Liège, an undiscovered corner of Belgium

By | Category: Travel destinations
the unusual, brass baptismal font in the catedral

the unusual, brass font in St Bartholomew’s

Liège and its surrounding area make an interesting place for a weekend away. In the nineteenth century the city was the industrial powerhouse of Belgium and as well as its historic elements, it is also near the Ardennes countryside, and within easy reach of Spa, the town from which the name originated. Liège is nestled among hills, with an historic centre, and everything you would want to see within walking distance. A lot of the places worth visiting are hidden behind buildings that look uninspiring. Part of the hotel where I stayed, the Crowne Plaza Liège, was built to incorporate two Noble aristocrats’ homes, the Gothic sixteenth century Sélys Longchamps and the medieval Comtes de Méan.

In the town centre, the Cathedral of St Paul dates back to 959 when a church stood on the site. The church was enlarged over time, and now includes a variety of periods. The magnificent stain glass windows are impressive as is the ornate wooden pulpit, and painted ceiling. There are guided tours of the Cathedral’s treasures at 3pm. Sacred choral music was playing during my visit.

the gardens of the Grand Curtius

the gardens of the Grand Curtius

In the historic quarter, near the Meuse River, St Bartholomew Church with its Romanesque architecture in the Rhenish-Mosan style has an exterior painted burnt orange, a colour originally made from ox blood, and often seen in Belgium. Inside is one of the country’s treasures, a twelfth century brass baptismal font, which came from the now demolished church of Notre Dame aux Fonts, and considered a masterpiece of Roman sculpture. The baptism ceremony is depicted in five scenes on the font’s outer wall. The Grand Curtius museum that contain collections relating to archaeology, decorative arts, glass, armour, religion, and Mosan art is also nearby. These are housed in several buildings, which includes the Curtius Palace, a seventeenth century manor. During my walk, I came across a flight of steep steps that took me up to an area of greenery where there were the remains of the city walls, and was a good spot for panoramic views of the city.

Le Batte - the Sunday market

La Batte – the Sunday market

On Sunday mornings, the town empties as everyone goes to the huge market, La Batte that runs for over two kilometres along the banks of the River Meuse. Here the locals come to buy virtually everything they need from food and flowers, to clothes, and pots and pans. I even saw chickens and rabbits in cages. Hopefully the latter were there to be bought as pets, but unlikely as rabbit seems to be on all the menus of the Belgium restaurants I ate in.

Several items of food and drink are associated with the city. Apparently the best waffles, often sold from stalls but also in shops, come from Liege. Waffles are usually cooked to order, and give off a lovely aromatic, smell from the sugar, which is dusted on it or, a speciality in Liege they are caramelized, with cinnamon added. While wandering around the town I saw a queue of people, and going to investigate found the shop, une gaufrette saperlipopette, apparently selling the best in town. Another delicacy is syrup of Liège, which has the same consistency as jam, and is made from local apple and pears, which is low in sugar and has a high concentration of natural fruit.

bottles of Peket

bottles of Peket

At the Bistro d’en face, we ate traditional Liège meatballs, which can be made from either minced beef or pork but with a recipe that includes Liège syrup, juniper berries, and currants as well as the usual meatball ingredients. Another local speciality is peket. A drink made from juniper berries with an alcoholic content of between 22 and 35 degrees. At the Maison du Peket it comes in 26 different flavours. I tried a sip of the raspberry peket, which was certainly very alcoholic.

Near Liège, the spa aspect of the town of Spa was developed in the 19th century when people came to take the waters from the various springs for its healing properties. The first cure centre was a revolution, which led to the development of spa treatments. Above the town on the Annette and Lubin hill of the Ardennes, the Thermes Spa is the town’s main attraction. A vehicular from the town centre takes you there or if you have a car, as I did, it is possible to drive. The Thermes has a range of treatments using the natural springs, as well as an indoor and outdoor swimming pool. Although it wasn’t warm, the outside section was heated, and at 33° it was a great experience. I had envisaged the place to be luxurious, and pampering where-as it was in reality a public amenity. I was however staying nearby, benefiting from the countryside, at the Manoir de Lébioles, described as a mini Versailles, which has a stylish spa more in the manner that I had expected. The chateau was built by the architect, and diplomat George Neyt, who rumour has it, was the son of the Belgium King Leopold 1, and is now run as a hotel with a gourmet restaurant. Another of Spa’s attractions is its casino, which apparently is the oldest in the world.

one of the F1 cars on show

one of the F1 cars on show

Nearby, and certainly a major draw is the Francorchamps race course, known as one of the most scenic and challenging in the world, and where the Formula One Belgium Grand Prix took place just under a fortnight ago. Events are held throughout the year, and on the day I visited, I was allowed to wander around, and go behind the scenes even though there were motorbikes speeding around the track. At Stavelot in the basement of the Abbey, there is a museum filled with vintage Formula One racing cars, arte-facts and mementos linked to the circuit. On the ground floor until 14 February, 2016 there is an Anne Frank exhibition which includes film footage in English with the words ‘least no-one forgets’. Anne was in hiding during the Nazi occupation of World World II, and kept a diary of her life and thoughts at the time. Excavations are currently being carried out at the Abbey, considered one of the country’s oldest monastic foundations.

Liège and its environs, is a corner of Belgium with lots to offer. Although Eurotunnel only goes to Calais, Belgium is virtually on its doorstep. As my pet dog, Poppy accompanied me on my travels, the easiest way to cross the Channel was with Eurotunnel where she was able to stay with me in the car. She did, however, need a pet passport, which required her to be micro-chipped and vaccinated against rabies before travelling.

For more about Liège, click here.





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