Rochefort (pop. 12,000) is the tourist capital of the Ardennes and Famenne region. It is not particularly attractive in itself, but it has enough hotels and restaurants to make for a good base to explore the region.
|Lafayette in Rochefort|
In 1792, the marquis de Lafayette, the famous French general who played an important role in both the American Revolutionary War, was arrested in Rochefort. Lafayette had just relieved of his command of the Garde Nationale and been declared a traitor by the French Assembly. Fearing for his head (literally, since he could face the guillotine), Lafayette fled France, heading for the Dutch Republic, in he hope of gathering his family in Britain, then retire to the United States.
Rochefort was part of the then officially neutral Prince-Bishopric of Liège, but that did not prevent Flemish Austrian troops under Major General Johann von Moitelle to arrest him and his companions. They were held at Nivelles, then transferred to Luxembourg, where an combined Austrian, Prussian and French royalist military tribunal declared them "prisoners of state" for their leading roles in the Revolution.
The main attraction are the limestone caves (Grottes de Lorette, open from April to September from about 10:00 am to 4:30pm, admission 6.95 €), the grey-stone Romanesque church, and Rochefort Castle.
The castle of the Counts of Rochefort stands on top of a hill dominating the town. It is divided in two parts : the ruins of the medieval castle of the counts (open from April to September from 10am to 6pm, admission 1.80 €), and a more recent castle, which cannot be visited.
Cyclists will come to Rochefort for its Ravel trail, an 18-km asphalted road built along the disused Rochefort-Houyet railway line. Its mostly flat, which is rather unusual for this part of the country, and is perfectly suitable for family rides with children.
Halfway between Rochefort and Jemelle, in the hamlet of Malagne, is one of the largest Gallo-Roman villae found in northern Gaul. Built around 50 BCE, it was occupied until 259 CE, then rehabilitated as a forge until 400 CE. There are four buildings covering a stunning area of 35,000 m2. The main building is 104 m long.
How to get there
There is no train station in Rochefort itself. However, bus No 29 connects it to nearby 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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