Anyone who says Belgium is flat and boring has never been to the Hautes Fagnes. With its steep slopes, dark forests and soggy marshes, this is one of the wildest upland regions in northern Europe.
“Snow half the year, bad weather the other half of the year,” observed a professor from Brussels who took on the challenge of renovating the ruined Reinhardstein castle on the edge of the Fagnes.
The long distance hiking trail GR 573 crosses this bleak upland region where nothing much can survive apart from tough heather and a few isolated pine trees. No one lives in this cold, marshy region of Europe. You sometimes have to walk along raised wooden bridges to avoid the waterlogged marshes, and at one point pass a cross where two lovers died in a snowstorm.
Even in summer, the mist can come down suddenly, wrapping everything in a sinister silence. The only building in this bleak region is an ancient roadside inn called Baraque Michel where travellers have been sheltering from the wind and rain for centuries.
You can drop in here for an Ardennes lunch of wild boar meatballs along with a local beer. There’s also a traditional bakery on the site. And when the snow comes down, the owners rent out skis for the day.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.