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Wallonia Travel Guide

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Citadel of Namur, Wallonia (© Anoel - Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)
Citadel of Namur, Wallonia.
Map of Wallonia

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Wallonia (Wallonie in French) is the predominantly French-speaking southern region of Belgium. With a land area of 16,844 km2 (6,504 sq mi), it makes up 55% of the territory of Belgium, although its 3.5 million inhabitants only represent a third of the Belgian population. Most of the cities are located along the west-east axis formed by the Sambre and Meuse Rivers.

Apart from the flatter province of Hainaut, the landscape of Wallonia is characterised by rolling hills with horsts and grabens (known locally as tiges and chavées), similar to the Downs of southern England or the Dordogne region of France. The heavily forested Ardennes massif occupies the southeast of the Walloon region.

This topographic peculiarity gave the region its name, Wallonie being in the Walloon tongue the 'land of the valleys' (vallons). It is a common misconception to think that the region's name derives from Walha, the ancient Germanic word for 'strangers' or 'non-Germanic people', after which Wales and Wallachia were named. In fact, the term Wallonia was not coined until the 16th century and did not enter the common usage until the 18th century, 1500 years after the Franks were allowed by the Romans to settle in Gallia Belgica.

The eastern fringe of Wallonia is German speaking. These East Cantons, as their are known, were annexed by Belgium following Germany's defeat in World War I. The rest of Wallonia traditionally speaks a variety of Romance languages: Picard (in the eastern half Hainaut, around Tournai and Mons), Walloon (most of Wallonia, from Charleroi to Verviers, and south to Neufchâteau), Lorrain (at the southern tip, around Florenville and Virton), and Champenois (a tiny pocket west of Bouillon). The Luxembourgish language is also spoken around Arlon and Sankt Vith.

Walloon cuisine can be considered a French regional cuisine. Restaurants do not really distinguish between French and Belgian/Walloon cooking. Walloon cuisine is a much more meat-based the Flemish one. It is shy on fish and seafood, but often makes use of a wide variety of game (venison, rabbit, wild boar, and also increasingly exotic meats like kangaroo, ostrich or bison) and less usual poultry (guineafowl, quail), although beef is the undeniable king. Local specialties include Cougnou (sweet Christmas bread), Liège waffles (the typical Belgian waffle), Sirop de Liège (apple butter), and rice tart (only around Namur). The world-famous fruit juice and jam manufacturer Materne is based in Namur. Many of Belgium's most famous Abbey and Trappist beers are from Wallonia, inluding Leffe, Maredsous, Floreffe, St. Feuillien, Chimay, Orval and Rochefort.


Province of Hainaut

Grand Place of Mons (photo by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
outstanding Mons
Beloeil Castle
Beloeil Castle (©
outstanding Beloeil Castle
Gilles de Binche at the Carnival of Binche (© J C Cuvelier -
very good Binche
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