Though the effective capital of the Ardennes, and of its own province, LIÈGE isn’t the most obvious stop on most travellers’ itineraries. It’s a large, grimy, industrial city, with few notable sights and little immediate appeal. However, it’s somewhat hard to avoid if you’re visiting the northern Ardennes and, once you’ve got to grips with the place, has a few pleasant surprises, not least the excellence of its restaurants. Certainly, if you’re overnighting here, give yourself at least half a day to nose around.
For most of its history, Liège was an independent principality; from the tenth century onwards it was the seat of a long line of prince-bishops, who ruled over bodies and souls until 1794, when the French revolutionary army expelled the last prince-bishop, torching his cathedral to hammer home the point. Later, Liège was incorporated into the Belgian state, rising to prominence as an industrial city. The coal and steel industries hereabouts date back to the twelfth century, but it was only in the nineteenth century that real development of the city’s position and natural resources took place, principally under one John Cockerill (1790–1840), a British entrepreneur whose family name you still see around town – though unfortunately for Liège and its workers, its industries are now in steep decline. Another name to conjure with is Georges Simenon, the famously priapic crime writer who spent his early life here – the tourist office has a leaflet describing a “Simenon Route”.