The summer is right around the corner and finally the corona restrictions are slowly being lifted. Vaccination is going smoothly here in Belgium and I’ve also been lucky enough to receive my first shot last week. Yay! Freedom has never seemed closer.
But unfortunately traveling abroad still comes with a whole lot of rules and regulations. And I’m not all that eager to figure out that whole ordeal. Traveling for me means freedom and not having to worry about anything. So instead of struggling, my family and I opted for another holiday in our own country. This time we headed to the Eastern border, the little German-speaking part of Belgium, mostly to discover the High Fens Nature Park area.
The High Fens are the largest nature reserve in Belgium so it’s quite a shame I hadn’t been there before. It’s a plateau region in Liège, right next to the German border, so it is the entire opposite side of the country for me. But now, I’ve finally been able to scratch it off my bucket list and on top of that, it was well worth my time!
We started our trip in the city of Eupen, often named ‘the gateway to the High Fens’ and the capital of the German-speaking municipality of Belgium. No better place to start, right? But to be honest, there isn’t much to write home about. Sure, it’s a nice city to stroll through and there are a few buildings that date back to the 17th and 18th century, but nothing that could really hold my interest. I guess I’ve been spoiled quite a bit the last few years.
So we moved on. Since we didn’t spend as much time in Eupen as predicted, we cheated a little on our itinerary and crossed the border with Germany. Oops. We spent the rest of our afternoon in Monschau, a cute medieval city, but I’ll tell you all about that in another – probably fairly short – post.
Back in Belgium, we set course to our holiday home for the next couple of days. We rented a cute little cottage right next to Lake Bütgenbach, on the Worriken Holiday Center.
There are about forty cottages on that site, but there is also a campground and the option of a bed-and breakfast. For each his own! On site you can find a beach area, an indoor swimming pool, tennis fields, a soccer field, a restaurant and many more options to keep yourself busy. We stayed for two nights with four people and payed 235 euros. For that location and the facilities, a bargain in my opinion.
But I of course didn’t stay on site. No, we were eager to discover the area. The next morning, after a delicious breakfast, we jumped in the car and immediately headed to the highest point in Belgium; Signal de Botrange. At 694 metres you cannot expect high mountain peaks, but it’s just a fun thing to know you’re on the highest point. And also, our hike of the day started right there. We chose the 8,3 kilometre hike ‘The Big Fen Loop‘ which would take us through the heath across the well-known wooden footbridges.
And indeed, the hike starts almost right away with an amazing view over the moor and heath landscape. Incredible! The entire hike, you’re surrounded by beautiful views, hiking right through and over the heath. From Signal de Botrange, we hiked to Baraque Michel, the third-highest point in Belgium. From there, the traill returned south to the starting point.
About two kilometers before the end, we encountered quite a wet patch of turf and this time there were no wooden footbridges to get us across. So make sure you have footwear that can get dirty and maybe even a little bit wet. Or in my case, a lot wet. I made a little error of judgement and ended up well over knee-deep in the turf. Oops.
But all’s well that end’s well. No harm done, no injuries and it was an amazing hike to discover this part of the High Fens. A happy hiker here.
We continued our trip to the next sight; Reinhardstein Castle. This fourteenth century castle in the Warche Valley is completely surrounded by forest, so there is no parking option right next to it. But it’s only about 500 meters from the parking lot to the castle. So no big obstacle even though it isn’t entirely flat. And it’s definitely worth a stop. There are also many trails in the area, passing the castle, so perfect to combine it with a bigger hike. My family had already had their fare share of steps for the day, so we just went from the parking lot to the castle.
Malmédy was the next bullet point of our itinerary. But just like Eupen, it didn’t really manage to get me excited. These two places are perfect bases to discover nature in the area by foot or bike, but the centers aren’t that thrilling. They do have a nice shopping street and restaurants/ bars, so there is always something to do. Just nothing that I very much enjoy.
Moving on! Our last stop of the day; the second largest waterfall in Belgium: Bayehon waterfall. Nature. More my cup of tea. On my last trip to the Ardennes, back in April, I checked off the largest waterfall, The Coo Waterfall, but in my opinion, the Bayehon fall is so much more beautiful. It’s surrounded by nature and despite the amount of water tumbling down, gives off a calm vibe. Bliss!
And that was that for the day. But we had one more day to fill! Yay! With our cabin being right at the shore of Lake Bütgenbach, it would have been a shame not to attempt a morning run around the lake. It’s a 10 kilometer track, indicated by a wooden direction sign, or you can also follow the hiking nodes. A perfect distance to cover before breakfast.
It was an absolutely gorgeous morning and only a few fishermen were already on post so I seemed to have the whole place to myself. I may have stopped way too many times during my run but the sights were just too beautiful not to capture.
Freshly showered and energy levels restored, the time to check out of our cabin had come. Bummer. But more to explore, so we set course to the south of the German-speaking municipality. Another hike was on our agenda, but first we made a short stop in Reuland, to visit the remains of the Reuland Castle. It dates back to the ninth century and is one of the largest fortresses in the country. From the top, you have a beautiful view over the town of Reuland. Worth a stop, but nothing too spectacular either.
We continued our road to the most southern point of Eupen-Malmédy region; Ouren. From there we started our hike in the Our-Valley. Following the hiking nodes we were led through forests, up, up, up to the viewing points over open fields and even across the border to Luxembourg. Trailing back down, we arrived at the – not so spectacular – tripoint of Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany and were then able to follow the river Our back to the center of Ouren. Another beautiful and varied 9 kilometer hike.
And then it was time to head back home again. Holiday over… To split up our time in the car, we made another stop at a viewpoint over the river Ourthe and La Roche-en-Ardenne in the Ardennes region. A beautiful place I hope to return to one day. But while I’ve very much enjoyed my travels in Belgium, I also hope this will be the last chapter of my ‘Discovering my own country‘-series during this corona crisis. I’m eager to break free and discover rougher places. Although that might have to wait until I’ve – hopefully – finished that Olympic triathlon end of September. Things to look forward to, that’s for sure!