The Abbey was entirely renovated in 2002, but 11th century ruins are still accessible to visitors. A single ticket (€8.50) buys entry to all three museums on site: one displaying treasures from, and relating to, the history of the abbey; one dedicated to Apollinaire; and a third in the crypt that tells the history of the Spa-Francorchamps Grand Prix circuit with vintage cars and motorbikes. The latter has PlayStations for young (and not so young) visitors to test out their driving skills. A temporary Robert Doisneau exhibition (until 30 September) is a comprehensive and well-curated retrospective of the celebrated photographer of the ‘Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville’.
The Triangle Bleu gallery is an internationally renowned exhibition space for contemporary art. The gallery founded by Marie-Claire Goosse and Francine Jacques in 1986 moved to a vast, purpose-built modern space bathed in natural light in 2004. In April the gallery will be exhibiting new works by Breton artist Loïc Le Groumellac.
Ô Mal Aimé, a restaurant with rooms, is a relatively new venture in the old inn where Guillaume Apollinaire spent a summer in 1899 and the art and decoration pays homage to both the poet and the surrealist movement. Chefproprietor Etienne Debras has a playful approach to food and a commitment to local, natural produce: think homemade pâté and rabbit stew with local beer. There’s a €30 three course set menu and on Sundays Debras prepares a potluck ‘surprise’ dinner, where he gets creative with the weekend’s leftovers
The Au Val d’Amblève hotel on the outskirts of Stavelot is one of the region’s serious gastronomic destinations. This spring the restaurant is offering a €49.50 four-course Asparagus Menu. When the weather cooperates you can dine in the pretty gardens.
If you’re visiting Stavelot with children, a 8km drive takes you to the Plopsa theme park (€19.50 entrance, Coo 4). There’s a rollercoaster, a bobsleigh track, water slides and, new this year, a Viking boat ride that turns a full 360°. The park is open April-October. You can also keep kids amused by trying to spot the wolves dotted through Stavelot. Legend has it that a wolf ate the donkey, which Saint Remacle was using to transport stones for the construction of the abbey, and the saint forced the wolf to take his place. The story is commemorated around the town, with quotes from wolf-themed literature and poetry on doors and windows, pictures, sculptures and even painted paw prints in the town square.
Boutique Hotel Dufays (rooms from €115 including breakfast) has six vast, high-ceilinged rooms in a beautifully restored 19th-century manor house with stunning views over the forest and the Amblève river. Each bedroom has a ‘theme’ – African, Chinese, 1930s, but they’re executed with a light touch and impeccable taste, which is subtle rather than overpowering.
L’Atelier des Fleurs is much more than a florist – it’s an enticing warren of covetable homewares and gifts in a prettily decorated and tiled building on the 18th-century cobbled town square.