A weekend in the Hautes Fagnes
Autumn makes me fall in love with nature year after year. As the leaves turn red and gold, I systematically feel myself drawn to the forest to enjoy this magnificent spectacle from up close. This year I decided to head to the East of the country on this occasion, to the Belgian Ardennes, where the country’s largest natural reserve can be found. The Hautes Fagnes is a unique area in Europe and truly a nature lover’s dream. Between the cities of Eupen, Montjoie, Malmedy and Spa, you can find the most picturesque hiking trails. And most hotels in the area boast a wellness center, turning your getaway into a complete relaxing experience.
Visit of the Reinhardstein Castle | Chemin du Cheneux 50, 4950 Ovifat
Because of Walt Disney I’m a sucker for castles and the sight of the Reinhardstein Castle’s silhouette as you walk down the path towards it is sure to bring out the kid in you who dreamed of knights and princesses. The castle was originally built in the Middle Ages, in 1354, and has had, as you can imagine, a tormented history. Initiated in 1965, its restoration will bring it back to its former glory. To discover the different rooms of the castle, you can take part in the guided tours that start every hour from 11:00 to 16:00. Apart from the castle’s history, you’ll discover its many treasures and artifacts collected over the years.
For lunch, head to Robertville or Ovifat.
Hiking in the Valley of the Statte
Enjoy a wonderful piece of nature by hiking the 9 km trail in the Valley of the Statte, a small, wild river. The hike will take you about 3 hours and will have you crossing small bridges and stony trails on the sounds of running water. Going deep into the dense Ronfâhai forest, the hike feels very intimate and will make you disconnect entirely. Along the way, you’ll discover some memorable sights as well: the Rocher de Bilisse, a rock wall of about 50 meters high; the Cascade des Nûtons, a waterfall that gets impressive when lots of rain falls; and last but not least a rock field that dates back to the last Ice Age, after a landslide. You can download the itinerary online (in French ‘Randonnées en Wallonie’, in Dutch ‘Wandeltochten in de Ardennen’, page 14) and the blue rectangle signs are there to help you find your way.
Hiking the Fagne de la Poleur trail
The Fagne de la Poleur trail is among the most popular because it is fairly easy and it gives way to the most picturesque landscapes, that is why I recommend doing it on Sunday morning. Walking over wooden trails across open fields, this hike has a very different vibe than the one along the river Statte. It is also less challenging since it’s only 3 km long, meaning you can complete it in approximately 1 hour. The hike starts at the Mont Rigi, Route de la Baraque Michel.
Lunch inside the Tour de la Gileppe | Route de la Gileppe 55A, 4845 Jalhay
The nearby city of Jalhay is home to the Gileppe lake, a huge artificial strecht of water that’s part of a hydro-electric dam. The dam was built around 1875 already and was the first of its kind in Belgium. Next to a majestic statue of a lion (that weighs 130 tons!), the area of the dam boasts a 77 meters high tower with a restaurant on top. To ensure your spot here for lunch, make sure to make a reservation in advance. The cuisine is mostly Belgian and unpretentious, but the panoramic views are quite unique. The bravest ones can do the walk around the lake (between 3 and 4 hours long).
I’ve decided to explore the Hautes Fagnes in autumn, but it’s beautiful no matter the season! Since you’ll be moving from one city to another within the area, taking the car is recommended. It’s a 1h30 drive from Brussels to Spa. For your stay, I recommend the Radisson Blu Balmoral Hotel (Avenue Léopold II 40) for its wellness center featuring a swimming pool, a sauna and a Turkish bath, as well as its elaborate breakfast buffet that stays open until 11:00 on the weekends.