…the Valley of the Meuse winds up through the centre of what was once the Principality of Liege, and at every turn there is something which recalls the olden time… Huy, with the grave of Peter the Hermit, and it’s long history of suffering.Belgium by G.W.T. Omond (1908)
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months exploring the wonderful Meuse River. It seems to flow thru Wallonia with as much mystique as it does water. It is a place unpredictable, with a history that sometimes feels as if it’s only intended for historians to understand. Something happens when you arrive here. It is so unlike the rather predictable charm of the Flemish towns. The Meuse is an artery of the Belgian soul which has been redefined layer upon layer since Roman times. It’s strategic link between Germany and France going back to the times of Charlemagne has caused it to see wave after wave of invasion, war, and political struggle. Today, the area is a unique mosaic of the remaining pieces of all of these influences. One can’t help but feel the essence of the ghosts of ages past, but to put all of the awe-inspiring remnants into a cohesive storyline can be elusive. The clues are all around you. That is what makes the Meuse so intriguing.
Given the region’s propensity for attack, defensive systems appear up and down this river. One of the ways this is evident are the fortifications, known as the Meuse Citadels. There were four such citadels built along the Meuse, the most well-known being the ones in Dinant and Namur. Liege is one of the four, but its citadel was demolished and rebuilt as a hospital, although parts of the original are still visible today.
January mud and flooding can’t wash away a legendary romance which lives on in Dinant Continue reading Beer & Hike: La Croisette de Dinant
However, the citadel that arguably dominates it’s city the most is the Citadel of Huy. It sits like some sleeping, square-faced troll built into the rock. The city it looms over is an absolute hidden gem, not just on the Meuse, but in all of Belgium. In my 10 years living in Belgium, and with all of my constant explorations, it hardly registered on my radar. But during my research for many of my blog posts recently, the name kept popping up.
Huy sits exactly halfway between Namur and Liege, both historic capitals of their respective provinces. In 980, the control of Huy was given over to the Bishop of Liege, Notger, turning him into a combination of secular ruler and religious leader, a Prince-Bishop, in what was known as the Prince-Bishopric of Liege or Principality of Liege. Notger and his successors ruled the region as would any prince or duke up until the French Revolution. It remained essentially an independent country for around 800 years, thanks in part to the same reason that the River Meuse is such a complex, important river system. It links Germany and France. So when visiting Huy, make things a little easier for your brain and just start with the year 980.
And then just skip to around 1109, with a brief stop in 1096.
1096 was the year of the First Crusade, which initially started out as a pilgrimage of peasants riled up by the stirring words of a man called Peter the Hermit. However, most of the peasants were either killed, died of starvation, chickened out, or were sold into the Eastern European slave market before even making it past Constantinople. This lead to the more famous military campaign of crusaders whose aim it was to make the pilgrimage route safe for the next group of peasants. In the meantime, Peter the Hermit returned home safe and sound and settled in Huy, where he built the Neufmoustier Abbey around 1109 and later was buried there in 1115 after his death. A small part of the abbey and his crypt still remain, curiously embedded between houses in a typical neighborhood.
The rest of Huy can be summed up in what was called, even back in 1920’s Belgium Old & New by George Wharton Edwards, the “four marvels of Huy”. It is not necessary to look them up. You simply need to have a visit to an odd shop in Huy which is a cross between a printer supply store, an Army surplus store, and a micro-brewery. The brewery part of this conglomeration refers to themselves as Le Cabane des Brasseurs. The names of the beers all have a link to Huy and its history, including those four marvels.
Le Cabane des Brasseurs Beer List
(Wallonian for Castle)
Four Marvels of Huy
(Wallonian for Bridge)
Four Marvels of Huy
(Wallonian for Round Window)
Four Marvels of Huy
(Wallonian for Fountain)
Four Marvels of Huy
Le Tombeau De Pierre L’Ermite
(The Tomb of Peter the Hermit)
|Starting Point||Parking along the Quay (base of the fortress)|
|My Total/Moving Time||4h38m / 3h35m|
|Eating Place||During COVID: Takeway in Huy|
After COVID: Along the hike, it looks like that Taverne-Brasserie L’Elysee Beaufort would be a good place for beer and a bite to eat.
It’s Not Just a Beer, It’s a Journey
The scenery to the west of Huy is copiously forested. Despite the muddy conditions of the trails, the route is a pleasure for those that just like to traverse thru the woods. It would be suboptimal though not to include a stroll along the Meuse, and the latter portion of this hike follows the sinuous river for 4km.
This hike should be combined with a stroll around the city of Huy, visiting its historical marvels. The cathedral of Huy, called the Collegial Notre-Dame et Saint-Domitien is quite possibly my favorite in all of Belgium. The interior exudes a collage of colors rivaled only by the Collegiale Notre-Dame in Dinant. But I think Huy’s is even better.
But the case of Huy is one which shows the risk that may attend to taking of a Belgian church at its face value, so to speak.The Churches of Belgium by Wilfrid Randolph (1919)
What Randolph was referring to is the reconstruction of one its towers which today (and in 1919) has most of its former windows filled in, a descrepancy which you can interestingly detect when comparing the image of the tower on the beer label to its present state.
Huy was a place that left my head spinning with giddiness. Not from drinking the beer. That came later. But to visit a place rather spontaneously that has been in my backyard for 10 years and find myself coming in contact with 10th century politics, the First Crusades, World War II, and discovering a brewery whose beers are a checklist of the historical sites in the city. How can you not love that?
Sitting along the river wall, basking in an unusually vibrant February sun, and looking up at the citadel, I thought of the tumultuous history along this stretch of river. I imagined the centuries flipping by like torn pages of a calendar as the fortress started from a modest structure and how it would get destroyed and restored and improved by a succession of rulers trying to find the magic design. Everything that goes thru a painful process will try to make their level of defenses stronger, trying to find that wall which will finally withstand the next attack. Sometimes though, those walls are not just to keep something out, but to hold something in. Something worth cherishing and keeping safe through the good times and bad. A place where the blue butterfly can flutter, fly, and inspire. I suppose we each have our own citadel. Does it sit there like a cold, stone giant or does it motivate us to appreciate life and love with abandon in the shadow of its comforting bastions?