Cycling from France to Belgium alongside the River Meuse
The mighty River Meuse runs for 575 miles (925km); from north east France, through Belgium and the Netherlands. It is possible to follow the river on bike or foot with thanks to the EuroVelo bike network. They have produced a marked path to follow the river from source to sea with the Meuse river route being numbered 19. As the name Meuse probably deriving from the Celtic word for maze. I knew I was in for many sweeping river bends as the river finds its way to the sea. Short of time; I chose to ride a short section of the riverside path from Givet to Dinant.
The town of Givet is a good base or stopover if you are exploring this route and area. I stayed in a riverbank campsite right path on the Meuse cycle path; called: ‘Camping la cle des champs’. The owner is polite and welcoming and the facilities are clean. Just remember to bring some loo roll!
On the outskirts of town is a large supermarket and Decathlon. In the town there is various places to eat and drink to recharge the calorie bank. I really recommend Chez Laurette for some hearty Belgian style sausage or burger and chips. The owner is a sweet woman who cooks quality food at an affordable price.
When cycling north or downstream; you cross the river bridge and turn immediately right. The route then only follows the riverbank hundred metres before turning off left through a park. This is because there is a private working port. To regain the riverside; a diversion takes you through the suburbs of Givet. Then on slightly busier roads and a decent hill to the Belgian railway cycle path called: Ravel Ligne 156 (line 156). For more information on the Belgian cycle network see here: https://ravel.wallonie.be/home.html
A railway path through the woods
Turning on to the railway cycle path; I now knew I was in Belgium because of the different road signs. I followed this line for quite a few miles. Yet the gentle descent and the shade from the tall trees made this section of the ride very easy.
There were a few other cyclists on this path in early June. Yet take care as some use electric bikes and give no warning that they are approaching at speed from behind you. There are also a few road crossings; so take care and look both ways. Dinant is clearly signposted at every junction as well signs for the EuroVelo 19 route. https://en.eurovelo.com/ev19
Alongside the Meuse at last
After taking care to cross a fairly busy road; I soon arrived back to the banks of the river. The Meuse seemed so peaceful here. With the only sign of movement being around the locks that allow large boats to access this far in land. The cycle path is wide here and stays off road except for having to cross the river again at Hastiere Lavaux. Crossing the river you can see a great view of the Abbey of Saint Pierre. The site of a monastery from the eleventh century; means that many a wary traveller has passed before. Yet without the benefit of a bicycle or bridge.
The cycle path then follows the right bank of the river along a quiet access road until your reach the town of Waulsort.
Take care on the road
Crossing the Meuse via a lock gate path; the path took me by surprise as it puts me back onto a road. You then have to follow this road for approximately five miles (7.5km); until you arrive at Dinant. Although most drivers are respectful and gave me passing room. There is no shoulder in some places and you are right next to a wall or metal barrier to prevent cars going into the river. Therefore, I would never bring children on this section; or anyone who is not comfortable cycling on fast roads.
It may be possible to use quieter country roads to the north; yet this would involve climbing a steep hill away from the valley floor. Worthy of note is the Chateau de Freyr; styled like the Palace of Versailles. It has orange trees growing in its 300 year old orangery.
Interesting too was the strong winds that blew up the valley. I thought that cycling downstream or downhill to the sea would make the ride easier. Yet the wind gusts were so strong that day; it felt like riding uphill on a flat road!
Keeping in a tuck position to reduce the wind drag; I soon arrived into Dinant. As a railway bridge crosses the road above you; there are two options for your route. You can stay on the left bank and arrive into the centre of Dinant on the same road. Or cross a series of canal locks and cycle into town on the quieter right bank path. I chose the latter option and picked my way through all the obstacles and over the Saint Jean bridge
You are then on a traffic free route all the way into Dinant.
The Rock of Bayard
Cycling on; the river bends to the left as a noticeable needle of rock appears on the right. Made by 17th Century road builders cutting a path through the tall rocky ridge. The: ‘Rock of Bayard’ has become a source of legend in the tale of the ‘Four sons of Aymon’.
Bayard was the only horse of the four sons of Aymon. After a disagreement over a game of chess; one of the brothers killed the son of Charlemagne. Fleeing for their lives on Bayard they became cornered by the Kings men on the rocky ridge above the Meuse. Thinking that they had been caught; Bayard jumped across the whole river! As Bayard jumped he split the rock from the ridge and left an imprint of his hooves.
Also of note as you ride into Dinant; is the terrible battles and bloodshed that has happened here over the years. Being in the centre of Europe’s larger warring countries, royal dynasties and local fiefdoms; Dinant has been ransacked, destroyed and its inhabitants destitute. In 1466, 800 burghers were drowned in the Meuse after an uprising against the Duke of Burgundy. During the First World War; 674 of its inhabitants were executed by the German Army. Long may these innocent people rest in peace.
In the Second World War; Dinant was the furthest point west reached by the German Army in the Battle of the Bulge. Their last ditch offensive to try and turn the war in their favour by reaching the North Sea at Antwerp and encircling a northern part of the Allied Forces. On one occasion three Germans were captured whilst masquerading as American soldiers!
The town of Dinant is dominated by the 13th-century Church de Notre Dame and the citadel above. Being destroyed by fire, rockfall and the Germans in the First Word War; the church currently has an interesting onion shaped dome.
In the modern day; the Dinant has a more cheerful aire. With many international flags over the bridge, riverside cafes and tourists; Dinant is finally enjoying a long period of peace.
I did not stay long; for I had to cycle back to Givet. Yet it seemed there were many places to find refreshments. There is also a campsite a short distance downstream from Dinant. So come and enjoy the Meuse River and the EuroVelo bike path alongside it. Hopefully next time I can go a but further!