Here’s a tip to all the budding CEO’s out there: there is no better way to completely destroy productivity and focus for the day than giving your employees a surprise day off. Indeed, I would estimate that it took no more than 3.5 minutes from the email being sent out for the entire office to abandon work in favour of furiously searching Skyscanner for the weekend’s best deals. After 5 minutes we all mentally had cocktails in our hand and our Out of Office on. With Thursday a bank holiday in the Netherlands, the surprise addition of a work-free Friday (+ a weekend heatwave on the forecast) meant that we had 4 days to go at. “I’m going to go to Portugal and get a tan!” squealed one girl to no one in particular, her mouse poised on the BOOK NOW button, whilst across the desk another worker rang her mum to announce her surprise return home that weekend. Safe to say we didn’t get much else done that day.
At first, the sheer abundance of choice of places to go was intimidating. With 4 free days at my disposal, a trip was definitely on the cards, but where? Somewhere further afield was quickly ruled out; as with all last-minute trips, air fares were eye-wateringly expensive, with the cheapest flights being to Brussels at no less than 200€. My searches became closer to home, and eventually I whittled my options down to 2: a weekend at the seaside, or a trip to Belgium to visit the city of Liège. With B away at a conference and time very much of the essence, the pressure was on to book a deal. In a series of increasingly unhinged messages to B – exacerbated by the glass of wine in my right hand and my mum on speakerphone on my left – I slowly became convinced that Liège was our calling. This was for 3 main reasons:
- Liège is the capital of Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. Having a degree in French that I never use and never having been to Wallonia, now seemed as good a time as ever to visit.
- Cheap train tickets and a reasonable length trip. Tickets were about 19€ each going down and only 17€ for the way back, and at 3h20 the trip was just about bearable enough that it was worth the effort.
- Affordable accommodation. We ended up staying in an AirBnb in the outremeuse district, which is just over the water from the city center and conveniently located for bars, parks etc. The price was less than 30€ a night so we didn’t feel too guilty booking a 2-night stay and making a real holiday of it.
For anyone thinking about visiting Liège I would definitely say shop around for the best deals as you can do it on a very reasonable budget – many rail companies do deals on weekend tips in the summer, and hotel chains too usually have some sort of promotion going on – which means more money for food (or whatever else you deem important)! Food and drinks in the city also aren’t too expensive – think about 12-14€ for a main dish, 2-3€ for beer/wine and around 7€ for a cocktail.
The second thing I would note is that Liège is very different from other towns in Belgium; I’ve visited Antwerp, Bruges and Leuven before and whilst very pretty, they do tend to fall into the stereotype of “look it’s some canals and some nice tall buildings.” Liège on the other hand is very real; its not at all touristy so best brush up on your French/pointing at a menu skills beforehand, and don’t go expecting beautiful townhouses on every corner. I would even go as far as to say that the architecture style of Liège is almost a little confused (in a good way) – think narrow Dutch canal houses juxtaposed with modern apartment blocks and a sprinkling of 60s concrete. Sounds horrible, right? Wrong. It’s weird and a little all over the place, but somehow it works and makes it feel more like a living, breathing city than a series of photos on a postcard. Built up on both sides of La Meuse river, it feels – almost as soon as you step off the train – that Liège is a lot more cosmopolitan than its Flemish neighbors. Maybe it’s because it hit 33 degrees both days we were there, but the city did not resemble the Belgium I knew, and indeed it was hard to believe we were in Belgium at all, staying only 20km south of Maastricht and the Dutch border. If I could compare Liège to anywhere I’ve been, I’d say it’s like a small Geneva; French and water-based, with wide streets and Southern European architecture.
All in all, Liège is a pretty small city; I think 2-3 days would be a long enough stay for anyone to really discover the city. So with all this in mind, here are some things I would recommend anyone visiting the city to check out.
Climb the Montagne de Beuren
374 steps sit in front of you with the promise of a spectacular view at the top. You set off weary of the journey ahead and you arrive even wearier, only to turn around and completely forget the burning in your lungs. Panoramic views of the city and a picturesque woodland walk on your way down, this 20-minute excursion is Liège’s #1 attraction for good reason.
