This town in a deep wooded valley in the Ardennes has a story that begins with the foundation of an abbey in the 7th century.
For more than a millennium up to the French Revolution Malmedy belonged to the Princely Abbey of Stavelot-Malmedy, controlled by 77 successive prince-abbots.
The abbey church eventually became a cathedral, and in the 2010s the monastery complex, with 1,300 years of archaeology, was turned into a museum revealing the history of the town.
During the Battle of the Bulge, Malmedy was the scene of a massacre of American prisoners of war by the Waffen-SS.
You can visit a museum at the site of the atrocity, laying out the Ardennes Offensive and atrocity that took place at the Baugnez crossroads in December 1944.
1. Cathédrale Saints-Pierre-et-Paul et Saint-Quirin
What is now a cathedral, used to be the church for Malmedy Abbey until that was suppressed in 1796. Malmedy Abbey was established by Saint Remaclus way back in the 600s, but the magnificent late-Baroque church is the result of a rebuild that took place in the 1770s and 80s, just before the abbey’s demise.
The facade is pared down but impressive, with Ionic pilasters and two sturdy square towers.
There’s a lot of art to discover inside, much of which predates the church building.
Check out the impeccably carved 18th-century pulpit and confessionals from the end of the 17th century.
Check out the sculpture of the Virgin with Child by Jean Del Cour (1627-1707), and the 18th-century reliquary shrine of Saint Quirinus of Neuss, produced in the 18th century.
In 2011 the old Malmedy Abbey complex reopened as a first-class museum where you can trace the city’s history along several different threads.
There’s an exhibition for the ongoing local paper industry that first appeared on the banks of the Warchenne River in 1726, and you can find out all about the tanning trade, in business as far back as the 16th century, until as recently as 1996. Malmedy’s unique carnival celebrations, Cwarmê, are covered in rich detail with costumes, artefacts and photographs, and the “historium” offers a timeline of the city, from its foundation in 648 to the dark chapters of the Second World War.
And being next door to the cathedral the Malmundarium holds a treasury, replete precious liturgical ornaments in gold and silver.
3. Baugnez 44 Historical Center
In the winter of 1944-45 Malmedy was caught up in the Ardennes Offensive, in which the German army made one last attempt to break the advancing Allied lines.
The excellent Baugnez 44 Historical Center is at the very site of the Malmedy Massacre, where in December 1944 84 unarmed American prisoners of war were murdered by a notorious Waffen-SS unit.
This was one of a series of atrocities to be carried out by the same unit in the area, leaving 362 POWs and 111 civilians dead.
Using authentic weapons, equipment, vehicles and other WWII items, the museum has 15 carefully rendered, full-size dioramas telling the story of the Battle of the Bulge.
Two of these scenes are installed with immersive sound and lighting.
At the end there’s a film going into the massacre, which took place on December 17, 1944.
4. Malmedy Massacre Memorial
After visiting the Baugnez 44 Historical Center you could make your way to the Baugnez crossroads, now the junction of the N62 and N632, where there’s a discreet but solemn memorial for the victims of the massacre.
This has a flagpole on star-shaped flower bed, and a curving stone wall.
In the wall you’ll see darker blocks of slate, each one inscribed with the name of one of the 84 victims of the massacre.
The plaque on the wall reads: “To the Memory of the soldiers of the United States army who while prisoners of war were massacred by nazi troops on this spot on 17 december 1944”, followed by : “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” by Abraham Lincoln.
5. Rocher de Falize (Rocher de Warche)
Malmedy and its wider municipality can be the starting point for dozens of walks into the wilderness of the Ardennes or Hautes Fagnes.
If you have to pick one to begin with, you could make the short trip to the delightful village of Bellevaux, trailhead for the circular walk around the high walls of the Warche Valley.
On this 9.5-kilometre walk, suitable for families, you’ll come to the Rocher de Falize, set like a pulpit over the Warche.
This slab of hard quartzite has withstood the forces that have worn away the valley below, and measures 70 by 50 metres.
According to legend this was once a place where witches met.
Malmedy is on the RAVeL network, which is made up of more than 1,350 kilometres of greenways on old railway lines and canal towpaths.
But on top of that there’s also 850 kilometres of mostly paved, traffic-free paths on a regional “nodal” network that lets you plot your own route through the Ardennes and Hautes Fagnes using numbered junctions.
The RAVeL route passing through Malmedy is Ligne 45, and because this is a former rail line, there’s always a smooth gradient, even over rugged Ardennes terrain.
F1 fans could use RAVeL to get to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and follow this up with a visit to the course’s excellent museum in nearby Stavelot.
Mountain bikers meanwhile can hit the largest bike park in Benelux, at Ferme Libert, attracting riders from all over Europe for its four-cross, downhill tracks, cross-country, enduro tracks , trial zones and more.
7. Cascade du Bayehon
You won’t have to leave the Malmedy municipality to visit the second largest waterfall in Belgium, which is not far outside the village of Longfaye.
If you’re walking, you can reach the Cascade du Bayehon on a path that follows the Bayehon River upstream through wild wooded terrain.
The waterfall tumbles through a canyon down a nine-metre drop.
What will strike you right away is the reddish tone of the water, a consequence of the iron content of the rocks under the peat bogs at the Bayehon’s source.
