Oct 1-3, 2021
Sometimes Josh gets an itch to get out of town and this trip was exactly that. He started researching national parks within a drivable distance and settled on the Voges du Nord area of France, about a 3.5 drive (4 with kids) from Maastricht. He found a cute small hotel with good reviews in the village of La Petite-Pierre and we packed our bags.
We left on a Friday, right after school and initially didn’t take toll roads because we weren’t carrying cash with us (our phones do most of our transactions for us these days via Apple Pay). Turns out that you can pay for the tolls also with your phone/cards, which we learned almost at the end of our drive that day, so that’s handy for the future.
We arrived around 8:30pm to our hotel – Hotel Aux Trois Roses. On the way in, the roads were really dark, the village seemed pretty shut down and really quiet. We got ourselves checked in despite some language barriers with the woman at reception. Normally this is bedtime for the kids but we thought we’d try for a small bite to eat before going to bed later. This was not the best plan as Mason fell asleep at the table and couldn’t keep his head up, much less eat, and the food we’d ordered for them was not the “hamburger” we thought we’d ordered. Mase and I called it a night and left Josh and Caleb to check out the dessert menu. We are still trying to figure out what exactly was in that burger….
We woke the next morning to a beautiful view of the nearby forests and had a nice breakfast at the hotel before making a plan to go for a hike. Josh had scoured a few websites for nearby trails that would be easy enough for the kids but also entertaining to spend a couple of hours. We hopped in the car to drive what we thought would be 30 minutes away, but due to road closures that Google missed (thanks Google), we basically doubled our drive time. Nevertheless we found the spot we were looking for and started our hike.
Étang de Hanau. This hike was really well marked, had several different terrains, and was slated to take us a couple of hours for 4 miles or so. There is a crazy tall tower (Château Waldeck) on this hike, but the path to it was closed. Probably the coolest thing we got to see, though, were these super old red rock arches that were formed 240 million years ago! They were unexpected for me (because I read very little about this hike prior) and they are the nesting grounds of peregrine falcons. Due to this, you’re not allowed to climb on the red rocks, which made Mason a bit sad.
Also on this hike, and probably Josh’s favorite site, were two bunkers from the Maginot Line (defense lines the French built before WWII but which proved ineffective against German war tactics). One was basically buried, but the other was accessible to enter (annnnnd climb on top of, as Mason and Caleb did).
I have to say, I was a little nervous…this would be the boys’ longest hike. And, because we were not super prepared, we did not pack lunch (we did have a lot of snacks though). As we started, I mentally prepared for wailing and gnashing of teeth at some point, and they actually held themselves together until almost the very end. Progress, friends, progress!
At the end of the hike we checked out a small hotel “restaurant” that also had limited English speakers so, while we tried to ask for a menu, we finally just agreed to have some sort of sandwich, which ultimately were cheese and bread. The view from their terrace was gorgeous though.
Post lunch we drove back to the hotel for a little break. It was Josh’s dad’s birthday so we gave him a call and also talked with Josh’s brother, Matt who will be coming to visit in Europe soon (yay!). A bit later, We took the boys for a walk into the old walled citadel portion of the village where we were staying to check out the sites. There were few people, mostly hikers, around and the restaurants were not yet open. We had hoped to grab dinner in one of these spots but the menus posted seemed more limited for the boys’ palettes and we decided to go in search of pizza instead. In hindsight, we should have waited for these restaurants to open and ask them for slight adjustments to the menu for the kids, but in a place where English speakers are few, we just weren’t sure if we’d succeed.
The pizza place was about 20 minutes away on dark, winding roads and, I’ll be honest – it wasn’t super memorable. Josh and I had other dishes that were tasty though and the boys were still happy. On the way home, we passed a few signs warning of rock slides that apparently scared Mason to death. It hadn’t been raining during our time there and we were not concerned, but the poor guy was near tears wanting to get off those roads for fear of rock slides. Needless to say – we made it!
My one regret for this trip (okay, 2nd regret if you count not eating at the village restaurants) was that we did not hike the morning we left. We took a long time to get ourselves to breakfast, then packed, and out the door. The boys wanted to play on a playground we’d passed the day before as we walked to the village so we headed there before leaving town. As Josh and I explored the area near the playground, there were tons of hikers hitting a nearby trail we hadn’t previously noticed and, while we do not know the level of difficulty of that trail, it would’ve been cool to check it out before leaving. We were short on time by the time we’d noticed it, though, as we needed to get back to Maastricht for dinner with Melissa and her family (and so I could pack again for another trip the next day).
After some exploring of the citadel/castle nearby and the boys getting some energy out, we hit the road for our return to Maastricht. If you happen to end up in this area, though, check out that trail by the playground/tourist info area in La Petite-Pierre and let me know how it is!