Try some regional dishes
Of course it wouldn’t be a weekend with me if I didn’t spend an unhealthy amount of time googling what I want to eat. And it wouldn’t be a French-speaking town if culinary delights weren’t at the heart of their culture. A match made in heaven, really. Top of the list of things to try were boulets à la liègeoise, meatballs served in a regional sauce (it’s called ‘sauce lapin’ but does not contain any hints of family pet) and presented on a bed of Belgian fries. Available at most brasseries throughout the city, we were recommended to go to Café Lequet, a traditional brown bar where the menu basically consists of the question “one meatball or two?” Definitely recommend – bonus points for the slightly-eerie puppet decorations and old-time feel.
In terms of sweet treats, I don’t think it’s morally acceptable for you to go to Liège and not at least nibble a gauffre liégioise. Made with a similar mix as Brussels waffles, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Liège variety of waffle is not too special… until you bite into it. Whereas Brussels waffles are made for the toppings (chocolate, whipped cream, cherries….) to go on top, in Liège those toppings (typically fruit) are baked into the dough as filling. Served warm and doused in syrup, they certainly are a treat for the sweetest toothed amongst us. We went to Une Gaufrette Saperlipopette to get our fix because the queue was out the door each time walked past and we’re British (bloody love a good queue), but you can grab a gaffer or two almost anywhere in town. For beer, check out the sun-dappled beer garden at Brasserie C, where you can enjoy the locally brewed Curtius beer in a tranquil terrace you wouldn’t believe is only a stone’s throw from the city centre.
Other local dishes/drinks to check out: Peket (a juniper-based drink that comes in a verity of flavours, all available at La Maison du Peket near the center), charbonnade (griddles built into your table allow you to cook your own food at your own pace, accompanied by endless sides of salad and potatoes dauphinois at Les Sabots d’Hélène).
Grab a cocktail in the Carré
Liège is a regional economic hub and also boasts a large student population, so it goes without saying that the night life is an important part of Liège culture. The night life liégeoise is based largely in and around a collection of narrow streets otherwise known as the Carré. During the day the streets are lined by eateries and cafés, whilst at night the neighborhood transforms as tables are cleared to give way to dance floors, and cocktail bars spring from nowhere with very tempting happy hour deals. We had a great time at the Tam Tam Bar, a jungle-themed cocktail bar in tucked away in the heart of the Carré and with a rather exciting sideline in ice cream sundaes (!!) – including one with kinder chocolate (!!!!!).
One word to the wise: when a happy hour deal advertises buy one get one free, it means that the waiters will double any number you order. This misunderstanding led to the rather embarrassing moment where we were proudly presented with 4 of the same drink (after asking for 2), and B poking me going, “I thought you said you had a degree in this?!” Luckily after the 4th cocktail I began to see the funny side.
Take a walk around Liège Guillemins and the Parc de la Boverie
When our host recommended a visit to Liège-Guillemins station, I was a little sceptical. I mean sure, we’d see the station on the way back but was it really worth a trek to awe at some rail tracks? Absolutely. The station itself is designed by Santiago Calatrava, and it’s a spectacle in itself with a modern, streamlined design that perfectly captures the contemporary-yet-traditional feel of the city. From the station you can wander to the river to cross the !euse on the famous La Belle Liégeoise footbridge, taking you into the Parc de la Boverie for a well-earned rest (it’s 33 degrees, you’ve done great just standing up). Once you’re rested you can head back into town or check out the modern shopping complex at Médiacité – maybe it’s just me, but I really like comparing the Primarks in different countries. Germany, for example, has the best sleepwear. You’re welcome..
All in all, I had a fantastic – and uncharacteristically spontaneous – weekend. Liège is a city that really breaks the mould – both in Belgium and beyond – making it an ideal choice for a relaxing and affordable weekend break that’s just a little bit off the beaten track.