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Summer staycation in Belgium: Liège
It’s nicknamed the ardent city in honour of its fierce independent spirit. For 800 years, the once industrial powerhouse of Belgium was a separate principality, ruled by a prince-bishop until the end of the 18th century. Today, the largest city in Wallonia is a beacon of art and design, shopping, contemporary architecture and gastronomy.
Liège is home to numerous folklore traditions. Don’t miss the Museum of Walloon Life (pictured, above) near Place Saint-Lambert, a medieval friary offering a fascinating picture of the region’s history. If you’re feeling energetic, climb the narrow steps of the Montagne de Bueren behind the museum to the slopes of the Citadel above. The city’s emblem is the character Tchatchès and the puppet has pride of place in the four-day festivities that take place in mid-August.
Overlooking Place Saint-Lambert in the heart of Liège is the sumptuous prince-bishops’ palace, housing provincial offices and the law courts. Guided tours are available, or you can walk through the main entrance to marvel at the medieval courtyard. Heading east, the museum quarter includes the refurbished Curtius museum, dedicated to history and art. Cross the river by Pont des Arches, the favoured bridge of local crime writer Georges Simenon, and explore the Outremeuse area.
The commercial centre of Liège, known as the Carré, is a warren of shops, and its bars are popular student haunts at night. Shopaholics can head to the Médiacité complex, which includes an ice rink that’s open all year round. Take a tourist train from the centre to see all the city sights. Liège Aquarium has a remarkable collection of interest to all the family.
The landscaped La Boverie park houses the city’s renovated modern and contemporary art museum, where the popular Hyperrealism Sculpture exhibition has been extended until 2 August. The museum’s café Madame Boverie is a recommended pit stop for sandwiches, bagels, soup and snacks. It also provides gourmet picnic baskets over the summer for alfresco lunches in the park.
It’s the turn of Liège to host the outdoor Art Public from 1 August to 31 October; an event staged every three years in Wallonia. Some 18 emerging artists have been invited to create a work that responds to the urban environment, taking into account the human aspect of various public spaces. The art trail highlights the city’s heritage and geography before the public domain is transformed by works to install a new tram network.
Eat, drink & sleep
A local speciality is boulets de Liège, savoury meatballs in a sauce made with Liège syrup; try them at Chez Lequet. For an introduction to pèkèt, the local genever made from juniper berries, go to La Maison du peket. Other regional favourites are boudin sausages and sugar-encrusted Liège waffles (try Maison Massin). Italian immigration has influenced local cuisine, so pizza and pasta joints abound. In the foyer of the Wallonia Royal Opera House, enjoy a quick self-service lunch in a grandiose setting. Convivial yet elegant brasserie La Petite Epicerie is located in a grand house and comprises a garden, terrace and bistro. There are dishes to share or not, plus an extensive drinks menu (reservations currently required). For a coffee break, drop into Maison Darius , a city institution for its espresso, cappuccino, macchiato and other caffeine blends, accompanied by a tasty selection of artisan bites. Another café that invites you to linger a while is Grand Maison. Breakfast, lunch, and Sunday brunch are all catered for and its quayside location make the terrace a popular place. C like Curtuis is an artisan brew named after Liège’s aforementioned sumptuous museum of decorative arts. Brasserie C is installed at the foot of the famous Montagne de Bueren steps and boasts one of the best terraces in the city, open Thursday to Sunday.
Fancy an overnight trip? The four-star Van der Valk Hotel Sélys Liège is a modern complex in the historic centre created out of two elegant townhouses that is running promotional offers since its re-opening in June. Smaller but still stylish is the Hotel Neuvice, near the Place du Marché. The 18th-century building is in a street dating from the 12th century and today has an excellent choice of food shops. One cheaper option is Liège Youth Hostel, which although pricier than the hostels of yore, is newly renovated and enjoys a central location. Breakfast included in the price.
Lying on the river Meuse, Liège prides itself as a major international transport hub. Liège Airport is just outside the city and the breathtaking glass and steel structure of the Santiago Calatrava-designed Guillemins station (pictured, above) places Liège at the centre of a European high-speed network. Criss-cross the centre of Liège on the Navette Fluviale ferry (€1 per stop). Patrolling the Meuse, it pulls in at six top sights, including La Boverie park and museum and the Museum of Walloon Life. From the Guillemins station, walk or cycle across the new La Belle Liègoise pathway to the Boverie park.
Outside the city
While the city surrounds bear testimony to Liège’s once industrial might, the province is largely, green, verdant and filled with charming stone villages and towns. One of the region’s outstanding heritage areas is the Ninglinspo valley near Aywaille. The lush nature spot, with waterfalls and dams, is Belgium’s only mountain river and a great hiking area. For an overnight stay and a chance to gaze up at the stars, try glamping experience Sleeping in a Bubble in the domain of P’tits Leus in Antheit, between Liège and Namur.
Photos: © O.T. Liège - Marc Verpoorten; Museum of Walloon Life © WBT - JP Remy; Liège waffles © WBT - J.P.Remy; Liège Guillemins station © eltgv - Alain Janssens; Sleeping in a bubble