autumn that are burnt off by the rays of the already timid sun.
“The most feminine of rivers” knows just what to do to turn our heads…