From Tournai in the west to the Ardennes in the east, the towns, villages and wide open spaces of Wallonia are sprinkled with historic castles and châteaux, ground-breaking Medieval cathedrals and churches, exquisite ornamental gardens and other relics of the past that have become UNESCO World Heritage sites. This accolade is a guarantee that they will be preserved in perpetuity – and the same goes for some of the region’s traditional carnivals and festivals, unique to Wallonia.
No fewer than seven Walloon belfries are on the UNESCO list. They stand proud above the rooftops of Charleroi, Binche, Gembloux, Mons, Namur, Thuin and Tournai. Some are attached to town halls; others sit alongside churches and cathedrals. All of them reflect the pride and growing wealth of the generation that built them.
Tournai’s other UNESCO site is its magnificent, five-spired cathedral, part of which dates back to the 12th century: 400 years before Henry VIII claimed the town for the English crown.
And Wallonia has made a global impact in more recent times. In the 19th century, on the Canal du Centre near La Louvière, engineers found a way of lifting boats more than 50 feet from one river to another by building a set of hydraulic boat lifts - the only ones in the world still in working order. Today, they lift pleasure craft; 130 years ago they were vital to Wallonia’s development as an industrial centre.
Coal-mining in Wallonia has ceased, but one of four former mines that has been preserved and remodelled as a major tourist attraction is the Blegny-Mine near Liège, where visitors can travel to the coalface to experience the conditions in which generations of miners chipped away at one of western Europe’s richest coal seams.