Many people don’t realize that Belgium, an undeniably small nation in Western Europe, actually consists of three distinctly different regions. There’s Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia, but there’s also a German-speaking region. This one lies in the far eastern corner of Belgium and, made up of three cantons, is known as the East Cantons Belgium.
A Complex History
The East Cantons’ history is one of several political back-and-forths. After the Congress of Vienna, it became part of Prussia and, later, of the German empire. Following the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles incorporated the region in Belgium, where it became part of the province of Liège. The Nazis then annexed the East Cantons Belgium again during World War II, after which it was once again returned to Belgium.
This now peaceful and tranquil region is still predominantly German-speaking, although French and Dutch are spoken as well. The region also borders the Netherlands to the north and Luxembourg to the south.
The East Cantons are also known as Eupen-Malmédy, after two main towns in the region.
The highest region in the entire country, this is where you’ll find some of Belgium’s greatest natural attractions. The East Cantons are home to the Signal de Botrange, at 694 meters above sea level the highest point in Belgium. Because of its elevation, in winter, the East Cantons is typically the first and last winter sports destination in Belgium.
Particularly Baraque Michel and Baraque de Fraiture are popular ski and cross-country ski destinations.
Another major natural attraction is the High Fens – Eifel Nature Park, a huge area made up of pine forests, swamps and bogs. This is one of the top places to visit in the East Cantons.
3 Places to Visit in the East Cantons Belgium
1. High Fens – Eifel Nature Park
The oldest nature park in Belgium, the High Fens – Eifel Nature Park lies in both Belgium and Germany. It covers 700 square kilometers of meadows, wetlands, bogs and forests. These remarkable bogs date back more than 10,000 years and are an essential part of the region’s historic and cultural heritage.
Dozens of hiking trails, short and long-distance, crisscross the park. In winter, you can explore this magnificent place on well-marked cross-country skiing trails.
Eupen is one of the three properly sized towns in the East Cantons—the others are Malmédy and Sankt Vith. The town serves as German-speaking Belgium’s capital. Dating from the 13th century, it’s a beautiful place, home to many centuries-old buildings and cobbled streets.
Its numerous restaurants, hotels and cafés make it the perfect base to explore the East Cantons and the nearby High Fens.
3. Reinhardstein Castle
There are a number of castles in the East Cantons Belgium, and many hundreds more in the rest of Belgium, but Reinhardstein Castle is among the most photogenic and beautiful. Perched on a rock in a deep valley near Robertville, this 14th-century stronghold now houses a fine museum exhibiting medieval armor, paintings and tapestries.
Guided tours take you through the castle’s main chambers, including the guards room, the apartments, the chapel and the imposing Knight’s Hall.