Back from the Edge
In Wallonia, the French-speaking, southern part of Belgium, you'll find Liège, the country's fourth largest city. Wedged between Flanders in the North, France in the southwest, and Germany on its eastern border – this centrally located city is linked by rail along the ICE and Thalys train routes. And while we're all about promoting train travel, we mention this first in a city description because Liège's new station is really a destination unto itself. What may be the most beautiful station in all of Europe, famed architect Santiago Calatrava has transformed the cultural and physical landscape with just one building. With a monumental dome rising over 100 feet, it's a perfect metaphor for Liège – reaching toward the sky.
This cozy city on the river Meuse is rumored to be the birthplace of Charlemagne, considered the founding father of Europe. His empire united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Romans, and encouraged the formation of a common European identity. And yet, Liège over the centuries was the target of numerous invasions, changing hands from Germany to Spain to France at a rapid pace before setting into Belgium.
Liège is broken up into two parts: On the west bank, the Old City, where you'll find much of the city's attractions including nightlife in the Carr è district, where there's always a party. The preferred district for nearly 80,000 students, there is alternating shops, cafés and discos. For a taste of history, the Palace of the Prince-Bishops is composed of both the Palace of Justice and the Provincial Palace, representing the former political power of the city. On the Outremouse, or east bank, there's more of a mix of bars and nightclubs. Recover on Sunday at the "Marché de la Batte." One of the longest markets in Europe, stretching along the Meuse River by the Université de Liège. Purchase everything from produce to clothing and the famous Liège waffles, coated in cinnamon and sugar.
During the industrial revolution Liège became one of the most important steel-making centers in Europe and was heavily fortified by the King of Belgium. Alas, in 1914 the Kaiser's heavy artillery forced the city into submission and then chose neighboring Spa as his headquarters. Badly bruised and neglected, "the Passionate City" of Liège retired from the main scene.
Today Liège is in revival mode: festivals flood the many pedestrian streets. Showing no hard feelings about their former ownership, French and German visitors mingle with the Walloons to shop and feast. The city also stages one of Belgium's biggest Christmas markets. With nearly 200 decorated chalets, stalls include the usual bric-a-brac: think nutcrackers and Santa Claus figurines - to sumptuous Belgian chocolates and other fine foods.
Come raise a Peket, a Belgian liqueur made from juniper berries and toast this town who's star is on the rise. While in the train station, look high above the dome – you may see it shooting across the sky.
Contributed by: Frederick, a manager at Rail Europe, born and raised in Europe and has traveled extensively on the continent.