Wallonia is the French-speaking southern part of Belgium. It is wedged between Flanders in the North and France in the South-West, while Luxembourg and Germany share its Eastern border. This region has an immense historical and cultural wealth which is made visible through its buildings, its works of art and its festivals. Every turn of a corner will bring you something new.
Hainaut the Western province of Wallonia is also the most populated, hosting big towns like Mons, Charleroi and Tournai. It was the center of the coal and steel industry in the past and thus suffered a lot when this industry moved away, but the cities are very nice and the people are friendly. It is now home to the biggest airport in Wallonia, the Brussels-South Charleroi airport and to the most visited tourist attraction of the region : Pairi-Daiza nature park. The town of Chimay, where the famous beer comes from is also situated in the province.
Liège The Easternmost province of Wallonia and of Belgium is very diverse. It hosts the highest point of Belgium (694 m) in the Hautes Fagnes, a cold and preserved natural region at the top of the rolling hills of the Ardennes. In the province you will find a very beautiful nature and an impressive variety of landscapes. Its capital city, Liège, was for more than 1000 years an independent principalty. It is now the largest agglomeration of Wallonia, and has a vibrant nightlife, and a beautiful historic center. The German-speaking part of Belgium is located in the east of the province.
Luxembourg The most remote province of Belgium is mainly covered by the Ardennes range. The population is less dense than in the other provinces. It is thus a good place for hiking, climbing and other outdoor activities. Some villages still have medieval castles in their surrondings, like Bouillon and La-Roche-en-Ardenne.
Namur This province host the region's capital, Namur, which is a very peaceful and beautiful town with an old citadel dominating it. The valley of the Meuse river, crossing the province, is surrounded by high cliffs. This is where the old city of Dinant is situated.
Walloon Brabant The smallest province, almost entirely situated in the periphery of Brussels. It is the richest and most dynamic province of Wallonia, and hosts the Université Catholique de Louvain, the largest French-speaking university of Belgium, in the recently built campus-city of Louvain-la-Neuve, this fact greatly contributing to its prosperity. The very big amusement park of Walibi is located in the province.
As you can see, most of the provinces share their name with the main
city (or the nearby country), which makes is a bit complicated. But remember that Flanders has a region called Flemish Ardennes, and the Netherlands has North-Brabant, all for historical reasons.
A number of regions span more than one Walloon province:
Ardennes - Region of natural beauty that is excellent for outdoor holidays.
Condroz - Region of impressive rocky landscapes - that merges with the Ardennes - to the south of the Meuse river between Liège and Namur. The valleys of the Meuse and its tributuary the Ourthe can be graetly recomended to cyclists and hikers.
Hesbaye (Dutch: Haspengauw) - This region of bare hills that is shared with Flanders lies roughly between the cities of Liège, Namur and of Leuven.
Liège (Dutch: Luik, German: Lüttich) — The cultural hub of Wallonia - which sits on the banks of the wide river Meuse - is a many sided city that is definitely worth visiting if you are in Belgium. Besides some industrial scars, it is undeniable that Liège has a unique character, an eclectic mix of architecture from the middle ages to the present, a dramatic setting, exiting night-life, a number of museums, and varied natural surroundings to boot!
Namur (Dutch: Namen) — The political capital of Wallonia, Namur is a classy town of around a 100.000 inhabitants, that boasts a tidy, well preserved old center and an impressive citadel at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers. Similarly to Liège, Namur has a a dramatic setting and impressive natural scenery in its immediate surroundings.
Dinant — A small town with a cathedral and citadel in a stunning natural setting on the Meuse river, Dinant is a popular spot for adventure sports such as canoeing and rock-climbing, that is best visited in winter. Dinant is known as the place where Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone.
Mons(Dutch: Bergen)- Also known as the ´Bruges of Wallonia´, Mons´ historic center is simply stunning!
Tournai(Dutch: Doornik)- The oldest town in Belgium along with Tongeren, Tournai is a pleasent town on the banks of the Escaut (Scheldt) that boast an impressive four-towered cathedral.
Binche- Walled town that is famous for its carnaval.
Spa - The elegant small town in the Ardennes which put the word spa into spa-town.
Verviers (pop: 55,936) -- Overlooked by almost everyone, Liège's little brother to the east was one of the first towns in the world outside Great Britain to be mechanically industrialised in the early 19th century, when British entrepreneur William Cockerill (and his son John) set up shop there in 1799. Verviers -- which is set in the dramatic valley of the Vesdre -- also contains many traces of its pre-mechanical history, which dates make to medieval times. While the town might not be everyone's cup of tea, it will certainly prove fascinating to many others!
Charleroi- Although the name ´Charleroi Brussels-South Airport´ suggest otherwise, Charleroi is not a suburb of Brussels, but is actually the largest town in Wallonia (being marginaly bigger than Liège). Sadly, it is not the kind of town that most people would want to visit, unless they´re into heavy industry and urban decay (in which case it is paradise). Nonetheless, those who venture into the center will be surprised to find it is friendly and relaxed (and to find that there are also some nice buldings).
Nowadays, Wallonia is one of the three federal regions of Belgium (the other two being Flanders and Brussels). This means that it has its own government, a parliament and separate laws. The capital of Wallonia is Namur, near its geographic center, while its largest agglomeration is Liège.
Wallonia occupies the southern half of Belgium. The northern part of the region, around the Sambre and Meuse rivers is heavily urbanised, and this is where most of the population and economical activity concentrate. The southern part of Wallonia is occupied by the Ardennes hills and is way less densely populated than the rest of Belgium. The Ardennes are heavily forested, with a preserved nature. It is thus a good place for hiking, and other nature-related activities.
Wallonia used to have a very good economy, mostly based on charcoal-industry. After the World Wars the industry didn't renew itself fast enough. Because of that the economy is now lagging far behind Flanders. Wallonia is now trying to switch to services rather than heavy industry by, for example, developing logistics around its two main airports.
The official languages of Wallonia are, depending on where you are, French or German. French is spoken in the biggest part of the region (253 out of the 262 municipalities). German is the official language in the remaining 9, situated along the border with Germany. It is very hard to find a German speaker elsewhere in Wallonia outside this region.
Belgian French only differs in minor vocabulary points (called 'belgicisms') from the French spoken in France. Thus, if you learned standard French, you won't have any problems to understand the Walloons.
Wallonia used to have its own language, Walloon. It is closely related to French, though it is not a dialect of it, but a distinct romance language. When Belgium was created, French replaced Walloon more and more. Walloon is now still spoken by the elder generation, but the younger generation rarely knows more than some words of it.
Foreign languages are not as widely spoken in Wallonia as in Flanders though the situation is improving. Dutch is learnt in schools by everyone but for some reasons, like the political conflict with Flanders and above all, the lack of practice (most people in Wallonia rarely go to Flanders), only around 20% of the Walloons are fluent in it. It is much easier to find young people who can speak English, and most people under 30 will be able to help you in English, though sometimes with difficulties. Be aware though it can be hard to have a conversation in English with someone who is 40+. Surprisingly, Spanish is the third most spoken foreign language. Moreover, Liège, Mons and Charleroi have a big italian community. Italian is thus spoken by a certain number of people in these cities.
Anyway, adressing the people in a foreign language is generally not regarded disrespectful, so do not hesitate to do so.
In the biggest tourist locations you will generally get information in English, French and Dutch, but outside it can be hard to have information in an other language than French.