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The Venntrilogie: three hiking routes for an intimate connection with nature

The Venntrilogie hiking route is a special new attraction for walkers in East Belgium. It allows them to discover the region around Eupen and part of the High Fens.

Interview with project manager Jef Schuwer about the new Venntrilogie long-distance hiking trail.

Text: Ostbelgien.eu Photos: Michel Dehaspe | Chris_Eyre_Walker_Interreg_EFRE

The Venntrilogie hiking route should really become the model for the whole region,” says Jeff Schuwer, the Venntrilogie project leader.
“Just as the Vennbahn focuses on cyclists, with the Venntrilogie we want to create the equivalent for walkers. While cyclists love cycling on asphalt, hikers are allergic to it. It has taken a lot of time and energy to develop this beautiful and high-quality route – a route that showcases the great variety found in this region.”

Three walks in one

“In order to map out this walking route, we headed out into the region on foot and by mountain bike. We chose this route because, in its 109 kilometres, it brings together three very different natural landscapes – a trilogy. The three walks form a beautiful whole, but they are also interesting individually. Three is a number often found in art and literature, because it delivers a certain kind of dramatic satisfaction. Boris Servais, a local artist, illustrated the accompanying hiking book with beautiful black and white drawings,” Jeff adds.

The first part of this hiking route runs through the northern part of East Belgium, from the three-country border point at Vaals to Eupen. There you walk through a green landscape, made up mainly of meadows – all very rustic and joyous. The variations in altitude are not that great, and there’s a lot of cultural heritage to discover.

In the second part we head up into the High Fens National Park. Here you will be following historic hiking trails, and deeply immersed in nature. You climb up above the meadows, and suddenly you could be on the moon. We have renewed the whole infrastructure of this route, so the trails are now easily accessible for walkers. Passing the Bayehon waterfall, you eventually reach Malmedy, where the third part of the route begins.

The last part of the Venntrilogie takes you through the valley of the River Warche to the castle of Reinhardstein. We continue along the banks of the Robertville reservoir to reach our final destination at Bütgenbach.”

Ambition: a European Quality Trail – Best in Europe

“We started with the idea of connecting existing routes,” Jeff continues. “In collaboration with our tourist providers, we developed travel packages with luggage transport, packed lunches and overnight stays. We want to make it as simple as possible for walkers, so that they can follow the route without a map and enjoy the experience to the full.

“We hope to obtain the European Quality Trail label. The historic paths along which the route runs are our primary asset. Local residents used to use these paths to go to church, for example. With this label, the paths will be protected and can be preserved for ever.”

A hiking path of 109km that encapsulates the region

“We have a fascinating region full of wonderful stories, but with a complicated past,” says Jeff. “During my research for this route, I came across numerous interesting anecdotes. When you know who has lived in the various houses and castles, the history of the building in front of you suddenly comes to life. We wanted to tell that bigger story – because, if you spend a few days in any region as a tourist, it’s nice to know a bit about the local people.

This gave rise to the idea of creating a book in which the sweetest as well as the most tragic stories from the region are combined with all the practical information about the hiking paths.

“I have really enjoyed mapping the wonders of our region, and working with Boris Servais. The region is full of variety, in both culture and nature. The language borders and landscapes that you cross during the walk are good examples of this. As a hiker you can have breakfast in German and in the evening you’ll order your beer in French. Our brand new hiking path provides a connecting thread through the region, with all its cultural variations.”

Through his illustrations Boris Servais has brought the history of the Venntrilogie hiking route to life:

„My love for the people and the region was my inspiration“.

Illustrator Boris Servais had the task of depicting the new hiking route for a book. He was born and raised in Eupen, the starting point for two of the stages of the Venntrilogie.

Eupen: port and portal

“The town centre has numerous 17th- and 18th-century buildings in Baroque style. There are also traces of the industrial past – the cloth industry. You can walk or cycle into the High Fens nature reserve from Eupen. The Hertogenwald forest also offers all kinds of activities for young and old in every season. Numerous restaurants are truly excellent. Our best kept secret? We have the most delicious beers, a fair number of which are brewed locally.”

Real-life art

Boris Servais sets the scene: “I am an illustrator and co-founder of Poste Aérienne, a collective of German and Belgian artists who create controversial contemporary artworks with an educational purpose. My last exhibition, “Fluid”, was put together following the floods of 2021. My basement, where I kept some of my work, was flooded.

The colours had run from one illustration to another. The strange thing was that the water had not totally destroyed the works, but rather it had given them an extra dimension. I saw an opportunity to turn these 'damaged' pieces into new works. Instead of focusing on being a victim in this situation, I saw this traumatic experience as a kind of transformation. I searched for the essence of the circumstances and saw the possibilities to create new art. That's how I live my life.”

East Belgium, a safe harbour

“I grew up in Eupen and I always compare our region to a port. In the past, we came into constant contact with other cultures. This region had a mixture of languages and from this it developed its own identity. We have found an ideal combination to be able to live the good life here, with all the influences of the past,” he explains with a smile.

“We’ve got gentle landscapes that favour such activities as walking or cycling. The charms of our two rivers, the Helle and Vesdre, and their valleys, the smell of the rain in autumn or the flowers in bloom in spring– these are things you’ve just got to experience.

I discovered a piece of East Belgian history in these anecdotes.

Venntrilogie : rediscovering history in drawing

“The starting point of the second section of the Venntrilogie hiking route is close to the River Helle. I've lived near there. I discovered bits of history in the stories of past residents. My love for the people and the region inspired me to revisit this area before I started doing the illustrations.

My black and white drawings are made with Chinese ink. They are also used in the printed brochure about the walk. The book is much more detailed. It tells the stories behind a building, castle, chateau or road. The focus is on the people who lived there, or who were just passing by, or who actually built the walls and bridges.

“I too have tried to tell these stories, and to explore visually the connections across the whole region. By using only the essential lines to give a natural shape to the stories of these timeless people and the events of their lives, I found that both the funny anecdotes and the tragic stories just seemed to come alive.”

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