If there is a city in Belgium which I have inexcusably ignored during my time in Belgium (now 12 years!), it is Liege. Long before I set out to explore Liege’s backstory in my book collection, I had already developed a bias towards Liege which I cannot explain. Perhaps through random conversations with Flemish people over the years, I picked up bits of stray comments which took on a life of their own in my subconscience. Whoever was the lead architect in my subconscience designed a bland uninteresting industrial city.
To be fair, in retrospect, my impression was not altogether going against the grain of historical record.
(Liege)…has nothing in common with the architectural gems which adorn the great cities of Flanders and Brabant. This lack of architectural distinction is characteristic of modern Liege. The hammers of the French Revolution… completed what the fires of Charles the Bold began, and of the really old Liege almost nothing remains.Belgium by G.W.T. Omond (1908)
That was written before World War I. Later, right before World War II, another travel writer, probably having read Omond’s book, wrote:
Architecturally, the town is unimportant, which nobody minds. Nature has done more than man could ever do.A Wayfarer in Belgium by Fletcher Allen (1934)
This latter quote brings up a good point and might explain part of Liege’s lack of appeal to me. Liege is a gateway to the Ardennes and thereby competes with them. To introduce the Ardennes, I again turn to the same author for inspiration:
Some people who have been told that the Ardennes are the Switzerland of Belgium, say that the country is overrated. I think not. True the hills are not very high, but, by contrast, they are fine relief, and certainly water is never long left out of the landscape. It is, if anything, underrated. Perhaps because of our fear of enthusiasms.A Wayfarer in Belgium by Fletcher Allen (1934)
Liege doesn’t offer the postcard appeal that the Ardennes themselves do nor can it compete with the old Europe splendour of some of the other cities in the Ardennes. Cities like Namur, Huy, and Dinant. Liege has lived a rough life and was a victim of its own ambitions, or rather the ambitions of its Prince-Bishops, and suffered mightily because of its geographic location. I have written already about the origins of the Prince-Bishopric of Liege in my Huy post and Chevremont post. Essentially Liege was an autonomous region, being influenced but never officially part of any of the European empires from 972 until 1795 when it was annexed to France after the French Revolution. During the 800 years in existence, it got its head knocked around a bit, whether thru internal scheming to supplant the current Prince Bishop, fighting with rival neighbors, suffering civil wars or being in the middle of a constant conveyor belt of European conflicts. The list of Prince-Bishops will make one’s eyes glaze over, but there is one with a family name that I have crossed paths with when exploring Belgium, Erard de la Marck, the son of Robert de la Marck, the lord of Bouillon and Sedan. Erard, a staunch advocate of the arts, ruled over Liege in perhaps its most prosperous and peaceful era, 1506 to 1538. It did not hurt that he was favored and supported by our old friend Charles V (Gouden Carolus).
Some other posts dabbling in de la Marck territory:
Beer & Hike: Brasserie de Bouillon
A giant, a crusader, and a Wild Boar. Just another medieval day in Bouillon. Continue reading Beer & Hike: Brasserie de Bouillon
Beer & Hike: Sedan
Discovering history in a remote corner of France Continue reading Beer & Hike: Sedan
Following the French Revolution, Liege bounced around from France to the Netherlands and finally landing in Belgium when it became an official country in 1830. With the glory of the Prince-Bishopric in the rearview mirror, Liege went from the royal palace to the factory and turned its attention to steel and iron. Meanwhile just 45 km away, Germany was in the process of unifying its states. By 1908, the signs were ominous when Omond wrote “Even now a shadow of possible war overhangs this part of Europe.” In 1914, when the Germans came knocking on Belgium’s door, it was Liege who answered it.
In 1915, Liege’s heroics of defending Belgium and delaying the German advance, was a moment which was glorified in song and poetry. It was a rallying cry to keep the fighting spirit up.
The resistance of Liege is not only one of the most magnificent achievements in military annals; it is also one of the decisive events in the world’s history.The Spell of Belgium by Isabel Anderson (1915)
You can be forgiven for being caught up in the enthusiasm and support of “Brave Little Belgium” during World War I. Today historians take a more measured analysis of that event, but regardless, it resulted in delays and was costly for the Germans.
