In the Early Modern Age if you were a visitor to Huy, a city on the rugged banks of the Meuse, you would be pointed to the city’s four wonders, “Les Quatre Merveilles”. These have their original Walloon names, and include the intact fountain on Grand-Place (Li Bassinia), the rose window at the Notre-Dame de Huy church (Li Rondia), the 15th-century castle (Li Tchestia), and the bridge on the river (Li Pontia). As a strategic prize, Huy’s famed castle was ransacked 12 times in 30 years during Louis XIV’s wars of expansion in the 17th and 18th centuries.
It had to be pulled down in 1717 and a Dutch-built fort took its place a century later.
The home of that rose window is a sumptuous Mosan Gothic church with a shimmering treasury in its Romanesque crypt.
Allow some time to poke around Huy, and lots more wonders turn up, at the museum in a Franciscan convent and on the Medieval passageways of Vieux Huy.
1. Collégiale Notre-Dame de Huy
Huy’s main church is impossible to ignore for the sturdy square tower facing the Meuse from the right bank.
The Collégiale Notre-Dame de Huy is Mosan Gothic, and, built between 1311 and 1536, is the fifth church on this spot since the fourth century.
It contains one of the four historic wonders of Huy, the rose window, Li Rondia.
Set in the tower, this measures nine metres in diameter, and is the largest Gothic rose window in the country.
The original stained glass was lost in the Second World War, and replaced by an abstract design by Liège glassmaker Raymond Julin in the 1970s.
In 1906 the Romanesque crypt of the church’s forerunner was rediscovered, and this now holds the treasury, open in the summer months.
This is a must, featuring the priceless Mosan reliquary shrines of Saint Domitian, Saint Mengold, Mary and Saint Mark, from the 12th and 13th centuries.
Also exceptional are Theodwin of Liège’s 11th-century cross and chalice, a 12th-century Tree of Life medallion and a polychrome carving of the seated Virgin with Child from the mid-13th century.
2. Huy Fortress
Crowning the cliffs on the right bank of the Meuse is Huy’s citadel, which has been fortified for more than 1,200 years.
This is the site of Tchestia, the 15th-century castle that was one of the four wonders of Huy.
The city suffered because of its strategic importance, and after a long, bloody period Tchestia was torn down by Huy to prevent further massacres and looting.
The menacing building that looms over Huy today is a Dutch construction ready in 1823. One holdover from Tchestia is the fort’s well, 90 metres deep and dug in the 16th century.
Today the fort is a memorial to the dark days of the Second World War, when this became a German camp managed by the Geheime Feldpolizei (Secret Military Police). More than 6,500 people, mainly political prisoners and prisoners of war, were held at the fortress.
Now there’s a museum detailing the lives of the prisoners, as well as the day-to-day in Huy during the occupation, complete with firsthand accounts.
3. Musée Communal
Set among the Medieval alleys behind the Hôtel de Ville, Huy’s municipal museum is in a former Franciscan convent that was established in the 13th century and rebuilt in the Mosan Renaissance style in the 17th century.
Across ten rooms, the museum deals with topics like the Huy’s prosperous Medieval period, fine and decorative arts from the region, archaeological finds going back to the Merovingian era, viticulture and local crafts (pewter, ceramics), as well as scenes from domestic life in Huy down the centuries.
An exceptional piece of religious art is the 13th-century Crucifix dubbed the “Le beau Dieu de Huy”.
When spring comes along, Huy’s central square is covered with terraces for cafes, brasseries and restaurants.
But as well as being a popular place to see and be seen, Grand-Place has some big monuments and a lot of history.
We’ll come to the 15th-century fountain, La Bassinia a little later.
On the north-east corner is the Hôtel de Ville, which has a Rococo facade from 1766, but includes parts of Huy’s Medieval grain hall.
Many of the houses bounding the square are historic: Nos. 3, 4, 11, 13 and 25 are from the 1600s, and 7 and 8 date from the second half of the 18th century.
