Here it is, for the thirtieth year in a row – Liège’s Christmas Village, with its adorable wooden chalets and its Ferris wheel overlooking the Prince-Bishops’ Palace. A village, yes, not a market, organised as such with a post office (with its own stamps), a Mayor, aldermen and councillors… You probably will see them walking around, always smiling, greeting everyone coming their way. It’s clearly a closely knit community too, everyone seems to know each other. Not only is it the oldest Christmas village in the country – with 200 stalls, it also is the largest! No less than 2 million visitors stopped by last year.
In London, people would stop by, trying to tick a few presents off their list before rushing somewhere else. The Liège Christmas village is a place where friendship is celebrated, where times slows down and where fun begins. Rather than simple food stalls, you will find mini-restaurants and it will be hard to resist the maddening smell of melted cheese around… Tartiflette? Fondue? Raclette? Or would you rather have a chat around a drink – the mandatory Belgian beer, a warm white wine flavoured with chestnut, a mulled wine upgraded with Val Dieu Liqueur, or the local juniper spirit, the famous péket coming in all kinds of flavours, flamed or not… The groups quickly settle on the little terraces around a table, catch up. Many even are wearing a Christmassy hat. I never saw anyone taking a selfie nor a picture of their food, just people enjoying each other’s company. No matter how addicted to social media I am – it’s wonderfully heart warming.
Then comes the discovery – slow paced, asking questions about the products, taking the time to try the samples with a real interest, a fantastic joie de vivre. There is a little crowd already around the Christmas bauble stall. Not your usual Santa ones! Those, hand blown, depict a series of characters from Liège and Walloon folklore: Tchantchès, Nanesse, Marcatchou, the miner, the protective Chinchin of Mons… Newcomers, intrigued, wanting to know more about the legends, quickly start a conversation with the owner while locals share memories of past carnivals. You might even get a chance to the see the Polish artists making them at the weekend. There are guests of honours this year too – the Savoyard ski station of Chatel (with themed food and even a giant slide to sledge down from) and Quebec (so expect maple syrup and sweets, poutine and even a storyteller and concert). Forget Christmas shopping, you will end up treating yourself!
Liège Christmas Village
Place Saint Lambert and Place du Marché
Until December 30, 2016
How to get there? By Thalys from Paris or Eurostar from London to Brussel Gare du Midi then jump on a train to Liège from the same station.
Where to stay? At the Hotel Neuvice, a stunning boutique hotel a couple minutes walk from the Christmas Village. Lovely independant shops in that pedestrian street, by the way….