After seeing the cable cars of Dinant that went high over the cathedral to the fortifications, in a miniature version at Mini Europe in Brussels, I definitely wanted to see & experience it myself. On a fine long-weekend I combined Dinant with Namur and set off in that direction by train from Brussels.
DAY 1 - NAMUR CITADEL & CITY TOUR
© WBT - Denis Erroyaux
Our Day 1 began with the pride of Namur - Namur Citadel. It is easy to spot Namur Citadel right from Namur railway station. It is the face of Namur as well as the logo of Namur city. We headed directly to Namur Citadel as soon as we dropped our luggage at the hotel. While it is possible to walk up the Citadel, it is also possible to take the Cable Car!
There are 3 major sections of Namur Citadel - Chateau des Comptes (Castle of the Count), Mediane (Medieval era) and Terra Nova (New Land). As the name suggests, the historical parts of the castle were built in 13th C CE, followed by a major expansion in 1519 CE and then later, in 1631-75 it was further expanded with the fascinating labyrinth of underground tunnels.
The vast area of the castle is almost entirely free to visit, except for the visitors centre from where the underground tunnels can be accessed. So, that’s where we went first. The entire sub-terrain network is 7km long of which currently about 4km has been restored and is accessible by a guided tour. There are light sculptures, projections and more to make the entire tour all the more interesting. No wonder, Napoleon Bonaparte called it the ‘Termite Mound of Europe’!!! The same Vauban, the military architect who was associated with Bouillon fortification, La-Roche-en-Ardennes castle etc also took over the expansion of Namur Citadel. The guide explained everything from water sources, circulation vents, ways to attack and more.
After the tour it is possible to either take the touristic train or just walk & explore the rest of the citadel and we chose to walk. From the highest point, the view of river Meuse complete with its bridges and the greenery all around the city, was just spectacular.
- Namur Citadel location: Rte Merveilleuse 64, 5000 Namur
- Buy your Namur Citadel Underground tour Ticket here
One of the interesting, unusual things to do in Namur Citadel is to visit the Guy Delforge Perfumery. Quite amusingly the underground tunnels have the perfect climatic conditions for manufacture and ageing of perfumes and storage of its raw materials! The ‘factory’ can be visited through a guided tour which begins with a short movie. Then we were shown a huge assortment of aromatic oils and the we had to guess what they were. I got most of the citrusy ones right. It was fun trying to figure those out. I really didn’t know there were so, so many types of aromatic oils from even very unusual sources like roots & resins! Then the tour went on to view the cellars where the perfumes have been stored for ageing. Did you know that there are 3 types of perfumes depending upon the concentration of the aromatic oils in them? Do you know how & where to apply perfume? Learn all this & more at Guy Delforge Perfumery when you visit Namur Citadel.
- Guy Delforge Perfumery location: Rte Merveilleuse 60, 5000 Namur
- Buy your Guy Delforge Perfumery Ticket here
Going further down from there, the next stop was the humongous golden turtle overlooking the Meuse river. This sculpture of a man riding a huge turtle, is an art installation by Jan Fabre set up in 2015 as a part of a temporary exhibition. But it was so perfect depicting the relaxed mood of the city, that it is now permanently there!
NAMUR TOP TIP: If you have more time, there are 3 top museums to visit in Namur - Felician Rops Museum, Museum of Decorative Arts & Trem A.
After lunch, we headed to Parc Marie Louise. While the park itself is beautiful, the most interesting section of the park is the Jean Chalon Garden, which I would like to fondly call ‘the symbol garden’. This enclosed garden is filled with unusual patterns that represent everything from mazes, elements of nature, numbers, shapes, astronomy, music and more. After walking around the garden, we spent sometime, just resting at Parc Marie Louise, beside the waterbody, listening to the sounds of the birds, surrounded by trees all around.
By evening, we were back at the city centre. After a quick visit to the Namur Belfry (which cannot be entered), we walked around the Place d'Armes square to spot the very intriguing snail sculpture, after Jan Fabre’s turtle! This snail sculpture is called Djoseph (Joe) and Françwès (Frank) and is an art installation by Suzanne Godard. It is all the more intriguing than the turtle with 2 men arguing while holding on to their snails! In order to keep their ‘snails’ from ‘running away’, one has a leash and another is in a cage!
- Namur Belfry location: Rue du Beffroi 6, 5000 Namur
NAMUR TOP TIP: Memorial Tourism in Namur - If you’re from a country which had participated in World Wars, you may want to visit Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Saint-Servais (10 mins by bus) to pay your respects to the fallen soldiers of the wars.