5. Portail du Bethléem
Worthy of its own paragraph is the Collégiale Notre-Dame de Huy’s masterful Gothic Bethlehem Gate on the church’s south-east side along Rue du Pont.
Dating back to the 15th century this came through a long-term restoration in 2014, and it’s the reliefs in the central tympanum above the portal that will hold your attention.
The space within the arch is divided into three panels.
On the left you’ve got the Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds, in the centre is the Massacre of the Innocents, and on the right is the Adoration of the Magi.
The two smaller ogival arches on each side are more recent, dating to the 19th century.
6. Vieux Huy
Just behind the Hôtel de Ville you’ll enter a small neighbourhood of narrow cobblestone streets and high rubble walls.
This is the oldest part of the city, with a real Medieval atmosphere.
You could begin on Place Verte to the west, under the spire of the deconsecrated Église Saint-Mengold, founded in the 12th century and mainly composed of 15th-century stonework.
Inside, the nave has round arches, and capitals with foliate patterns.
The alleys along the church’s external walls (Rue des Frères Mineurs, Ruse Saint-Mengold) boast some of the oldest houses in Huy, like the Maison Près la Tour, a fine example of secular Gothic architecture from the 13th and 14th centuries.
The Maison du Governeur here is 14th-century and now hosts Huy’s municipal offices.
7. Li Bassinia
The third of the four wonders of Huy is the fountain in the middle of Grand-Place.
When we wrote this article in February 2020 Li Bassinia had only recently returned to the square after a ten-year restoration beginning in 2009. The fountain was first built in 1406 and at its core is a bronze basin, from which rises a bronze platform with four crenellated towers and four spouts in the form of fish heads.
In between the towers are four statuettes representing Huy’s patron saints, Domitian and Mengold, Saint Catherine and finally Ansfried of Utrecht (d. 1010), the last Count of Huy.
The fountain is encircled by blue limestone tanks from which rises an elegant ironwork canopy, both dating to 1881 and replacing an older structure from the 17th century.
8. RAVeL Ligne 126
Wallonia’s occasionally rugged countryside is made more accessible to cyclists by RAVeL, more than 1,350 kilometres of light greenways along disused railway lines and canal towpaths.
The gradient on these paths never exceeds 2%, great news for cyclists and families out for an easy but scenic walk.
RAVeL Ligne 126 grazes the southern outskirts of Huy at Régissa (there’s a connecting path starting at Grand-Place), and winds through the low hills of the Condroz region to the town of Ciney in the south.
You can stop along the route at former stations, where absorbing information panels are installed in the shape of old train seats.
Riding through Hamois you can view Château Pickeim and Château de Buresse from the path, and north of Havelange the fields are grazed by ultra-muscular Belgian Blue cattle.
There’s also a long-distance path, EuroVelo 19 along the right bank of the Meuse, linking Huy with the city of Namur, capital of Wallonia.
The south-facing left bank of the Meuse has just the right conditions for growing white wine grapes like Chardonnay, Pinot-Gris, Riesling and Sylvaner.
The first mention of winemaking on these precipitous slopes goes back to the start of the 9th century, and by the 19th century this was Belgium’s wine capital.
The industry then went into slow decline, but has been revived, starting in 1963 when a resident decided to clear the old, overgrown “Vignoble de la Léproserie” (Leper Colony Vineyard) next to his house.
This is the origin of Clos Bois Marie, now producing almost 2,000 bottles of white and sparkling wine each year.
You can arrange a tour on Sunday mornings, November to August.
A visit is broken down precisely into 15 minutes of history about the vineyard, 15 minutes about the vines themselves, 15 minutes describing wine production, and then as much time as you need for tasting!
10. Maison Batta
Placed on the left bank of the Meuse is a stately Mosan Renaissance building constructed as Huy’s refuge for the Val-Saint-Lambert Abbey in Seraing.
