Call me a fat joke, but I think Liège is one of Belgium’s more remarkable destinations. Everyone arriving at the hypermodern Liège-Guillemins station, only to then having to walk an agonising distance to get to anywhere good, thinks they’ve just travelled to a rundown industrial shithole (Charleroi). Those who don’t allow themselves to be discouraged and bring this odyssey of faded glory to a successful conclusion, will suddenly find themselves in the middle of one of the most atmospheric and lively old towns in the country. You’ll walk past beautiful historic buildings completely different from those in Flanders, through cosy streets full of bars and restaurants and along the banks of the Maas River dividing the city into very distinct parts.
“Liège boasts a big city attitude you’ll otherwise only find in Brussels, Antwerp and (why not) Ghent. It’s a place for free spirits, nice food and dirty parties. “
Liège boasts a big city attitude you’ll otherwise only find in Brussels, Antwerp and (why not) Ghent. It’s a place for free spirits, nice food and dirty parties. Parties we could still learn a thing or two from here, a fact you’ll quickly agree with once you’ve seen the bacchanals around Le Carré on a Saturday night. And yes, there are more than enough weird spots to be found for me to write an interesting piece on. Spots like these, for example.
1. Find a Lucifer in the Cathedral
Sounds like something they could have spent a little time on in the Notre Dame – too soon? But I’m not talking about the lacklustre fire safety regulations in our ecclesiastical heritage here, but about Beelzebub himself. While most of our churches make do with boring Mother Mary statues or the umpteenth Jesus on a cross – why don’t they ever picture Christ while he’s having fun floating around in the Dead Sea on a Sunday afternoon? – someone put an actual statue of the Devil in Liège’s Saint-Paul’s Cathedral. At first glance it looks just like your average angel, but at closer inspection a couple of details become apparent. The angel wings turn out to be a demon’s, the toenails are sharp and pointy, and there are two subtle little horns sprouting out of the statue’s hair. One tear is running down his marble cheek as well. It’s like he’s wondering why he turned out to be so goddamn evil. Well Satan, how should we know? Cheer up dude. Be who you really are and not what the world wants you to be. www.cathedraledeliege.be
2. Eat a worm burger
Did you know insects contain far more proteins and far less harmful fats than your average slab of meat? Did you know it takes far less resources to produce a kilo of crickets than it does to produce one kilo of big fat cow? Did you know a grasshopper’s legs tickle your throat ever so gently when you stuff one down your pie hole? No? Well consider yourself informed now.
“When the bomb inevitably drops, we’re going to have to survive on cockroaches roasted over trash fires anyway. Better have a taste in advance then, you might like it.”
Les Bouchers Verts in the city centre is one of few Belgian businesses focused on making tasty insect based dishes. The menu is surprisingly varied: grasshoppers and cherry tomatoes on a stick, cheesy mealworm pastries, cricket spaghetti Bolognese and even whole burgers made of minced worms instead of meat. It all sounds a little disgusting, but it’s not as bad as you think. The dried bugs you’ll get with your beer taste almost exactly like peanuts, and while the texture of the burgers is a bit sandier than normal, the taste is a-okay. Don’t be a pussy and just go for it. When the bomb inevitably drops, we’re going to have to survive on cockroaches roasted over trash fires anyway. Better have a taste in advance then, you might like it.
(Update 2020: Sadly, the restaurant is closed. You’ll have to catch your own bugs.)
3. Drink yourself into another dimension
Liège is – as earlier agreed upon – a very nice place to go out and have yourself a party in. La Maison du Peket for example, sells burning shots of local liquor you can suck down with a straw. But for the real deal, you’ll have to head down to Le Carré. This is a quarter right outside the main tourist centre, full of restaurants and theatres. In the dark alleys connecting the main streets literally dozens of bars are hidden away: from dark drinking holes for students and techno pubs to weird private clubs and colourful cafés with a giant aquarium in one of the walls where you’ll get popcorn with your beer. The most beautiful pub in Liège can be found a little further away from the main drag of the area. Le Pot au Lait comes with a fantastic décor in circus style, with boar heads on the wall, camouflage nets and jungle plants on the ceiling, and psychedelic glow in the dark art on every possible piece of empty space. Le Carré is God’s gift to everyone looking for a place to hold a stag party or a pub crawl. It smells like a mixture of beer and Mr. Clean 24/7. One day I’ll take a bunch of other idiots here and drink like there is no tomorrow. www.maisondupeket.be, www.potaulait.be
4. Explore an abandoned fortress
Historically Belgians have been very proficient at constructing all sorts of pompous buildings only to demolish them again later or to leave them to crumble down until only an empty shell remains. The mayor will then order some ugly apartment buildings to be built on the site instead, and after that it’s champagne for everyone involved. Not so with Fort de la Chartreuse a couple of km outside Liege. It too is an abandoned, crumbling ruin of a building, but one actually built by the Dutch. Right before we kicked them back over the border on their occupying orange asses in 1830. The fortress is an immense structure that could station 3,000 soldiers back in the day. During both World Wars the Germans used it as a prison, but afterwards it was completely abandoned.
“Historically Belgians have been very proficient at constructing all sorts of pompous buildings only to demolish them again later or to leave them to crumble down until only an empty shell remains. The mayor will then order some ugly apartment buildings to be built on the site instead, and after that it’s champagne for everyone involved.”
The surrounding forest is slowly creeping back into the structure, parts of the roof have already collapsed and the whole place is full of creepy graffiti and empty hobo beer cans. It’s still an incredible place to explore though – and the gate is wide open. If you take a nightly stroll here all by your lonesome, you’re a braver man than I am. Better bring an extra pair of undies though.
5. Take a look at the city from a different angle
Montagne de Bueren, connecting the inner city with the citadel in 374 gruelling steps, is probably the most famous attraction in Liège. The climb is heavy on the calves, but it gently weeds the weakest genes out of the pool, and once you’ve reached the top you can enjoy a splendid view over the whole city. The vista gets even more stunning when you stroll along the citadel walls a bit further away. Not as well-known is that you can also explore the city from the “inside”. The so called impasses – the narrow little gates mainly found on both sides of the Rue Hors-Château – give out on all sorts of minuscule alleys. Some are simply dead end streets, others open up on little courtyards full of colourful houses, with benches on the front yards for neighbours to meet each other on. I’d love to live here as a semi-senile old man, so I can spend my days shouting my endless, inconsistent life story at every passing tourist who doesn’t have the time or patience to listen to it. Just you try and stop me.
There, that’s everything I have on Liège for now. Did I forget some things? Is your favourite spot not on the list? Vous êtes francophone et vous n’avez rien compris? Well we’re twenty years into the 21st century, the US won us the war and the internet has been out for 30 years. Time to learn some freaking English mon ami. Leave your comments below in any case.
I stayed at the beautiful Pentahotel Liege, right next to Le Carré. This thanks to the wonderful Wallonia Belgium Tourism people who booked me a room there. For more info on Liège and on everything else in Wallonia, click here: www.walloniebelgietoerisme.be. For more info on the hotel, click here: www.pentahotels.com/luik.