DAY 1 - STAY AT HOTEL LES TANNEURS
We stayed at this beautiful hotel, Les Tanneurs in the heart of Namur. This is perhaps the oldest hotel building I’ve stayed in. Apart from the hotel there is a gastronomic restaurant, a grill restaurant and a rooftop bar in the same premises. The oldest part of the hotel is actually from 14th C CE when it was a part of the medieval fortification wall around the city of Namur! These were then the guard rooms! Over time it was used for various purposes. Later, in 17th - 18th C CE, these were all converted into houses and then finally, now, some of those houses were combined to form this hotel.
Each room is of a different category and the most fascinating part is that each room is of a different style. Some of the rooms have - get ready to be mind-blown - in-room, private sauna & jacuzzi. I have never seen a city hotel with a private sauna room! It was a perfect way to wrap up a day full of walking around and exploring the city.
DAY 2 - WEPION & JARDIN D’ANNOVOIE IN NAMUR, MAISON LEFFE & GROTTE MERVEILLEUSE IN DINANT
Early on Day 2, we took one of the unusual mode of transport in Namur - Tuk Tuk, to take part in one of the most interesting things to do in Namur - Strawberry picking! Strawberry museum & orchard of Namur is technically in its outskirts at Wepion. Before leaving, we actually checked-out of our hotel & carried our backpacks with us. Even before we could reach Wepion, we spotted so many shops & kiosks along the road, selling not only fresh strawberries but also strawberry icecream, conserves, concentrates etc. Not just that, the ride was along River Meuse and we
also have a look at Dave Island. There were a few adventure enthusiasts trying their hand on rock climbing in the island as well as speed boating on river Meuse.
After the visit to Wepion Museum, the tuk-tuk ride brings you back to Namur city centre, but we chose to break our journey there and caught a bus to head to Les Jardins d’Annovie located a bit further ahead. This is almost the midpoint between Namur & Dinant.
- Wepion Strawberry Museum location: Chau. de Dinant 1037, 5100 Namur
- Buy Wepion Strawberry Museum Tickets here
- Book your Namur Tuk-Tuk ride here
WHAT TO EAT IN NAMUR: Apart from its yummilicous strawberries there are a few things that you mustn’t miss when you’re in Namur. Snails are not just a symbol of Namur, they’re also a delicacy here! Le Petit Gris is the variety of snail bred here and used in local cuisine. Do try it, if you’re up for it! Another yummilicious delicacy in Namur is Biétrumé, a soft caramel made of fresh cream and toasted hazelnuts. That said, did you know, what is known to the rest of the world as French Fries is actually Belgian Fries and its birthplace is here in Namur. During one cold winter, centuries ago, when Meuse froze and fishing became impossible, the locals cut potatoes to strips like fish and fried those, thus creating………. Fries! So when you’re in Namur, you’re in the birthplace of Fries!
© Daniel Fouss
Les Jardins d’Annevoie was a typical garden with fountains, but there’s something very, very unusual about these fountains - there’s not a single motor attached to them! Les Jardins d’Annevoie (& the castle located in its heart) were once the home to Jean de Montpellier in 18th C CE. This huge garden covers an area of 20 hectares and there are 27 fountains here and all of them, work by mere basic laws of physics, with just water pressure and not even a single motor! The fountains are constantly fed by river Meuse, so the water is always clean. The entire garden is a beautiful mix of French, English & Italian styled gardens. Each fountain is of a different style incl. fan shaped ‘Neptune’s Cuff’, a straight 7m high jet ‘Big Spitter’, a perfectly manicured ‘French Cascade’, a very natural & wild looking ‘English Waterfalls’ and many more. There are a couple of small ponds with swans in them - it was just so so picturesque! There’s a small kids play area as well as a restaurant with a view of the garden which is where we had our lunch.
Le TEC TOP TIP: It is a good idea to purchase LeTEC MultiFlex Ticket. It costs €10.20 to be loaded in your personal MOBIB card (or €13.80 via app or Basic MOBIB card). This ticket is flexible to use as a combination of Next, Horizon or Express ticket. Use LeTEC website or ask the driver for the zone covered and validate the ticket accordingly. Between Wepion and Les Jardins d’Annevoie or Dinant is a ‘Horizon’ ticket. Traveling within Namur city or Dinant city are ‘Next’ tickets.
After our lunch at Les Jardins d’Annevoie, we headed to Dinant by bus. After dropping our backpacks at the hotel we headed to Grotte la Merveillieuse.