This site had been used for this purpose since the 12th century, and work began on the current upstream wing in 1575. The adjoining structure downstream came a little later, in 1643. Both are composed of Liège bricks, with horizontal bands of stone, as well as stone in the quoins and window dressings.
A small but interesting detail is that the older building has limestone on the lower floor and sandstone above, while the 17th century wing uses only limestone.
At the time of writing, Maison Batta was for sale and awaiting a new purpose.
But in the coming years it will be a focal point on the left bank’s promenade, which is being regenerated and will be ready by 2023.
11. Institut Tibétain Yeunten Ling
Huy is home to one of Europe’s largest Buddhist Dharma centres, established in 1983. This is all set up on the grounds of the historic Château de Fond l’Evêque.
The centrepiece of the institute is the temple, realised using Tibetan construction techniques and conforming to the traditional rules of architecture and ornamentation.
The temple has a capacity for 700, while on the château’s lawn is a stupa, a monument for peace, and a large Buddha.
The Institut Tibétain Yenten Ling is open every day of the week, but if you show up at the reception at 13:15 on Sunday you can take a guided tour, finding out about the institute’s various programmes, like Hatha yoga and meditation retreats, and learning about Buddhism in general.
12. Li Pontia
The last of Huy’s four wonders was a bridge on the Meuse in front of the Collégiale Notre-Dame de Huy.
This wonder is now considered lost today, as the old bridge was finally replaced by a new construction in an historic style, with cutwaters and three arches, inaugurated by King Baudouin in 1956. The foundation stone of the original was laid in 1294 and in Medieval times Li Pontia resembled a street, with houses lining its roadway.
The bridge was partially or completely destroyed by the French in 1676, 1693, 1703 and 1793, but also by flooding in 1749. Inevitably the crossing had to come down again in both World Wars, the first time by retreating Belgian troops who took out the middle arch in 1914.
13. Mont Mosan
If you’re in town with younger children this small amusement park a couple of kilometres out of Huy ticks a few boxes.
In rambling Condroz countryside, Mont Mosan has rides and attractions like a miniature train, carousel, mini-golf bouncy castle and a swinging pirate ship.
There’s also a mini-zoo here, keeping animals like wallabies, maras, turtles, marmosets and meerkats, and with a timetable of demonstrations with seals, sea lions and parrots.
The adventure playground at Mont Mosan is one of the largest in the region, and there’s a cafeteria for hearty fare like Belgian-style meatballs and carbonade flamande.
14. Château de Moha
On a rocky ridge in the nearby village of Wanze are the spectral ruins of a Medieval castle.
The Château de Moha was built in the 11th century as a defence against Norman invaders.
The small County of Moha found itself surrounded by bigger regional powers, like the County of Namur, the County of Huy (within the Prince-Bishopric of Liège) and the Duchy of Brabant.
In the 13th century the castle came under the command of the Prince-Bishop of Liège, and it was right here in 1345 that Engelbert III of the Marck, Archbishop of Cologne, was crowned Prince Bishop.
In 1376 the castle was destroyed during a revolt that started in Huy.
Although the ruins have been actively preserved since the 1980s, the Château de Moha has never been rebuilt, which makes it all the more remarkable that there’s so much to see.
Adventuring through the ruins, you can peer into the cellars and foundations, trace the outlines of decayed walls and towers and explore stairways.
15. La Flèche Wallonne
Huy is on the finish line of one of the top one-day races on the UCI World Tour.
Staged in late-April, La Flèche Wallonne is the first of the Spring Classics through the Ardennes, and has taken place every year since 1936, except for a one-year pause in 1940. The modern course is just shy of 200 kilometres, departing from Charleroi and arriving at Huy to make three laps of a gruelling circuit that includes the Mur de Huy, a 126-metre hill, with a gradient as steep as 26%. The Mur de Huy is where the winner usually breaks away, and the finish line is at the summit at the end of the third climb.
The world’s elite climbing specialists are in contention each year, and the most wins have gone to Alejandro Valverde (5), who chalked up four consecutive wins between 2014 and 2017.