Saturday, March 22, 2014

What's Up With Wallonia?

The Wallonian flag
Earlier this month I blogged about Belgium; today I'm focusing a little closer to home and writing about Wallonia, the predominantly French speaking region in southern Belgium that includes our new home of Mons. One of three official federal regions in Belgium with an area of just over 6,500 square miles, Wallonia shares borders with France, Luxembourg, Germany, the Netherlands and of course Flanders. Wallonia encompasses 55% of Belgium's landmass yet is home to just one third of Belgium's residents. The area is landlocked but home to numerous canals that connect the region with the sea. It has rolling hills and farmland, quaint villages and historic city centers. Wallonia is a region that loves its meat with game and beef gracing traditional dinner plates. And of course there is the beer; the famous Abbey and Trappist beers are brewed right here in the Wallonia region.

Industry has been the area's economic lifeline for centuries. During the Middle Ages iron was already being manufactured in the provinces of Liege, Charleroi, and Namur and their mines continued to play an important role right up to the industrial revolution.  By the 19th century, the area was the first fully industrialized region in continental Europe with coal and iron making Wallonia the most prosperous part of Belgium until the middle of the 20th century. Following the end of World War II, aging infrastructure and antiquated factories hastened the region's economic downward slide. Today, the region continues to lag behind their northern counterpart with perpetually higher rates of unemployment and a lower GDP than neighboring Flanders.

Where is Wallonia? Here it is.
But despite its rather depressing economic situation, Wallonia has a lot to offer.  Carnival is the event of the season in this part of Belgium but there are enough festivals and celebrations to fill your calendar all year long. If you like architecture, tiny Wallonia has fourteen UNESCO World Heritage sites within her borders. If you are a military buff you can visit military cemeteries and famous battlefields from both of the world wars. Later this year the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, the final World War II battle on Belgian soil, will be commemorated in the provinces of Liege, Namur, and Luxembourg. Next year will be the bicentennial of the famous battle of Waterloo. I love history and can't wait to visits these sites and walk in the footsteps of these important parts of history. And lets not forget the a fore mentioned food. Wallonian cuisine is heavily influenced by neighboring France but fresh and local are what is really important. It seems as though every village, town and city has their weekly markets where fresh produce, arsenal meats and cheeses are sold. Famous Belgian waffles, tarts, and other baked treats are readily available at markets and bakeries making it incredibly easy to fulfill, or even develop, a sweet tooth.

I am so excited that Wallonia has so much to offer and I can't wait to get out and discover it all. But we're starting now with a weekend full of festivals and local events to attend. I'll be sure to post more about those experiences soon.

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