Likeable LIER, just 17km southeast of Antwerp, has an amenable, small-town air, its pocket-sized centre boasting a particularly pretty Grote Markt and a clutch of handsome medieval buildings, especially St-Gummaruskerk. The town was founded in the eighth century, but despite its ancient provenance Lier has never managed to dodge the shadow of its much larger neighbour, Antwerp – even when Felix Timmermans, one of Belgium’s best-known writers, lived here for almost all of his long life (1886–1947). All the same, Timmermans did add a certain local sparkle – and it may have been needed: other Belgians once referred to Lier’s citizens as “sheepheads” (schapenkoppen), a reference to their reputation for stubbornness and stupidity.

Central Lier spreads out from the large, rectangular Grote Markt, its old streets and alleys encircled and bisected by the waterways that mark the course of its old harbours and moat. At the centre of the Grote Markt is the turreted fourteenth-century Belfort, an attractively spikey affair incongruously attached to the classically elegant Stadhuis, which was built to replace the medieval cloth hall in 1740. Otherwise, the square is an attractive medley of neos-, with neo-Gothic, Neoclassical and even neo-Romanesque buildings, mostly dating from the 1920s, jostling for space and attention.

Lier is an ideal day-trip from Antwerp, just a twenty-minute train ride away.