An exhilarating wave of glass and steel greets visitors arriving by train at Gare de Liège-Guillemins these days—a characteristically sensational work by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. This is prestige
architecture, commissioned to place the city of Liège on the map not only as a stop along
the international high-speed train network but also as a destination in itself.
The Musée Grand Curtius is representative of Liège’s new dynamic. Set in a striking
17th-century mansion, it overlooks the broad River Meuse and has recently undergone massive refurbishment to take its place among Europe’s important decorative-art museums.
Treasures from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome; paintings; and antique clocks, furniture,
tapestries, and glassware—even historic firearms—are beautifully lit and displayed.
For many centuries, Liège was the capital of the extensive independent territory ruled by
grand prince-bishops, one legacy of which is its many fine Gothic churches. (The prince-bishops were eventually booted out in the wake of the French Revolution of 1789.) You can pick up a sense of the character of the liègeois—down-toearth,
independent-minded, with an irreverent sense of humor—at the famous market called
La Batte, the largest in Belgium, held every Sunday morning along the north bank of the
Meuse. Or drop by the popular Restaurant-Café Lequet to sample robust dishes such as boulets à la liègeoise—meatballs with a sweetened sauce—along with the local lager, Jupiler.
The folkloric side of Liège is wonderfully documented in a converted 17th-century convent
in the historic heart of the city. The Musée
de la Vie Wallonne, also recently refurbished, contains an intriguing collection of artifacts relating to past daily life in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium.