La Roche-en-Ardenne

La Roche Travel Blog

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Next on our trip was the small town of La Roche-en-Ardenne which is lying beside a bend in the River Ourthe, which we followed. The road is really scenic and doing the trip in the summer or spring is definitely now on my target list for the coming month.

The village is very small and the whole area of the municipality covers an area of 147.52 km², and it has approximately 4.400 giving a population density of 29.5 inhabitants per km² which is very low for an area in Belgium. The municipality of La Roche-en-Ardenne which goes back to 1976 consists of the former municipalities of La Roche-en-Ardenne, Beausaint, Halleux, Hives, Ortho and Samrée.

La Roche-en-Ardenne is one of the more popular tourist destinations in the Ardennes and the nature is the main reason for that. Activities like walking, kayaking, and mountain biking are among the outdoor pursuits available here. Tourism developed in La Roche at the end of the 19th century, mostly with English enjoying fly fishing in the Ourthe and its tributaries. La Roche was promoted by Pastor Perk, who wrote the first local tourist guide in Dutch, and his son Pierre, who dedicated poems to the town.

La Roche was not damaged during the First World War but was nearly completely (90%) destroyed during the Second World War. The town was liberated by the Allied troops on 10 September 1944 but Von Rundstedt launched a counter-attack in the winter of 1944-1945; La Roche was seized by the Germans on 21 December 1944 and hit by some 70,000 American shells until the 11 January 1945, when the 51st Highlander Division (Black Watch) of the 30th British Corps and the 1st US Army liberated the two banks of the Ourthe and the town as well.

The valley of Ourthe was already settled in the Neolithic. The Celts built a fortified camp on the rocky spur that later became the site of the castle of La Roche. After the submission of the region by Caesar in 57, the camp was replaced by a Roman fort; coins portraying Emperors Domitian (81-96) and Constantine II (337-340) have been found there.

In the early Frankish times, the Roman fort was transformed into a hunting lodge by Pepin of Herstal who was the Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia from 680 to his death and of Neustria and Burgundy from 687 to 695.

The first castle of La Roche was built in the 11th century; it was strategically significant from the 12th to the 17th century.

The importance started to decline in 1721 and a project of restoration failed in 1744. The ruined castle was then used as a quarry by the inhabitants of the town.

The romantic ruins of the castle are haunted by the ghost of Countess Berthe de La Roche, who can be seen sometimes at night fall rambling on the place of her death (but the ghost does not show up on rainy days!).

Berthe was the only child and heir of the lord of La Roche, who announced that the loyal winner of a big tourney would marry his daughter. The first pretender to register was Count de Montaigu; the Count was not so loyal, since he was already engaged with Countess Alix de Salm, but was very mighty and undefeated in turneys.

Accordingly, nobody else dared challenge him; however, short before the closure of the aborted turney, a child-looking knight entered the combat area, hardly armed and riding a small horse without any armour.

He caused great mirth and Montaigu prepared to crush him. The shabby knight proved to be very skillful and avoided all Montaigu's assault. The Count steamed with sweat and decided to end the game; he took he big run up and aimed at his opponent with his heavy sword. Once again, the shabby knight quickly moved and Montaigu, unseated, fell down to the ground, where his opponent easily finished him off.

The Countess Berthe and her husband spent their wedding night in the highest room of the donjon of the castle. The next morning, the lord of La Roche found the room empty; leaning out of the wide open window, he saw two spots, one black and one white, down into the precipice on the bank of the Ourthe. The shabby knight was indeed Countess Alix de Salm, who had signed a pact with the devil and had taken revenge on Count de Montaigu and Countess de La Roche.

Chokk says:
I liked it too - that is the fun part of Belgium. Every small village has something and you never know what until you dig into it;)
Posted on: Mar 09, 2009
Koralifix says:
Really neat story!
Posted on: Mar 09, 2009
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La Roche
photo by: Chokk