So after living here so long, I finally decided to pay a visit to Liege, and I discovered a city that seems to be oblivious to detractors like me. It blends well into the surrounding hills, is criss-crossed by rivers and waterways that give it extra character, and has charm that far exceeded my expectations. And it has a great brewery situated in perhaps the most iconic neighborhood in Liege and may be the nicest brewery in all of Belgium. Along the way we cross paths with a skeleton of Liege’s WWI resistance, entertain a little Charlemagne lore, and discover a hilltop hospital which used to be a fortress similar to Namur, Huy, and Dinant.
|My Moving Time||4h 16m|
|Starting/Ending Point||Liege-Guillemins Station|
The first destination is the Parc de la Chartreuse. The entrance is just next to the Eglise Saint Lambert, a church that looks completely abandoned.
Parc de la Chartreuse
As you ascend and follow the trails in the Parc de la Charteuse, you will start to come across ruins of an old fort.
Fort de la Chartreuse
This fort was built in the early 19th century and was used as barracks in WWI and was even later a military hospital used by the Americans in WWII. Today it is an abandoned complex almost completely open for urban explorers. If you are easily spooked by horror movies, this place will seem quite familiar to your nightmares. I didn’t have the cajones to explore inside any of the buildings. There were only a couple other people around, mainly hikers, but there was one person looming about that looked suspiciously out of place, so I would just use common sense especially if you are by yourself.
Leaving the park, you pass thru the village of Bressoux with its vast interesting cemetary
There are also some nice views as you descend towards the river.
From Bressoux, it is a short walk to a brewery known by all Belgians.
Jupiler Brewery (actually called Piedboeuf Brewery)
Jupiler is named after the village Jupille-sur-Meuse where the brewery is located. Today Jupiler is the claim to fame of this otherwise blip along the Meuse River. But in reality, this village has a much deeper link to European history. Liege is right in the heart of Charlemagne country being only 45km from Aachen, Germany. Jupille is considered as the place where Charlemagne’s great grandfather ruled the Franks when this area was known as Austrasia. He died in 714. This led to some question about where Pepin the Short, Charlemagne’s father, and Charlemagne himself were born.
Not far from there is the ancient little town of Jupille, which they say is haunted by the shade of Pepin the Short, who lived there long ago.
It is claimed that her (Bertha, wife of Pepin) famous son (Charlemagne) was born in this same village of Jupille, although this is much disputed.The Spell of Belgium by Isabel Anderson (1915)
There is nothing left of the days when Jupille was the seat of the Franks, and the brewery is a huge monstrous industrial complex not inviting for walk-in visitors, so I headed back to Liege thru the gloomy corridor of slaughterhouses. Between the Fort de la Chartreuse and the Liege abattoirs, there is a lot of horror movie vibes on this hike. The slaughterhouses looked like they might still be in business, but the surrounding businesses that once might have supported the workers all were abandoned and in ruin, adding to the overall creepiness. Thank goodness for the sunny day.
Arriving back into Liege, it was a very nice walk along the river before crossing over. At the bridge was one of the most famous buildings in Liege, the Grand Curtius, a museum which was the former home of gun manufacturer Jean de Corte (or Curtius).
Behind the Grand Curtius is the colorful St. Bartholomew’s Church.
The hike then ascends up to the Hospital de la Citadelle.
At one time, there was a citadel here belonging to a chain of citadels along the River Meuse including Namur, Huy, and Dinant. In the 1970’s most of the citadel was demolished to build the hospital. There are still some remnants, but the main highlight is the view.
Citadel remains and the Belvedere
Just a short distance away may be the most famous landmark of Liege.
The 374 Steps of the Montagne de Beuren
Fortunately the direction of this hike is going down the steps. Not far from the bottom of the staircase is one the nicest breweries in Belgium.
Brasserie Curtius has multiple levels of lovely courtyards to enjoy their food and beer.
With a fresh pilsner in my blood stream, I made my way thru the city center.
Wild Lab Craft Beer Bar & Shop
The fact of the matter is, this post hardly scratches the surface of Liege. I admit that I couldn’t have been more wrong about the city. There is copious history here; history of a place that for 800 years was almost like its own country and prior to that gave birth to the Frankish empire. I didn’t spend enough time there to completely pick up the vibe, but my impression is that Liege still exists disconnected from Belgium, as if the spirit of the Prince-Bishopric lives on. It is Wallonian, but 13km from Flanders. It is Belgian, but less than 40km from the German border. It is like the last beacon of their identity against the frontier of Europe. It is true that architecturally, it doesn’t have the charm of other Belgian cities, but when you consider all the other factors, it is like the author wrote, nobody minds. Especially not the Liegeoise.
2 thoughts on “Beer & Hike: Brasserie Curtius & Jupiler (Liege)”
Excellent post. I’m sure Liege forgives you for your previous misconceptions.
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