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Escape to... the Hautes Fagnes, Belgium's highest point
The Hautes Fagnes in East Belgium is the oldest nature park in the country and straddles the border with Germany. The unique reserve is filled with diverse landscapes, from hilly woodlands to open areas of peatland, and includes the highest point in Belgium, the Signal de Botrange at 694 metres. Historically, the area was an important commercial route, and it has been ruled by various countries over the centuries. Today, it is ideal for walking, biking and skiing, with nearby areas of interest including the towns of Eupen, Malmedy and Stavelot, as well as the Robertville lake and castle at Reinhardstein.
The commanding Reinhardstein castle, towering over the residents of tiny Ovifat, is well worth a visit. Built in the 14th century, it was completely renovated in the 1960s. Guided tours offer a glimpse of history. Malmedy is one of most picturesque towns in the Hautes Fagnes, with an elegant cathedral and the beautiful Malmundarium, a former Benedictine monastery that is now home to an interactive folk and craft museum. In nearby Stavelot, the unique spaces of a renovated abbey are home to a historical museum, the Spa-Francorchamps Racetrack Museum and a museum dedicated to French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who spent many a summer here in his youth.
A walk through the Hautes Fagnes-Eifel Nature Park is a must and is made easy with wooden boardwalks that criss-cross the boggy terrain. Get started at the Botrange visitor centre in Waimes, which can help you out with maps and information. It also hosts a permanent exhibition on the park, rents bicycles and scooters and is home to a massive circular fireplace for warming up in the winter. But visitors can also just head out on their own on one of many signposted walks. Ranging from 3 to 25km, there are dozens to choose from, with some that cross the German border and some recommended for children. For those who like to move a little faster, there are a number of cycle paths, and there’s no better place to ski in Belgium. There are ski centres around the area, including at Malmedy, Eupen and Waimes.
EAT & SLEEP
Responsible for the term still used today, the city of Spa continues to offer the mineral springs and saunas that made it famous. Lodges and restaurants have become an integral part of the culture. Check out the Radisson Blue Balmoral Hotel, a luxurious choice that offers all three, or the charming L’Ecrin d’O bed and breakfast, which comes with a reduced price to the city’s central thermal baths. Also highly recommended is the Hotel des Bains & Wellness, on Lake Robertville at the foot of the Hautes Fagnes Nature Park. And when in Eupen, don’t hesitate to have lunch or dinner at Arti’Choc, known for its upscale handling of traditional Belgian dishes.