Grotte la Merveilleuse (literally translates to ‘The Wonderful cave’!) is one of the beautiful caves in Wallonia with unusual formations of stalactites & stalagmites, discovered in early 20th C CE. The underground chambers of the caves can be accessed by a guided tour. It was a very fascinating walk seeing those formations that included one that looked like Jesus Christ, but the one that was most interesting and to some extent creepy, was a formation that looks like in-utero baby!!! After the tour we were back at the hotel.
- Grotte la Merveilleuse location: Rue de Philippeville 142, 5500 Dinant
- Buy Grotte la Merveilleuse Tickets here
Staying in Hotel Merveilleuse has its advantage because Maison Leffe is in the same premises and that’s where we wrapped up our day. Maison Leffe is the museum of the Leffe beer - an authentic, Belgian Abbey beer. Since the Leffe Abbey (Abbaye Notre Dame de Leffe) is still a functioning monastery with religious activities happening, a little museum explaining the origin of Leffe Beer has been set up at Maison Leffe. Brewing of Leffe beer doesn’t happen in the Abbey anymore as well, but in Leuven’s Stella Artois Brewery. Maison Leffe is very interesting, esp. because, it is set up in the Chapel of the convent that once functioned in the premises of Hotel Merveilleuse!!! The room is complete with its stained-glass windows & church benches. The Maison Leffe ticket also includes beer tasting!
- Maison Leffe location: Charreau des Capucines 23, 5500 Dinant (inside Hotel la Merveilleuse)
- Buy Maison Leffe Tickets here
DINANT TOP TIP: If you’re young at heart and adventurous dedicate a day for the various adventure activities with Dinant Evasion incl. tree top activities, kayaking, rock climbing, zip lining, caving and many more.
DAY 2 - STAY AT HOTEL LA MERVEILLEUSE
As I just mentioned, Hotel La Merveilleuse was once the convent of Capuchins. The earliest Capuchin convent was built in 17th C CE, but when that building got a bit too congested for the number of people there, by 19th C, a new monastery building, in neo-gothic architecture was built, which is what stands today as Hotel Merveilleuse by Infiniti Resorts. This convent’s chapel is where Maison Leffe is located.
In the ground floor, the place which was originally the central courtyard of the convent, is now covered with a glass ceiling and is an indoor area with a huge sky-window! Along the corridors are religious murals of the yesteryears. The rooms are nice with all amenities. Most of the Comfort category rooms have a view of the Dinant Citadel and the view is especially spectacular at nights! The Luxe category rooms are absolutely luxurious and perfect for a pampered stay in Dinant. There’s a very nice in-house wellness area. This is free for the guests of the hotel for 2 hours and we made the best out of it before checking out.
DAY 3 - DRAISINES DE LA MOLIGNEE, HERITAGE MUSEUM & CREVECOER CASTLE
Our 2nd day in Dinant was a Saturday and we took the first bus to Warnant to experience one of the most unusual things to do in Namur (perhaps, in entire Belgium) - riding a Railbike at Draisines de la Molignee.
Now, what’s a railbike? It is something like 2 bikes attached side by side with a platform between them, that can run on a railway track! 2 people have to pedal this sitting on the 2 ‘bikes’ on either sides. This is one of the most unique things to experience in Wallonia. It was quite an experience to go biking on this thing through all the greenery, through tunnels, across bridges with beautiful views and more. This is something that is magical in all seasons - filled with snow in winter, absolutely green in spring & summer and orange in autumn - this is just such an incredible experience.
We did the entire route from Warnant to Maredsous Gare and back which almost took the entire day for us along with the travel, lunch break etc. It is also possible to do only a section of the journey which would take a couple of hours, but I would definitely recommend the whole trip because this is so unusual and so exceptional.
MOLIGNEE RAILBIKES TOP TIP: Relying on bus to reach here might be a bit of a challenge. Another option is to hire bikes at Dinant. Adnet-Becker Bike Rentals near the Dinant Railway station has city bikes as well as e-bikes.
We returned by the last bus to Dinant at 3:30PM. But instead of getting back to Dinant Town, we got down at Bouvignes to visit the Maison de Patrimoine Medieval Mosan. This is a small interesting museum dedicated to the history of the region especially a lot about its medieval history. There are quite a few archaeological finds as well as a few re-creations to help understand the way of life here, in the past.
Just behind Maison de Patrimoine Medieval Mosan is the ruins of Crevecoeur Castle. It is very much possible to hike atop this 13th C castle. However when we went, we were told that it is the hunting season, so we chose to skip hiking atop it and exploring the ruins. We then walked along the river Meuse and got back to our hotel. It was a beautiful, relaxing stroll along the river banks, while watching the seagulls along the route.
