Crowded with Belgian and Dutch tourists in the summer months, Han-sur-Lesse is the perfect place for a holiday get-away in the Ardennes. This small stone village boasts some of the most beautiful limestone caves in Northern Europe, one of largest animal reserves in the country, and plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, especially kayaking.
Grottes de Han
The limestone caves of Han (Grottes de Han in French) were discovered in 1815 and were turned into a tourist attraction in 1895. A mini-train brings visitors to the caves from the village. The visit itself is on foot with a small passage by boat at the end of the 3 km walk. Temperatures inside are around 10-15'C during the tourist season, so bring warm clothes with you. The highest part of the caves is 129m high !
The caves are most of the year except in January. In the low season they are only open a few days per week. Check the official website for the exact opening days and time. Admission is 20 € for adults, 18 € for young people aged 13 to 18, students and seniors, and 14 € for children from 4 to 12 years old (free under 4). The PassHan, which also includes the animal reserve costs respectively 30, 28 and 21 €.
The caves are part of a domain also comprising one of Belgium's biggest animal reserves (250 ha), where children and adults alike can observe from the little train local species of deer and wild boars, imported bisons and wild oxen, as well as the rarer lynx, brown bears, ibex and chamois..
What makes Han-sur-Lesse's animal reserve so unique is that it possesses some of the last surviving specimens of Przewalski's horses, a rare and endangered subspecies of the wild horse of Central Asia (recently proven by DNA tests to descend from feral Bronze Age horses from the Botai culture). The reserve is also home to two reconstituted prehistoric species, the tarpan (the ancestor of the modern horse, which went extinct five centuries ago), and the auroch (the ancestor of domestic cattle, whose last pure European member died in 1627). The tarpan and the auroch were both re-created by selective breeding.
Admission to the reserve costs 8 € and visits are by guided tours on board a miniature train.
Still in the domain, the Expotheme (same ticket as the caves) tell visitors about environmental issues such as global warming. The town also has a museum of the underground world (3 €), with displays of bronze- and iron-age artifacts found in the caves.
As it name indicates, Han sits on the River Lesse, Belgium's prime destination for kayaking. The most common routes start in Han and go all the way down to Dinant, where the Lesse meets the Meuse. A few kilometers before Dinant, you will be able to contemplate the majestic Walzin Castle (Château de Walzin), constructed on the edge of a cliff just above the river.
How to get there
The nearest train station is Jemelle, from where regular public buses (N° 29) make the connection to Han-sur-Lesse are directly accessible by train. Jemelle station, on the Brussels-Luxembourg railway line, approximatively 20min from Ciney, 40min from Namur or 1h20min from Brussels-Luxembourg station.
By car, the easiest way is to follow the E411 motorway (Brussels-Namur-Luxembourg) till exit 23 for Wellin, then the N89 towards Han-sur-Lesse (5min) and Rochefort (10min). If you are travelling in the region, you could easily visit the castle of Lavaux-St-Anne (also exit 23) or the village of Redu (exit 24).
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