For hundreds of years up to the 1950s Verviers was an international byword for high-quality fabrics like woollen cloth.
The riches generated by this industry can be seen in the palatial city hall, the Neoclassical mill complex housing the city’s textile museum, the Grand-Théâtre opera house and the startling collections at Verviers’ fine arts museum.
Verviers also has the title, Walloon Capital of Water, for its many fountains and as the home of two regional water authorities.
That water connection all stems from the Gileppe Dam, a triumph of civil engineering built for Verviers’ textile trade in the 1870s.
1. Centre Touristique Laine & Mode
Verviers’ “Aqualaine” association runs two attractions in the centre of the city, for water “aqua” and wool “laine”. The Maison de l’Eau, is at the tourist office for the Pays du Vesdre, detailing Verviers’ intriguing relationship with water and the construction of the Gileppe Dam close by in the 19th century.
The Centre Touristique Laine & Mode is at the beautiful former Dethier-Bettonville spinning factory (1804) and explores Verviers’ woollen cloth history from social, economic and technical standpoints.
The permanent exhibition, “From thread to fashion” is multisensory, recreating the sights, sounds and smells of a mill in Verviers’ industrial heyday.
There’s tons of authentic machinery from this time, all explained by an audioguide.
On the fashion side of things, the museum presents variety of media to highlight key milestones in fashion history.
Every couple of years there’s a new immersive temporary exhibition here on a given topic.
Up to 2021 this will be “Terre en Vue” (Land Ho), documenting the voyages that changed the world, from the Vikings to Columbus to Cook.
2. Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Céramique
A 17th-century hospital, remodelled in 1912, is the repository for a rich and diverse assortment of art and applied arts, much of it with ties to Verviers and its environs.
The museum’s collection has been developed from that of its founder, painter, historian and collector Jean-Simon Renier, who in the 19th century amassed a variety of engravings going back to the 1500s, as well as ceramics, sculpture and paintings.
Verviers’ wealthy 19th and early 20th-century industrialists bequeathed invaluable collections of painting (1600s-1900s), but the museum’s shines brightest for the ceramics they donated.
In one of the most exciting and comprehensive hoards in Belgium, there’s Chinese porcelain, delftware, Raeren stoneware and pieces from Brussels, Andenne, Strasbourg and important manufactories in Germany and Austria.
A space has also been provided for modern and contemporary art and ceramics.
3. Hôtel de Ville
If you need evidence of the city’s prosperity in the second half of the 18th century the Neoclassical Louis XVI-style city hall tells you all you need to know.
It presides over Place du Marché behind the “perron”, a monument symbolising Verviers’ freedom within the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.
The Hôtel de Ville, finished in 1780 and still filling its original role, is nine bays across, the middle three projecting out and flanked by stairways.
Above is a fine, curved pediment bearing Verviers’ coat of arms above a frieze with the city’s motto, “Publicité Sauvegarde du Peuple”, coined just after Belgian independence in 1830 and formalising the fact that sessions of the Municipal Council had been made public.
Cresting the building is the bell tower, which chimes the city’s anthem, the Barcarolle de Verviers, every quarter-hour.
4. La Chocolaterie Darcis
Arguably the biggest name in Belgian confectionery is the Verviers-born patissier and chocolatier Jean-Philippe Darcis.
Among many awards, he picked up the International Belgian Chocolate Prize in 2001, which granted him the lifelong title of Ambassador of Belgian Chocolate.
Darcis boutiques can be found all around Belgium and have gone international, spreading to Japan and Spain.
At the brand HQ in Verviers there’s a museum on all things chocolate with a trail that begins deep in a Mayan temple, before taking you onto the deck of the caravel of Conquistador Hernán Cortés and into a bourgeois Empire-era French salon.
You can delight in an early-20th-century chocolate shop, learn chocolate’s beneficial properties and finish up with a look inside Darcis’ workshops to see skilled chocolatiers at work.
5. Musée d’Archéologie et de Folklore
In an 18th-century townhouse on Rue des Raines there’s a mixture of dainty decorative arts from the 1700s and 1800s, items relating to historic trades in Verviers and captivating prehistoric, Roman and Merovingian archaeological finds.
The property is from around 1750 and in a Louis XV style, enriched with portraits and furniture including exquisite ebony cabinets encrusted with ivory, tortoiseshell, alabaster and mother of pearl.
There are three pianos here, two from the early 19th century in the Empire style, and one from 1892 belonging to local composer Guillaume Lekeu who died a day after turning 24 years old.
As well as weapons from the 18th and 19th century, you can also cast your eye over a wealth of lace produced in Verviers, with information about the different bobbin and needle techniques.
6. Église Notre-Dame-des-Récollets
This church was built in the middle of the 17th century and was attached to a convent for the Franciscan Recollects order, for which it was named.
Built from limestone, with a single-aisled nave, the church has come through a lot of changes, notably the bell tower, which was completed in 1892. At ground level this created a space for a pilgrimage chapel to the Virgin Mary, housing the church’s most renowned fixture.
This is Notre-Dame des Récollets, a Marian statue carved in the 17th century, originally set in a niche on the building’s facade and considered miraculous following an earthquake that rocked the Verviers area in 1692. According to tradition, the figure of Jesus held in her right arm adjusted its pose after the earthquake to face his mother with a smile, while Mary had apparently lifted her left arm to clasp his right hand in her left hand.
This was all taken by the people of Verviers as a sign of divine protection for the city, and miracles were soon ascribed to the statue.
7. Domaine Provincial de Wégimont
In a very bucolic spot west of Verviers on the edge of the Herve Plateau is a leisure complex in the parkland for a château dating from the 17th century.
The Domaine de Wégimont is a seasonal attraction, open from the start of May to the start of September.
