An Underground Boat Tour in the Remouchamps Caves, Belgium

An Underground Boat Tour in the Remouchamps Caves, Belgium

with 20 Comments

When I was a kid, crawling through caves was one of my obsessions. Now as an adult, I keep hunting down caves. May it be for writing inspiration, out of scientific curiosity, or to satisfy my need of adventure.

 

One of my favourite caves in Europe is the Grottes de Remouchamps located in Sougné, Belgium. Imagine a wild landscape of gigantic steep rocks, untamed waterfalls and wooden bridges hovering over a river. 16 meters above the gushing water of the river Amblève rises a rocky lair. We walked up towards the entrance and after paying we were asked to wait for our guide in the first gallery.

 

At first sight, we thought that the cave was closed. There was a family of three waiting in the twilight. The little boy smiled at us, asking if we would go down into “hell’s pit” with them… When a few other visitors arrived, a man with a huge beard came out to lead us into a tunnel in the back of the cavern. Beyond that point, complete darkness awaited us.

 

The first steps were slippery and intimidating. The moisture and chalky odour was overwhelming. As we moved forward into the dripstone cave, I was wondering what Léon Wilmar must have thought when he decided to explore this cavern back in the 19th century despite the locals’ warnings…

 

 

 

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When the scenery began to change, spotlights emphasized here and there the tortured limestone. And soon we stumbled upon an impressive myriad of stalagmite and stalactite formations, as well as spectacular colours and shapes.

 

All the dripstone formations have their own names: meet Les Cerbères (Cerberus), the three-headed dog guarding the entrance to the underworld in Greek and Roman mythology. Meet Les Jumeaux(The Twins), two stalagmites with the exact same shape and length. Then, the icing on the cake: Le Rideau de Lit(The Curtain), a majestic drapery with laces undulating 8 meters from the ceiling to the floor. A weeping willow in diamond…

 

We had trouble tearing ourselves away from The Curtain. But suddenly we noticed the sound of underground streams and waterfalls. Another guide came out of nowhere and asked us to board a shaky canoe. Before we knew it, we floated over the Rubicon, guided by a mysterious ferryman that reminded us of Charon.

 

Grottes de Remouchamps. Photo by Hans Heijnen CC
photo credit: Hans Heijnen Grotten van Remouchamps 1/8 via photopin (license)

 

Be careful, he said. In February, the water rises promptly. The passage, which at its maximum spanned 5 meters large, continued narrowing. In a few hours, the navigation will be impossible.

 

Suddenly, we hit a rocky vault. Our guide turned around and raised his index finger. OK folks, please pay close attention to my words. When I say duck, you duck, all right?

 

We spent the next 15 minutes dodging razor-sharp rocky peaks, realizing how dangerous this underground navigation actually was. But at the same time we were glad that they allowed us to take the ride, knowing that the next group might not be so lucky.

 

700 meters further, we staggered out of the canoe, gaping at the tortured natural rampart that surrounded us. The hike was now steep and slippery. We stopped at a stalagmite called La Sentinelle (The Sentinel). It was beautifully lit by LEDS that imitate the light of torches, letting us imagine how the first explorers of this cave visualized the scene in 1828.

 

 

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A few steps further, we entered Le Boudoir des fées (The Fairy Boudoir): a gallery rich in naturally sculptured stalagmites that look like fairy-tale creatures. At the back, stairs had been added to enable the steep climb to the upper level without risk.

 

We did not count the stairs, but I guess there were about 100 steps. Total darkness embraced us. Then, suddenly, Charon switched on the lights. Ta-da! We were standing in a huge cathedral-like chamber. Every sound we made was reverberated, echoed, amplified. When one of our fellow travellers started to sing a few notes, everyone got quiet.

 

We had now spent only one hour underground, but we already felt a start of disorientation. Next to us, a woman started to feel weak. So we all decided to return to the entrance. But as soon as we saw the sunlight, I was already planning to visit another cave…

 

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Visiting the Remouchamps Caves in Belgium - the longest underground boat tour in Europe © Travelwithmk.com

 

Les Grottes de Remouchamps in Belgium - the longest underground boat tour in Europe © Travelwithmk.com

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Traveler - Storyteller

Kerstin is a 30-something French teacher, born and raised in a tiny Luxembourgish village, but who used to live in Bordeaux, Paris, Athens and San Francisco with her wife Mei. Fluent in 5 languages, she's above all a huge book enthusiast, a fervent writer and storyteller, and could never refuse a good old single malt whiskey. Oh, and she also loves coffee and chocolate (not sure in which order though).

