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You can start this route at any place you like, but we chose for the tourist town of Spa as our point of departure. The thermal baths of Spa ensured that this Walloon village on the banks of the Wayai became one of the most important places in the southern part of Belgium in the sixteenth century. The ferruginous and carbonated water that emerges from the springs has a medicinal effect, if we may believe some prominent people. In the eighteenth century, the place was developed into a real wellness town. The richest people in the world came to this special place, which with its magical water could help anyone who wanted it to get rid of his most annoying ailments. The village became known in such a way that the term “spa” actually became the official name for a wellness centre worldwide.
But no jacuzzis for you in the next two days. After all, you do not need hot tubs on this trail to unwind. We baptized this own mapped out trail “Along Foxes and Rivers”. And the trail did not get this name without reason. Just past Spa you will hike a section of the “sentier du renard” or the “fox trail”. A sign hanging on a tree reveals that it is a local hiking trail, managed by the Tourist Office of Spa.
Intrigued by the title of the route, I search the website of Spa for more information, but I am left disappointed. During a phone call to the Tourist Office the sweet lady on the other side of the line admits she has never heard of the fox trail. But apparently I got her just as intrigued about the mysterious trail as I am. I hear how she goes looking for a hiking map and involves another colleague. After some extra explanation about where I found the sign with the name and their telephone number, she presumes that the trail has probably been given a different name in the meantime. After some research she is pretty sure, the hiking trail today listens to the name “Princesse Clémentine”. And that means that our route could just as well have been called “Along Princesses and Rivers”. But mainly due to the fact that on the morning of day two we did not see a princess but a fox crossing the path right in front of our eyes, we decide to keep the original title anyway.
The first miles you stroll through impressive forests, where conifers with their big crowns rise high above you. But the deciduous forest regularly takes the upper hand. Just when you dive underneath the highway, the landscape opens up. Strangely enough, the concrete structure in the distance, with hundreds of cars rushing by it every minute, hardly disturbs the view. Maybe that is also due to the radiant sun, which makes this wonderful Valentine’s weekend – in which we undertook this trip – look suspiciously much like a real spring day.
You pass a small village past the busy traffic artery, but after that you will find nothing but peace and calm.
The pine woods and deciduous forests give way to vast fields. Here and there you get beautiful views over a rolling landscape, which will undoubtedly make your heart skip a beat. Belgium might belong to the European low lands, but in one way or another you will feel on top of the world here. The vastness of the landscape exudes freedom.
At a certain point the route leads straight through a meadow. You climb from one field to the other via wooden steps and gates. Together with the dozens of wonderful bridges that you have to cross, it is a nice change on the route. One bridge is even more beautiful than the other. And with all those bridges, the second part of the trail name has immediately become clear. There is certainly no lack of rivers out here …
One of the bridges hangs a bit higher above the river and is also quite narrow. A female hiker with fear of heights clearly has trouble crossing it. But we jump over it without much effort. Perhaps the fear in her eyes had something to do with the fact there was a collapsed bridge somewhere along the way. It seems to have happened fairly recently. Fortunately we did not need to cross it.
With dry feet you can walk further to a ruin of an old forge on the banks of the Hoëgne. A few hundred years ago this river was an important source for iron extraction. The ruin dates from the fifteenth century. In 2004 the excavations started. And they were done well, because even the old melting furnace is clearly distinguishable today.
A few miles before you return to the bustle of Spa, you can enjoy a delicious Belgian beer on the terrace of the cozy brasserie on the church square in the peaceful village of Sart-lez-Spa. We even drank two, and didn’t even feel a little guilty about it. If it may be a little less peaceful for you, you can also opt to visit one of the many drinking venues in Balmoral, along the busy Lake called Walfaaz.
Contrary to the many tourists here, you do not follow the paved hiking trail around the lake, but you climb right out of the valley at your right-hand side. You dive into nature again via a high level path, although the city sounds of Spa are clearly audible again. It slowly but surely takes you out of your dream, which – hopefully just like us – made you completely forget about reality for almost twentyfive miles (38km).