The Belgian Ardennes can be a magical place at this time of the year and one of its most popular tourist attractions is providing yet more reason to pay a visit to the region over the holiday season.
Domaine Des Grottes de Han, at Han-sur-Lesse, will be mounting a Christmas spectacle this year to provide a much-needed boost to all those who are plain fed up with the never-ending health crisis.
Located just off the E411 motorway between Namur and Luxembourg, the Domaine is a great place at any time of the year but, for the festive season, it is making an extra special effort to gladden the hearts of young and old alike.
It has two main attractions: one of the most beautiful caves in Europe and the wildlife park which is, at a sprawling 250 hectares, the biggest of its kind in Belgium. It’s here you can encounter the “European Big 5”, the grey wolf, brown bear, lynx, bison and wolverine. There are two ways to visit the park: by safari bus or on foot.
Both the park and caves are staying open over the holiday season and, with a Christmas atmosphere and festive decorations, promise to cheer up those feeling down about the ongoing pandemic and related restrictions.
It is, possibly (and depending on your mobility and ability) best to discover the delightful wildlife park on foot. A very pleasant 6km walking trail takes you close to the entrance to the entrance to the caves, one of Belgium’s most popular tourist attractions with up to 300,000 visitors per year. A led lighting system brings out the natural colours and depth of the caves and dripstones.
For Christmas, the caves will be specially decorated and illuminated, making them even more spectacular.
The caves are the only natural attraction in Belgium to have been awarded 3 stars in the famous Michelin Guide.
Both the park and caves are located at the very heart of the Famenne-Ardenne UNESCO Global Geopark. You are best to allow a full day to see both though half a day is ok if it’s just either the park or caves.
A spokesman for the domain told this website, “To take full advantage of the coming winter season, the domaine will be opening its doors every day during the winter holidays, from December 26 to January 9 inclusive (except January 1).”
December had barely showed the tip of its nose when the first snowflakes fell on the animal park. The flamboyant autumn landscape has now gently given way to a sparkling, silvery wintery landscape.
Everything from reindeer to arctic foxes and wolves have put on their winter “sleeping bags” and are ready to face the cold.
You can also encounter brown bears whose day is divided between phases of sleep and phases of light activity. They live in slow motion and still go out several times a day to stretch their legs which is exactly when you might catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures.
Nearby, the Grotto of Han, or caves, will welcome visitors in the heart of one of Belgium’s largest and most beautiful “rooms” – a cavernous underground space.
This year, the “Salle du Dôme”, the largest underground cave in Belgium, will be immersed in a Christmas atmosphere with decorations making it even more sublime than usual.
A unique underground journey will end with a dazzling sound and light show, all played 110m underground.
Of course, the little ‘uns have not been forgotten: Father Christmas has chosen the Domaine des Grottes de Han to drop off his sled and will be present every day at the visitor entrance.
The animal park can be visited on foot, at your own pace, along its footpath or aboard a Safari-car accompanied by a driver-guide. The visit to the Grotto is guided and is done in small groups. Departures are scheduled every hour.
It all promises to be just the Yuletide tonic folk may need after such a difficult year.