And because the Bayehon rises from absorbent bogs it can take a few days for precipitation to affect the waterfall’s volume.
8. Maison Villers
Just off Place Alber Ier there’s an exquisite Louis XV-style townhouse built in 1724. Its first owner was one Quirin Joseph Dester, advisor to the Prince-abbot of Stavelot-Malmedy.
With five bays, a mansard roof and a sweet half-circle transom window on the portal, Maison Villers is constructed from brick, but with dressed sandstone on its windows, quoins and door.
The interior, which can be toured on weekends, has decor that has stood the test of time, with delft tiles, stucco and woodwork all painting a picture of 18th-century bourgeois tastes.
See the tiled fireplace and glass chandelier in the hunting room, the large painted canvases and marble fireplace in the music room and the kitchen, which is clad almost entirely in delft tiles.
9. Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
The Belgian Grand Prix takes place towards the end of summer ten minutes west of Malmedy at the cherished Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
Dating back to the 1920s, this course is praised for its wooded environment in the Ardennes, swooping and climbing out of the valley of the Eau Rouge stream.
This creates one of the most famous sections in motor sport, at Eau Rouge/Radillon where the course descends into a left then climbs into a long blind right.
Every year between the middle of March and middle of November there’s something going on at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps every day, and this world-renowned course is open for tours.
Of course you’ll experience Eau Rouge/Radillon, but also the podium, paddocks, Race Control room, press room and the commentator’s booths.
10. Brasserie de Bellevaux
One reason you’ll want to spend a little more time in Bellevaux on the weekend is for this family-run microbrewery.
You can stop at the tavern to try the Brasserie de Bellevaux range of six core beers, unfiltered, unpasteurised and brewed with top fermentation.
These include a tripel, a blonde, a brune, a witbier, a donker and Framboise fruit beer.
There’s a menu for snacks and light lunches like croque monsieur and warm goats’ cheese salad.
Guided tours also take place every Saturday and Sunday at 16:30, taking you through every step from malting to mashing, boiling, fermentation and bottling.
11. Le Grand Tour
Malmedy’s municipality covers a large space, incorporating stirring landscapes, breathtaking natural monuments and endearing old villages with half-timbered houses.
There’s so much to see that the tourist office has plotted a 60-kilometre Grand Tour through the wider area, which will take about three hours to complete with regular stops.
It’s perhaps the best way to get acquainted with Malmedy if you have limited time, and features many of the spots on this list like Baugnez, Bellevaux, the Rocher de Falize and Maison Maraite.
You can get hold of a booklet at the Tourist Office.
In 2015 a state-of-the-art multiplex cinema opened on the site of a former paper mill in Malmedy.
Called Moviemills, it’s an entertainment go-to for the whole southern part for the Verviers area, with five auditoriums and a total of 750 seats (310 in the largest room). Sleek, modern and comfortable, Moviemills is unique in the region for the Dolby Atmos 3D sound system set up in one of the rooms and advertised on the bill as “Atmos”. Naturally, this is somewhere to watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters, but there’s a big helping of French language cinema, along with international independent films and movies catering to the area’s sizeable German-speaking population.
13. Reinhardstein Castle
Wenceslaus I, Duke of Luxembourg, built this castle north-west of Malmedy in the middle of the 14th century.
But this rocky perch controlling the Warche Valley has a long history of fortifications, going back to the Celts and including the Romans and Carolingians – and that 14th-century construction incorporated elements from older castles.
In the 16th century the property passed into the powerful Nassau family, but in the wake of the French Revolution it was abandoned and briefly quarried for stone.
Eventually Reinhardstein Castle was rescued in the 1960s when Jean Overloop (1915-1994), an amateur, conducted a faithful reconstruction using antique prints of the building from the 18th century.
Inside, the castle has been completely refurbished, and kindles a Medieval atmosphere with its tapestries, paintings, old chests, candelabras and suits of armour.
On an hour-long guided tour you’ll visit the Knight’s Hall, guardroom, chapel and the castle apartments.
14. Maison Maraite, Bellevaux
Near the banks of the Amblève River in Bellevaux you’ll be confronted by one of the prettiest half-timbered houses in the region.
This is the Maison Maraite, with a sign bearing the date 1592. It is thought that this white building with wonderfully rickety beams, may be even older.
What is known is that the Maison Maraite was built by the Lords of Belvâ as a residence for the domestic staff of their castle, which was set a little way down the slope toward the river.
Malmedy has a reputation for good cheer, and has a unique way of observing carnival, lasting four days from the Friday before Lent to midnight Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras). There has been a carnival in Malmedy since the middle of the 15th century at the latest when the first mention of Cwarmê was recorded, but the celebration probably goes back a lot further.
And, as with carnivals all over Europe, Cwarmê has been prohibited a few times down the years, in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and during the World Wars.
A big roll-call of “companies” and bands take part, and these organisations have helped preserve Cwarmê’s traditions over time.
There’s a cast of 15 traditional characters in each celebration.
The most emblematic of these is the Lu Haguète, who roams around the town wearing a hat with ostrich feathers and grabbing random people with a wooden instrument, inviting them to kneel down and ask for forgiveness.
The big days are the Sunday when the grand procession takes place, and Shrove Tuesday, when an effigy of Lu Haguète is burnt on Place Alber Ier.