Cycling The GR5 Across the Belgian Ardennes
136 Mi.(219 KM)
% Rideable (time)
(Gypsy by Trade)
Every country in Europe manages marked footpaths, numbering hundreds of thousands of kilometers of trail in total. This route includes a highly rideable section of the GR5 footpath, a long-distance trail between the North Sea and the Mediterranean. The route is well marked by red and white painted blazes on trees, fences, and stone structures; or stickers on metal signposts and other semi-permanent fixtures. Keep your eyes open for trail signs as it is possible to follow the route without detailed maps or GPS, although a road map of the area will aid navigation if you lose the trail.
Expect diverse and rapidly changing “trail” conditions, including signed mountain bike singletrack, well-used farm tracks and decaying doubletrack, managed forest roads, small paved lanes, and labyrinthine routes through town. Each day is marked by a visit to a larger town, and several smaller communities. Water and food are in abundance. Camping along the route is possible in many places, although guesthouses and hotels may also be available. Despite the proximity to civilization, the route is challenging in places, including a few short, steep pushes which will have you sweating, or pushing. You will not cover great distances in a day, and you will stop to search for trail markers from time to time. Come prepared with the patience to discover part of Belgium you would have missed on a brief road tour.
A tire greater than 2” (50mm) is recommended, and a proper mountain bike with suspension is nice on some sections. Pack light in preparation for some of the more technical sections, including genuine singletrack walking trail, steep climbs and staircases. Several turnstile cattleguards require that you lift your bike to shoulder-height.
This route includes the GR5 from Diest to the border of Belgium and Luxembourg, passing these towns: Diest-Genk-Maastricht-Spa-Stavelot-Vielsalm-Reuland. Continue on the GR5 in either direction to lengthen the adventure.
- A multi-day scavenger hunt for red and white signage, discovering old-world Belgium and great riding along the way. Each turn uncovers new trail surfaces and new curiosities.
- Belgian beer, for a fraction of the price you would pay out of county. Try Westmalle, Orval, and La Chouffe. The Westmalle Abbey is located along the GR5, further west.
- Detailed maps and guides of the GR5 are available, although they are not strictly necessary. Local tourisitc offices are the best place to find maps. Some bookshops in larger cities such as Brussels and Amsterdam may also stock these materials.
- A section of the route near the Maas River, south of Maastricht, includes a sequence of cattle gates that require maneuvering or lifting the bike.
- Camping, unofficially, is possible in many local forests. Look for the green areas marked on road maps, usually several kilometers out of town. Detailed maps of the area are also found in town at touristic offices for free, or are displayed on signboards in public places. Snap a photo for reference.
- Everywhere. Plan nice picnics.