If you are among the many who are utterly depressed by the ongoing pandemic and its impact in Belgium, there’s a place at the gateway to the Ardennes that might prove just the tonic.
Certainly, Les Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure is just the prescription for the coronavirus blues.
History buffs might actually already be familiar with this lovely part of the country. On 14 June, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte arrived in Beaumont, Wallonia with his troops, on the way to confront the allied armies of Wellington and Blucher. Four days later his defeat changed the course of European history.
The gateway to Belgium for many invading armies, Beaumont is still home to the remains of numerous reminders of Napoleon´s short stay and the wonderful Les Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure a few kilometres away makes for a superb base for visiting the town and surrounding area.
Nestled around five picturesque lakes, Les Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure is the biggest nautical complex in Belgium – a sort of Belgian equivalent of the English Lake District – and scores well on several levels, both as a tourist destination but also as an energy provider and on environment protection grounds.
The 1,800-hectare site (a third of which is, in fact, water) includes the biggest dam in the country and you can scale its 100m tower to enjoy a particularly good panoramic view. It also serves a very practical purpose, featuring a hydro-electric power station, producing “green” energy, and helping maintain the level of the River Sambre and the Brussels-Charleroi canal.
Dating back to the early 1970s, the 800m-long dam is the original part of Les Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure which has grown steadily over the years to become the number one tourist attraction in the whole of Wallonia.
Les Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure is terrific place for a short (or long) stay as the site also boasts the delightful “Golden Lakes Village” holiday site. This comprises 150 beautifully-appointed villas located on the banks of Lac de la Plate Taille, which, at a depth of 52m and covering some 352 hectares, is the largest of the five lakes and comes complete with its very own beach and promenade.
Each lake has its own “speciality”with sailing and diving being the permitted activities on Lac de la Plate Taille. Water sports, including water skiing powered by solar energy – a world first – takes place on lac de l´Eau d´Heure and lac de Feronval.
The lakes, which straddle the Belgian provinces of Namur and Hainault, also offer fishing opportunities on Lac du Ri Jaune though you will be lucky to match the biggest fish once caught here – a 1.5m-long monster weighing some 32kg!
There’s also the terrific Natura parc which offers an enjoyable “climbing through the trees” experience on no less than nine courses for young and old alike.
After expanding all that energy the comfortable wooden, fully furnished 3-bedroom villas make for a particularly relaxing rest. Each are integrated into the tree-lined surroundings and boast all the creature/home comforts (dishwasher, fridge etc), plus electric heating, wooden fire, open kitchen and partly-roofed 30 sq mt patio with garden furniture –ideal for the summer just on the horizon.
Many of these tastefully-furnished 115 square metre villas (which offer accommodation for groups of different sizes and some of which even come with a sauna) also offer a terrific panorama of the lakes and countryside. Given the current pandemic, everything is done to guarantee the health and safety of guests.
The uncluttered lay-out of the holiday village, a blessed relief from so many holiday parks, lends itself to a peaceful break that each year attracts scores of visitors in search of the Great Outdoors.
A couple of years ago the site, which is just an hour drive or so drive from Brussels, got even bigger and better with the opening of a hotel which offers an alternative option to the self-catering villas for a short break.
There are plenty of other things to keep you busy, including walking, stand-up paddles and kayaking. Probably the best way to explore and enjoy some (or all) of the 70km banks that straddle the lakes is to hop on a bike. These can be hired from the hotel and are very reasonably priced.
Actually, the “coastline” here, just 20 minutes from Charleroi airport, is longer than the 60k found at the Belgian coast itself. Little wonder the site attracts nearly tens of thousands of visitors every year.
There are also an estimated 300km of signposted paths for walkers and horse riders, great for cyclists and mountain bikers. Depending on your energy levels, it takes about 90 minutes to cycle the 15km round Lac de la Plate Taille.
The relatively new hotel also boasts a conference centre which will help attract the all-important business trade. Overseeing both the Golden Lakes holiday village and hotel is a leading Belgian enterprise called Lamy, a family firm located near Liege.
A reflection of the emphasis on sustainability, Les Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure, an excellent gateway to the Ardennes, has been designated by the EU as a European Destination of Excellence (EDEN), a project that promotes sustainable tourism development models across the EU. It is one of just five destinations in Wallonia and less than 100 in the whole of Europe to be given such an accolade and, according to a Walloon Government spokesman, this illustrates how the site has become a genuine “benchmark for good practice in sustainable, balanced tourism in Belgium.”
Europe and the Walloon Region have been working together for 20 years to create a world class tourist resort on the site of Les Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure and the impressive results of their endeavours are now clearly visible, with an ever rising number of visitors and overnight stays.
Ever since it started back in the 1970s, this place has commendably been flying the flag for regional tourism but it has also sought to generate much needed business for what has been a desperately struggling local economy.
The decline of the steel and coal industries in Wallonia have over the years hit the region particularly hard but the presence of Les Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure offers real optimism now and for the future.
As the Walloon government says, “The whole community benefits heavily from the improved infrastructure at Les Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure.”
Given the severe limitations on our freedom to travel right now, staycations have become even more fashionable and there’s much to commend Belgium for its efforts to offer people here a much needed break.
This green oasis is perfect for some peace and relaxation but also offers plenty to do for the more energetic.
So, if you are looking for a bit of R&R you’d do well to consider this wonderful place, located in an area known quaintly as the “Heel of Hainaut.”