Belgian attraction offers spectacular caves and a one-of-a-kind animal park
By BRIAN FERGUSON | Stars and Stripes | Published: August 29, 2019
If you want to see animals, navigate a cave, hike, ride a train and sleep in the woods all in one day, the Domaine des Grottes de Han (Domain of the Caves of Han) should be on your short list.
The park is in Han-sur-Lesse in Belgium, about a 2 ½-hour drive east of Kaiserslautern, Germany. It is open seven days a week during the peak season. When you arrive in the town of Han, parking is plentiful but will cost you six euros unless you are lucky enough to find a spot in the city center.
We arrived at 10:30 a.m., and the lines were short. We purchased a PassHan, which gives you access to the cave, the nature park and the museum. We were told to visit the park first, as the animals are more active in the morning.
The start of your adventure is in the city center. Trams and trains are used to ferry passengers to the nature park and cave. Both run every 30 minutes and provide ample seating. There is also a hiking path for those who want to walk around the massive park, which takes about three hours.
We choose to ride the safari bus for the wildlife park, as the 3-mile walk was not something we wanted to do with our young children.
The 617-acre Wildlife Park is the only one in Belgium that has the European “Big 5”: the wolf, the bear, the lynx, the European bison and the wolverine. The bus stops at each site so visitors can get a good view. The ride lasts about 90 minutes.
The impressive brown bear enclosure gives visitors an up-close look. There also is a food pavilion offering delicious Belgian waffles and beer.
The bus takes you back to the city center, where you catch a century-old train to the caves. The trip through the cave is done on foot and is about 1 mile long. The tour takes about two hours.
There wasn’t an English tour offered, so we went on the Netherlands tour. Luckily our guide spoke English and translated his presentation as we walked through. Speaking from experience, make sure you and your children use the restroom before you enter the caves, as there are no facilities inside.
The cave is impressive, and the chambers get larger as you stroll through. During the summer, the Lesse river recedes, opening the cave for visitors. In the winter, the caves are filled with water.
More than 500,000 years ago, the Lesse forced its way into the limestone mountains. This contributed to the formation of an extraordinary network of underground caves, according to the Domaine des Grottes de Han website.
As you get closer to the end of the tour, visitors are treated to a sound and light show in the Weapons Room, the second-largest chamber in the cave. The 15-minute show, entitled “Origin,” brings the cave to life, with a colorful display of its history.
Exiting the cave takes you back to the city center, or the playground, whichever you prefer.
Visitors to the park can also go spelunking in an older part of the cave system, with boots, helmets and overalls provided. Children must be at least 6 years old to visit, and all children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.
For overnight stays, you can book a treehouse inside the nature park. From platforms suspended between trees, you can enjoy your very own private nature show. This option is highly sought after, so plan your stay early.
The Domain of the Caves of Han is amazing, and the kids loved it. It is worth a visit.
Some advice: Buy tickets online, where they are 2 euros cheaper; get there early so you aren’t rushed; and bring a camera.
DIRECTIONS: Address: Rue Joseph Lamotte 2, 5580 Rochefort, Belgium
Google Maps will take you to the front door. Easily accessible via major highways through Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium. Follow signs for parking once you arrive in town.
TIMES: Opening and closing hours vary according to day of the week and season.
COSTS: Tickets online are 29 euros for adults, 20 euros for kids 4-11. Add 2 euros per ticket when purchasing on site. Annual tickets are available.
FOOD: There are plenty of food pavilions throughout the park serving drinks, snacks and waffles. If you’re seeking a meal, there are restaurants in the city.
INFORMATION: Almost everyone who works at the park speaks English. However, the tours are not given in English. Official website: grotte-de-han.be/en