The main draw is the set of swimming pools, heated to 26°C, but there’s also an arboretum, mini-golf, barbecue grills, natural woodland, a campground and a bird-rich historic chain of ponds, one given over to fishing.
For a dash of culture you’ve got an art gallery at the Château, dedicated to artists from the Liège area and open Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
8. Parc de l’Harmonie
Société Royale d’Harmonie was founded in 1829 and bought this tract of land for their clubhouse, laying out a park in its surroundings.
This was planted with trees like horse chestnuts, one of which now has a trunk circumference of more than five metres and is among the largest in Wallonia.
A little later came the refined octagonal bandstand (1854) in an Oriental style featuring decorative, slender pairs of iron columns.
The park has real historical significance as the place where the first Fête de Wallonie was celebrated in 1913, commemorating the Belgian Revolution of 1830. This is now an annual celebration across the Walloon region, taking place on the third Sunday of September.
9. Parc de Séroule
At this park in the south of Verviers you’ll be standing on the estate of a castle that has long since been demolished.
Parc de Séroule is in 10 hectares of rolling green scenery where it will be easy to forget you’re so close to the city centre.
There’s grassland, orchards, forest, an idyllic little brook and a mosaic of ponds, one crossed by a newly renovated boardwalk.
Check the calendar because every few weeks in summer there’s a Journée Gonflable (inflatable day) with bouncy castles and the like, joined by stalls for treats like chips and candyfloss.
10. Château de Franchimont
Inside 15 minutes of Verviers you can be at the dramatic ruins of an 11th-century castle, roosted on a panoramic spur above the Hoëgne Valley.
In the 1000s this was a stronghold for the Principality of Liège and was adapted to changing military needs down the centuries.
The last alterations before gunpowder rendered the castle obsolete was a low ring of artillery casemates built under Prince-bishop of Liège, Érard de La Marck in the 16th century.
Now the Château de Franchimont is a thrilling visitor attraction, with an exhibition housed in an artillery tower, and an illustrative audioguide talking you through the site’s past.
Children will be kept on board with an interactive treasure hunt.
11. Barrage de la Gileppe
Most of the drinking water for Verviers comes from the reservoir formed by this historic dam completed in 1878 after ten years of construction.
In the heart of the Ardennes, the Barrage de la Gileppe was built to supply Verviers’ wool industry and became the international gold standard for masonry gravity dams for large-scale water supply.
The dam was heightened between 1967-71, and the as well as providing industrial and drinking water, this is one of the few sources of hydroelectricity in Belgium.
For visitors there are a few reasons to make the short drive east to the dam.
First up you’ll find 15 kilometres of paths, and a two-kilometre educational trail, all in woodland.
There’s also a 77-metre panoramic tower, for enchanting vistas over the dam, reservoir and the Hertogenwald forest.
And when it was completed the structure was capped by an imperious stone lion, carved by Antoine-Félix Bouré, 13.5 metres tall, weighing 300 tons and composed of more than 180 sandstone blocks.
12. Fort de Tancrémont
In Verviers you’re in a good spot to learn more about the Fortified Position of Liège, a system of defences constructed in two phases to defend Liège from attack.
There’s a ring of forts from between 1888 and 1891 in the city’s immediate vicinity.
Verviers is on a later, outer ring, planned in the aftermath of the First World War.
South-west of the city is Fort de Tancrémont, which was bypassed by the German advance in 1940. This has allowed the installation, made up of five mostly subterranean combat blocks, to remain intact.
On a self-guided tour you can spend an hour or two venturing through underground passages linking gun positions, observation posts, magazines, troop accommodation and a command post.
13. Fort de Battice
Not far north of Verviers is Fort de Battice, built throughout the 1930s in the same programme on the eastern edge of the Herve Plateau.
Fort de Battice was closer to the German advance, and so was besieged for 12 days.
The defence eventually capitulated on 22 May 1940 after losing 34 men, mostly in an aerial assault on Block B.I’s sally port on 21 May.
Arriving at Fort de Battice you’ll start to get a sense of the enormity of this facility.
With more than four kilometres of underground galleries, it was set on a pentagonal plan with four sides defended by an anti-tank moat, and one facing a railway.
Fort de Battice was manned by a garrison of 750, taken to labour camps in Silesia after capture.
There are guided tours on the last Saturday of the month from March to November, showing you around the remnants of the fort, including an eclipse gun turret, an ammunition elevator, a generator and anti-tank and machine gun positions.
Next to Block B.I is a memorial for the fallen Belgian soldiers.
14. Grand-Théâtre de Verviers
When we wrote this article in early 2020 this exuberant Louis XIV-style opera house had been closed down for five years, awaiting a renovation that was still in the planning phase.
The Grand-Théâtre opened in 1892 and has a majestic Italian-style auditorium, rich in gold leaf and with beautiful ceiling frescos around a dome.
Apart from breaks during the First and Second World Wars it had unbroken seasons of opera until forced to diversify towards the end of the 20th century, becoming part of Verviers’ Centre Culturel institution.
The building was declared unsound in 2015 and has been awaiting a new role.
In the meantime the modern Centre Culturel building on Boulevard de Gérardchamps has become the city’s hub for theatre, classical music performances, dance, comedy, movie screenings, talks and workshops.
Tens of thousands of people head for Verviers on the last weekend of August for a free three-day music festival.
Rather than out in a field, FiestaCity’s five stages are right in the middle of the city and books a broad spectrum of artists, counting national and international stars, famous classic acts and fresh, up-and-coming talent.
Some of the long-established names from the last decade are 10CC, Jethro Tull, Canned Heat and The Stranglers, combined with beloved Belgian and French acts like Les Innocents, Cali, Beverly Jo Scott, Michel Fugain, Alain Chamfort and Kid Noize.