For the second successive summer a staycation in Wallonia is all the vogue in Belgium this year.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, more and more of us (whether out of choice or necessity) are holidaying on home soil.
But, of course, if a vacation closer to home is de rigueur it does help if there are things to keep us occupied and entertained.
So, focusing on the south of Belgium in Wallonia (and in no particular order) we’ve compiled a “Top 10” of activities to keep you (and the kids) entertained this summer (and, of course, the rest of the year too).
A good starting point is Domaine Des Grottes de Han, at Han-sur-Lesse, located just off the E411 motorway between Namur and Brussels.
It has two main attractions: one of the most beautiful caves in Europe and the wildlife park which is, at 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.
It is, possibly (and depending on your mobility) 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. The cave is the only natural attraction in Belgium to have been awarded 3 stars in the famous Michelin guide (quite an accolade).
Both the park and caves are located at the very heart of the Famenne-Ardenne UNESCO Global Geopark. You’ll need to allow a full day to see both though half a day is ok if it’s just one.
Finish off by checking out another popular attraction nearby, the Han 1900 museum (free if you have purchased a Domaine Des Grottes de Han ticket). It is the place to visit if you want to discover the rural life and forgotten crafts from former times.
If you are in search of something even more energetic the region of Wallonia has plenty to offer, ranging from water-skiing, swinging and climbing through trees and cycling.
The water skiing (and other water sports) can be done at The Spin cablepark, located at Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure and one of the top attractions in the region. This is essentially a water ski lift mounted on Lake Féronva, one of the lakes that traverse this lovely part of the country.
Thanks to this system, you can participate to all sorts of water sports like waterskiing and wakeboarding.
The Spin, which opened in 2011, forms a sort of loop of 620m and, on your left and right, you will encounter lots of obstacles like in a skate or snow park.
The small cable is a 100m line between 2 pylons which is perfect for beginners. There’s also a big cable for more advanced (and adventurous) skiers. The activities are suitable for people of all ages and skill levels and everything is overseen by a friendly and helpful team of professionals. There are also other activities to be had here, such as petanque and beach volleyball.
This fantastic centre, which has boasted a Wallonia Destination Quality label since 2019, also seeks to promote sustainable tourism and subscribes to the circular economy concept, an important policy of the European Union.
The owners are also applying for status as an amusement park which is significant as that would substantially help raise the attraction’s profile. Such status would also assist with the cost of maintenance and help boost future growth. If you haven’t discovered this place yet you really should try to as it’s well worth a visit.
The terrific water-based Spin is situated at Les Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure, the biggest nautical complex in Belgium – a sort of Belgian equivalent in Wallonia of the English Lake District.
The whole 1,800-hectare site (a third of which is, in fact, water) includes the biggest dam in the country.
A novel and entertaining way to explore the lake is by boarding Crocodile Rouge, an amphibious bus that takes you on a 50minute trip on the water itself, all 68 million cubic metres of it! The bus, imported from Canada in 1999, can accommodate up to 30 people and takes you close to the nearby dam which is some 800m long, 30m deep and supports a 107m-high tower. The bus/boat is powered by a propeller and these very enjoyable trips take place four times a day, at 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm daily over the summer. From September, they operate on Wednesdays and weekends only until October. The helpful onboard guide speaks in French, Dutch and English and explains everything on the lake.
There’s also another top attraction here: the terrific Natura adventure parc which offers enjoyable a “climbing through the trees”, bungee jumping and zip line experience on a total of no less than nine courses for young and old alike. Ten trails from 2 to 25 meters above the floor and several difficulty levels make it ideal the whole family, children from 3 years old included.
Two new jumps have been added to Natura Parc: a 15 meter pendulum jump and a 25m “Flightline” jump from a totem pole. It’s a great activity for young and old alike and there’s also some great views of the lake opposite too, part of a network that covers some 70km.
Worth noting that in accordance with the latest rules, prior reservation is mandatory. Natura Parc is managed by the Lamy Group, which also operates a very good holiday complex nearby.
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.
Thrill seekers can get their adrenalin really flowing even more with a spot of karting, adjacent to the world famous Spa Francochamps course, home of the Belgian Grand Prix. The 1,092 metre track, features a long straight line, beautiful curves, chicane and even a hairpin bend and gives thrill seekers the chance to test themselves where many great champions have trained. There’s a fleet of 25 state of the art karts, which are changed every two years.
It’s a great thrill to know that, in sampling a 20 minute karting session, you are following in the footsteps of some of motor sport’s finest. An added bonus is that this is arguably the best karting track in the country. Prices range according to the time spent on the track, be it 10, 20 or 30 minutes.
After expending all that energy you may well have built up quite an appetite and a great spot to sate any hunger is at La Ferme de la Reine des Prés, at Petit-Their, just a few kilometres south of Spa and not without some history itself.
This lovely place is, aside from some great wholesome food, is worth a visit to see what a water mill in the 18th century used to look like.
The old mill can be easily seen right in the middle of the restaurant which is run by Sonja and Jean-Paul Henquet-Mingue.
There is also a trout fishery and ornamental garden and it all makes for a delightful setting for what is equally delightful cuisine, a responsibility evenly split between Sonja, who comes from St Vith, in the German speaking region of Belgium, and her Maastricht-born husband.
The couple offer no less than 13 different trout-based preparations, ranging from being served with almond to seafood and white wine.
During the summer, the restaurant is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and just weekends in the winter. The small menu changes every two weeks and features good regional dishes which, given the quality,are remarkable well priced. Look out for some great black and white photos on the walls which tell the fascinating story of this locality.
The couple plan to turn the restaurant into a gite in 2023 so you’d be well advised to try and sample its unique ambience while you still can.
At least some of the attractions listed here were badly hit by the devastating floods that recently hit Wallonia and the Ardennes. Some are only just recovering and all deserve as much help as they can get.
The terrible flooding caused havoc and was the last thing the region needed after enduring the even worse health pandemic.
It is wise to contact the attraction in advance of any trip to make sure they are operating normally. All of the above attractions have taken steps to ensure they comply with all coronavirus health and safety regs.
Yes, the pandemic may still be with us but the good news is that tourism in Wallonia is once again very much up and running and there’s plenty to keep you occupied and entertained if you choose to holiday at home this year.
So, there you have it: our Top Ten of Best things to do in Wallonia during the summer holidays. If you are among the many who were fed up being stuck at home during the crisis, you might welcome such great places to visit.
Despite lockdowns, various restrictions and even flooding, all these fantastic Belgian attractions are ready to welcome back visitors – and that can only be great news for all of us.