Sugar and spice and all things nice, plus hand-warming cups of escargots (snails), sugary waffles, chocolate-filled crêpes and beer galore.
Christmas doesn’t come just one day a year in Belgium: for the whole month of December, Yuletide markets cover the country’s cobblestoned squares. Liège – an ancient Walloon city an hour southeast of Brussels – hosts the largest, oldest and best.
In 1989, Liège established the “Village de Noël”, a collection of over 200 wooden chalets bedecked with twinkling fairy lights and dressed with cottonwool “snow”.
Over 1.5 million visitors come from all over Europe to sample the array of culinary treats on offer: from vast pans of steaming tartiflette, bun-sheathed and mustard-laden hot dogs, freshly shucked oysters and huge rounds of stinky cheese, to spicy mulled wine, windpipe-warming peket (locally made gin) and hefty Belgian beers.
Kids wrap their tongues around striped candy canes and head-sized lollipops, while their parents stock up on artisanal Christmas gifts such as hand-blown glass baubles, carved wooden toys, Peruvian woollen hats and mittens, Canadian fur stoles, Moroccan lamps, ceramic bowls, handmade soaps and jewellery, and homemade jams and oils.
Once all the treats have been digested, it’s time to ride the giant Ferris wheel, strap on some skates and slide onto the ice rink, or race each other on the toboggan run.
Come weekends, bands of musicians wend their way through the streets playing carols, while balloon sculptors, dancing troupes and choirs take to centre stage to entertain scarf- and coat-clad families, all rosy cheeks and frosty breath.
As the night darkens and the mercury plummets, visitors cluster closer around the patio heaters provided by the makeshift bars, sipping on ever-stronger tipples before finally heading off in search of a late-night plate of boulets à la liègeoise (meatballs doused in sweet Liège syrup).
The Christmas Village (villagedenoel.be) is held on Place St Lambert and Place du Marché de Liège from Nov 28 to Dec 30. Entrance is free. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.