20 Responses

  1. Alison
    | Reply

    Oh gosh. I love how humans love different things. I am not particularly a fan of caves. Even with a guide. However your pictures and post have intrigued me and inspired me to think a little differently about caves ( ie be a bit braver)!

  2. Michael Hodgson
    | Reply

    I LOVE caves of all kinds. In college, as a teacher’s aid, would help lead caving trips as part of a geology class. Wet caves, dry caves (from fissures and the earth shifting) are amazing. This cave sounds completely spectacular and I have added it to my must-see and experience list. Do they, as some caves do, offer more extended explorations for more adventuours and advanced folks who are comy in caves? Oh, and in your “about the author” you indicate you are a “French teacher” which could mean a person who teaches French, or a person who is French who teaches. Inquiring minds. 😉

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Hmm.. no, as of now there’s only one type of guided visit tour in the Remouchamps Caves. But the nearby Grottes de Han does offer a more adventurous visit called “Parcours Speleo” which lets you explore some more off-the-beaten-track routes in the caves. We haven’t done it, but it looks really cool. Here’s the link: http://www.grotte-de-han.be/en/parcours-speleo
      P.S.: I teach French language and literature. 😉 I’m not French, although used to live in France. Hehe…

  3. Yukti
    | Reply

    I was not aware that there are beautiful caves structures with so many beautiful forms. I know entering such caves are scary as they are dark and slippery but entering inside with guide gives some comfort label. Amazing natural wonder it is.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Most caves in Europe can only be visited with a guide. So we hope you’ll get to visit one (or a few). 😉

  4. tayaramuse
    | Reply

    Wow! I had no idea that belgium had such beautiful underground caves! Love the spontaneous canoe ride, and the photos of the boats are stunning! Great highlight of a lesser known attraction in Belgium!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thank you! There are in fact several wonderful caves that can be visited in the French-speaking region of Wallonia in Belgium. Not far from Remouchamps there’s the Grottes de Han, the Grottes de Hotton and the Combain Caves among others. 😉

  5. Candy
    | Reply

    This sounds like such an adventure. I love caves, but at the same time am terrified of them. I can imagine all the ducking and dodging you had to do in order to stay safe and it almost sounds like a roller coaster ride, but this was REAL LIFE 🙂 I didn’t realize you can become disoriented only after an hour. Out of curiosity, how was she disoriented?

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Well she probably had a low blood pressure or something, or didn’t have enough oxygen, although we both (and all the others) didn’t have any issue. In fact, we didn’t have to do that much of dodging in the cave, or perhaps it’s because we’re both small! 😅

  6. trimmtravels
    | Reply

    I absolutely LOVE the colorful light display! Not sure what my initial reaction would be if someone asked me to go into hell’s pit with them! LOL! I love stalagmites and grottos and caves. 100 steps isn’t bad at all. Did you feel claustrophobic in this one though?

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Haha.. yeah, that little boy certainly knew how to make it more interesting! 😅 And no, we didn’t feel claustrophobic as many spots are quite high and big.

  7. Jane@abfabtravels.com
    | Reply

    This sounds absolutely fascinating! I too love visiting caves. There is something magical about this underworld .The rock formations look wonderful and how special that you actually get to float through on a canoe! Glad you did not bump your head!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yes, caves can be so fascinating! Your photos of the Mammoth Cave make us want to explore it too! 😉

  8. Cindy
    | Reply

    What a cool experience! I might have been deterred by the slippery footing, but I can just imagine that moment when you were standing in that chamber and one of your fellow travelers starting to sing. Amazing!

  9. carolcolborn
    | Reply

    I would not have been able to do this, being utterly scared of darkness AND slippery slopes AND tight soaces AND water! Thanks for the puctures!

  10. Danik
    | Reply

    I did these many years ago and thought the caves were amazing. A great stop off point for a few hours whilst doing a road trip in the area. I did love that underwater section of the caves. Mind you, banged my head a few times during the tour.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Oh no! Hope you were alright after that trip?! 😅 We had to duck sometimes but didn’t bump our head in the caves, probably because we’re both small! 🤣

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