- Maison de Patrimoine Medieval Mosan location: Pl. du Bailliage 16, 5500 Dinant
- Buy your Maison de Patrimoine Medieval Mosan Ticket here
DAY 3 - STAY AT HOTEL LA MERVEILLEUSE
DAY 4 - DINANT TOWN AND FREYR CASTLE
© WBT - Arnaud Siquet
We dedicated our last day almost entirely for Dinant Town. We began our day with the pride of Dinant - the Dinant Citadel. Reaching atop it is possible by hiking, but the more interesting way is by the cable car! This history of this fortification is way back to 6th C CE, but it was destroyed and rebuilt again and again in 15th, 16th & 17th C and finally the current architecture belongs to 18th C CE. The citadel played an important role in First World War and there’s a permanent exhibition here explaining what happened and how the town suffered in August 1914. There are also re-created trenches, collapsed shelters and more. Then there’s a view point from where you get to see an aerial view of Notre Dame Collégiale de Dinant. Absolutely splendid!
After Dinant Citadel, we came back down by cable car and visited the Notre Dame Collégiale de Dinant. The church has been here since 8th C CE, but from 14th-18th C CE, it was extensively rebuilt with the Neo-Gothic architecture, and the unique onion-shaped dome!
It was then, the time to visit the museum dedicated to the son of the soil, the founder of the musical instrument Saxophone, Adolphe Sax - Maison Adolphe Sax. This is a very tiny museum, just a single room, free to enter, dedicated to the life and works of Adolphe Sax. Don’t forget to click the mandatory picture sitting beside his sculpture on the bench just outside the museum. Post it on Instagram and tag us too! After that, we walked over the Charles Bridge and looked at the designs over the 12 huge Saxaphone art installations all over the bridge!
We stopped next at Pâtisserie Couques de Dinant V. Collard 1774, to try out the local delicacy - Couques de Dinant. It has the nick name - the world’s toughest cookie! It is made of flour, honey and sugar. It is super hard and biting into it will definitely break your teeth! It is supposed to be sucked!!! It came in a variety of shapes and we bought the bunny one.
Pâtisserie Couques de Dinant V. Collard 1774 location: Rue Grande 72, 5000 Dinant
WHAT TO EAT IN DINANT: Apart from the Couques de Dinant, another specialty here is the Flamiche Dinantaise. This is a tart made of eggs, cheese and butter, a dish which is almost made in every household here. This is available is most of the restaurants and quick-eats all over Dinant. Another specialty of the region is the Chateau Bon Baron Wine. It is possible to visit the vineyard and enjoy a wine tasting by appointment on weekdays. It is located at Sorinnes, which can be easily reached by bus from Dinant in 15 mins.
© WBT – Dominik Ketz
We wrapped up our day with a quick trip to Freyr Castle, after lunch. We took a bus and it was quick 15 mins ride from Dinant. Freyr Castle is a beautiful castle, not too big and rooms were palatial with opulence. Everything of this 16th C, Meuse Renaissance masterpiece, is well preserved with the historic furniture, old wallpapers, murals, paintings, portraits and more. The tiny children coach (like a stroller) of the 18th C was an intriguing piece of history. The chapel is splendid with Rococo styled murals & artworks. But more than the Castle itself, its perfectly manicured garden was absolutely phenomenal.
- Freyr Castle location: Freyr 12, 5540 Hastière
- Buy your Freyr Castle Tickets here
DINANT TOP TIP: You could also spend a couple more days easily in Dinant. If you’re only adults or with bit older kids, a good idea would be hire bikes and visit Veves Castle, Walzin Castle and Furfooz Natural Park. Veves Castle is one of the most picturesque castle of Wallonia which can be visited, while Walzin Castle is majestic perched atop a hill, but its interiors cannot be visited. Furfooz Natural Park filled with natural & historic places of interest including Roman Thermal Baths, Caves, viewpoints and much more. Furfooz by itself would easily take an entire day if you want to see it thoroughly! Biking from Dinant through the 2 castles and Furfooz Park and back to Dinant is about 25km but through very hilly roads. A good idea would be to hire e-bikes!
By evening we were back in Dinant and it was time to take our train back to Brussels.
About the Author: Bhushavali is an Indian travel blogger, currently living in Belgium. Her background in art-history gives her the interest and insight to explore the historic & heritage sites in Belgium. Her primary interest is UNESCO Sites and she has visited 14 of the 15 Belgian UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as the UNESCO Global Geopark. Visit her blog here: My Travelogue by Bhushavali.