Bivouac: the summer trend to get away from it all and camp in the heart of nature

Born from public or private initiatives, several shelters and refuges now adorn hiking trails or private gardens. Is this traveling art of living finally here? Answer in our summer walk.

The shelter at Marine and Loïc Garden, in Vielsalm. © DR

The roof is in sheet metal, the partitions in wood. Inside a small table, a spotlight, nails from which a frying pan and a hammer hang, a frame with a photo of trees and, above all, two benches. “We also have attachment for a hammock and space to pitch a tent in the garden.“Marine and Loïc are based in Vielsalm. In 2019, they built a shelter behind their house. It all started with a metal barrel used to make family burners, to which the duo wanted to add a hut in case of rain. “We went to look for poles, trunks and logs. We put it all together very simply. We think it’s neat, even though there are only three walls.“Marine and Loïc have also arranged a room for the fire. They offer the wood they get from neighbors and a ten liter container of drinking water.for water bottles or morning coffee“.

Because that is the idea: Installed on the edge of the GR571 and near the GR5 and Salm, the Luxembourgers welcome hikers who pass through an hour, an evening, a night. Their “Shelter au Jardin” has a Facebook page and is featured on “Bivouac chez moi”, the Belgian Alpine Club’s bivouac sharing platform.

So many ways to notify them of an arrival, even two hours in advance. “The first phone call we received was from five young Flemish people who wanted to party, Marina smiled again. We don’t want to fall into the tourist trap, we prefer to receive one or two hikers and, at their request, stay a while to chat with them. The next day we often have a nice little note in our souvenir book.“A few 10 kilometers from Shelter au Jardin, another initiative, municipal, in 2018 allowed the relocation of a small abandoned home in the middle of the forest into a really charming shelter. “It was a private holiday home without special facilities, snaps Jean-Marc Havelange, head of communications at Aywaille. To prevent it from becoming a notorious cancer, we kept the framework and made it available.” Cabane de l’Orpailleur is not really informed by tourist organizations, which preserves its charm, which can be enjoyed thanks to the Chefna hike (14 kilometers), less popular than its neighbor Ninglinspo, but whose wild aspect deserves a look. At the end of the 19th century, this place was the scene of an authentic gold rush… which in the end made no one rich.

Orpailleur’s cabin. © Komoot

The art of sleeping

La Cabane de l’Orpailleur, located in the Chefna Valley, is always open, available to all hikers for a stop in case of rain or a barbecue… But not for a night, shelter is not considered a place for bivouac. “This requires more specific management and without convenience or closing door, the place is not suitable for sleeping there.“In Belgium, camping and wild bivouac outside private areas or designated as such is strictly prohibited. Inevitably, the handful of bivouac areas available are often overcrowded. “Some even arrive by car, especially to party. It no longer has the same flavor for those who come on foot and by bike to enjoy nature”, laments Salmien’s Marine and Loïc, who are used to the experiences of camping in the woods in France, Germany and even Sweden. “The bivouac must be far from everything, live with water, tables, chairs and a small fire, which is not much. There is also a bivouac culture: we know how to make a fire and above all put it out, we clean the place before departure, etc. In Belgium we still have to adopt it.”

This is one of the missions that the Condroz-Famenne Tourism network has unofficially set on its art trails. Since 2017, this group of tourist offices has invited Belgian and European country artists to decorate a route of approximately 145 kilometers accessible on foot. “It is an exhibition of fifty outdoor works of art, illustrates Maureen Dervaux, project manager. We wanted to create an experience that cannot be found anywhere else by highlighting our territory through nature and culture.“Along the trail, a dozen bivouac areas and artistic shelters welcome hikers for a night—albeit rudimentary—on a first-come, first-served basis.


The cubic Artbri from the Condroz-Famenne Tourism network. © DR

In the commune of Somme-Leuze, for example, the Lunar Gloriette functions as a natural four-poster bed, while the cubic Artbri takes cues from a large wooden thimble embedded in a tree. You enter through a hole with a diameter of approximately one meter. Inside, it’s better to be nimble to reach the main seat. The roof is only partial, but a privacy tarp can be added. For an introduction to the night in the woods, it’s the best. Provided you respect the forest code (dogs on a lead, no fires, rubbish taken away, etc.). “We hope to unload the bivouac areas thanks to our shelters and bivouac areas, explains Maureen Dervaux. On our website and on our map, we also refer to Welcome to my garden, this page, which shows the places where you can pitch your tent for free, and to private initiatives.” At the moment, the Condroz-Famenne Tourism network does not have the agreements to create new shelters: the municipalities are very often cold, the subject is sensitive. “But we must not give up too quickly, it is through raising awareness via campaigns, information panels and initiatives that we manage to find a balance.

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