1. Camping Maka, Bouillon
On the banks of the Semois river, offering great hiking, fishing, canoeing and swimming, Camping Maka is a well-organised, nature-first campsite with 50 touring pitches and 30 spots for tents – all situated near the water, where fire-pits are situated for that cosy camp feel. As in so many Ardennes sites, steep wooded hills climb either side of the river valley, and a pulley slide provides excitement for kids (as well as a boules area and some play equipment). Terraces are built into the hill on the north bank, home to 48 mobile homes. Two cabins and tents, as well as equipment such as canoes, mountain bikes and barbecues, can be rented if required. A small shop and bar greet you near the entrance, where wood carvings and totems add to the outdoor adventure feel. Other facilities include (payable) wifi and a modern heated toilet and shower block. Nearby, visit the village of Auby-sur-Semois and the historic town of Bouillon with its Vauban-designed castle.
2. Camping Les Murets, Esneux
17km south of the ‘hotblooded’ ville ardente Liege, Camping Les Murets offers good-sized pitches with a private feel thanks to hedging and trees, as well as a camping field for those who prefer a more open view. Portable firepits are available to take to your spot. The swimmable river Ourthe runs alongside the site and chairs and tables can be set up along the bank. The owners promise that hikers and cyclists will always find space here. A play area will keep children happy and there is a friendly canteen open from 10.30am, serving pizza every day, with occasional concerts. Well-behaved dogs are permitted, but, as in most campsites, they must be leashed and walked off-site.
3 & 4. Camping Sagittaire / Camping Le Ban de Laviot, Rochehaut
Many many campsites in the Ardennes are tucked into beautiful river meanders, but these family-friendly places with all mod-cons really are in an exceptional location on a bend in the Semois in Luxembourg province, near hiking spots such as the Crêtes de Frahan (Frahan Ridge) and the Ardennes epicentre that is Rochehaut – a small, attractive town high on a ridge with a spectacular viewpoint over the hamlet of Frahan and the serpentine river valley below. Le Ban de Laviot offers a well-reviewed riverside brasserie and a variety of camping, including glamping in ‘CocoSweet’ dens, while the Camping Sagittaire offers a bistrot and glamping in ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ style permanent tents.
5. Camping La Douane, Bohan
2km as the crow flies from the French border, hence the name Douane or ‘Customs House’, this campsite offers permanent ‘safari tents’ or huge camping pitches right on the Semois, whose cool, clean, gently flowing waters you can step down into from grassy banks for a swim. As well as kayaking, I loved hiking here, past old tobacco drying huts in pretty meadows and along rocky outcrops to the highest point overlooking the meanders between Bohan and Membre, called the Tables des Fées or ‘Fairy Tables’. Below, the vestiges of bombed-out bridges still jut across the river and an eerie tunnel links the two villages.
6. Camping Roisin, Roisin
Another one close to the French border, this campground is conveniently situated near main roads and motorways, and just 10km from Dour and its eclectic music festival. Neat grassy pitches are peacefully located in an attractive walled site right next to the medieval Chateau of Roisin (which has become a restaurant), three fishing ponds and a waterside brasserie with large terrasse.
7. Camping Les Trois Fontaines, Libin
Offering tent pitches, evocative vardo-style caravans and wooden pods, Camping Les Trois Fontaines between the rivers Lomme and Lesse, prides itself on its peace and quiet and its animals – chickens, a cockerel, rabbits, plus a horse, donkeys and alpacas – that everyone can join in looking after. In the Luxembourg Ardennes nearby attractions include the Euro Space Center and the literary village of Redu. Foodies will enjoy home-cooked meals ‘straight from grandma’s kitchen’ while beer lovers will be pleased to know the campsite is ideally situated for the long-distance walk between the Trappist abbeys of Orval and Scourmont.
Beyond . . .
8. Camping De Rimboe, Netherlands
This place 25km north of Arnheim was recommended to me in a camping enthusiasts’ group I belong to, where many members enjoy wild or free camping. With 10.5 hectares of woodland and fields, Camping De Rimboe proposes 140 touring pitches. You can choose a grassy spot or request free camping in the woods. There are heated baby-friendly and accessible sanitary facilities. If you can tear yourself away from the joys of the natural environment there is plenty to explore nearby: a swimming pool 500m away; cycling and hiking routes, and the resort towns of Lunteren, Ede and Bardeveld. Behind the site, a sand-quarry-turned-nature-reserve hosts flowers, plants and animals.
9. Camping Du Moulin, Hautes Fagnes
In the east of Belgium, near Luxembourg, on the site of a 19th century watermill that is featured in the Malmundarium museum, this campsite lies on the meeting point of two small rivers and has a tavern, 122 grassy and private pitches and 6 vardo caravans, as well as a ‘prairie’ which can be hired by large groups of at least 20 people to share. The racing circuit at Spa is only 6.5km away. As if that weren’t enough, you’re less than 300 metres from the Hautes Fagnes or ‘High Fens’. The High Fens is the largest nature reserve in Belgium, a highland area of alpine sphagnum (peat) bog with unique flora, fauna and microclimate.
10. Camping Mettey, Les Vosges
If you’re prepared to venture a little further afield than the Ardennes, why not try the Vosges? This mountainous region to the west of Strasbourg and Basel offers spectacular hiking and lakeside pursuits. Camping Mettey near Vagney is an eco-oriented campsite, open in all seasons, prioritising the use of sustainable materials and energy and a love of nature. As well as traditional tent pitches, accommodation of varying shapes and sizes includes ‘eco-gites’ on stilts with enormous windows overlooking the valley and geodesic dome tents with woodburners and queen beds on a mezzanine floor. The site encourages recycling and has a ‘foodbank’ where holidaymakers can pass on items they will not use. A natural swimming pool, using only organic purifiers, and a sauna complete the temptations on offer.