Namur – a Great Day Trip from Brussels by Train, or Why Not Explore the Region for a Few Days by Car?
Life doesn’t get much better than an afternoon spent along the Meuse, biking, boating or hanging out at a restaurant like Le Lodge Wepion. In fact, Benoit Poelvoorde, actor and a resident of Namur who could probably spend August in many exotic places, is at the next table with a group of friends.
With its large outdoor deck facing the river, and a menu with dishes so inventive the choice is difficult, one could spend hours here watching passing boats and fantasizing about living in the houses across the water. The great selection of local beers doesn’t hurt.
A more active type could bicycle along the path clearly visible along the river, or even rock climb the cliffs on the less developed side of the Meuse.
My exploration of the region started in Namur, which is an easy hour-long trip from Brussels’ Central Station or a 51 minute drive. With it’s situation on two rivers, flower planted streets, mixture of historic and modern buildings, Namur is a beautiful city with an interesting mix of architectural masterpieces.
Namur has a well preserved old town dating back to the 18th Century, and modern districts. Mainly the result of expansion, but in partially due to World War II bombing inaccuracy, the modern area begins around the train station. Between the two are showpiece art deco buildings from the 1920s and 30s. The city also boasts the 13th century Marie Spillar tower and remains of fortifications; a Baroque church notable for its ornately carved Baroque, Renaissance and Rococo confessionals; a beautiful classical theatre, and a really picturesque Congres building.
Located at the confluence of the Meuse and Sambre Rivers, with it’s visible citadelle and partial fortification walls, Namur is full of history, yet is clearly a city with a lot to offer residents and visitors now. Beautiful outdoor cafes line the streets and a small boat takes locals and visitors on cruises along the Meuse. The summer festival is in full swing, complete with a beach and tropical-looking beach bars along the river.
Rue St. Jacques is the dividing line between the old and the new city. Of the city’s seven churches, three are currently not safe to visit. We visit the Cathedral, which was started in 1751 and completed in 1777 or 78. A stop on the Camino de Santiago, a cobblestone in front is marked with the telltale sign of the shell. Chris, my guide from the Namur Tourism Board, explains that where there is a Cathedral there is a Bishop. He points out the Bishop’s palace across from the cathedral.
Work from Jan Fabre’s temporary exhibit appears in surprising places around the city. The life-size bronze L’Homme qui Mesure Les Nuages (Man Who Measures The Clouds) perched in front of the Citadel is clearly visible from across the river. The L’Homme qui Donne du Feu (The Man who Gives Flame) – a life-size man crouched under a raincoat, with a working lighter, is found in the Jardin du Mayeur. Fabre’s bronze beetles can be found in the Baroque church of St. Loup.
My big regret from this trip is not taking Chris up on his offer to check out the Rops/Fabre exhibit at the Musee Felicien Rops. I try to never say no to reasonable offers when traveling, but the weather was so gorgeous it was hard to pass up an opportunity to walk around and ogle the unique mix of Belgian, French and Dutch style buildings
Lodge and Wepion
Back to the Lodge Wepion, I was having trouble deciding what to eat from a menu laden with my favorite French (Belgian?) foods, when the server brought plates to the couple at the next table. The woman’s bright red tomato, bursting with small shrimp, on a bed of salad was just what I needed after a few days in Paris and Brussels eating carbonade flamande and potatoes gratin. Wepion, which is famous for it’s flavorful small strawberries, even has a local beer producer who uses them. Of course, we sampled this tasty and interesting beer, with fresh strawberry flavor that was not overpowering.
Valerie from the Tourism Board and I are equally thrilled to Instagram our food and beer, including this unique dessert featuring basil, granita, Wepion strawberries, a gelee’ and crispy meringue bits.
After lunch, we checked out the Wepion strawberry stands lining the town. Even though the season has supposedly ended, the helpful woman at the stand explained these are the second crop. Behind the row of strawberries is a booth full of products made from the strawberry. If I wasn’t traveling to Bordeaux by way of Paris on multiple metros, trains and trams, I would have bought a selection of the tempting products. Oh you lucky locals with cars!
The road along the river passes through beautiful Profondeville. Valerie stops so we can look at the beautiful houses and guesthouses along the river. As we drive around the region, we pass lovely hillside hotels, usually with notable adjacent restaurants and panoramic river views, perfect for individuals or groups.
Annevoie Gardens / Les Jardins d’Annevoie
Lovers of gardens, beautiful places, or serenity should not miss Annevoie. The gardens would also appeal to anyone fascinated by physics, machinery, construction and related fields. Interestingly, the largest concentration of overseas visitors – about 3000 per year – come from Japan, according to Monica Goosen, who leads us on a tour of the Jardins.
The Annevoie Gardens were designed and created by Charles-Alexis de Montpellier, starting from 1758. Monica explained that the unique feature of the gardens is the lack of machinery. The water flows naturally relying on gravity and skillful positioning of pipes.
There is a surprise around every corner of the property. One can wander the grounds for hours, encountering few crowds, through three seasons – March to November. A mix of formal gardens, wooded landscapes, sculpture, and a variety of structures keeps the gardens vibrant. At times, completely natural waterfalls appear from among the trees; other areas are more obviously planned and structured.
Interspersed throughout the gardens is a temporary exhibit of sculpture by Robert Arnoux, through October 11. These sleek sometimes pensive, sometimes active, bronze figures are perfectly positioned among the waterfalls, streams, and edifices.
According to the information provided by the gardens, they are crossed by a network of surface and underground canals. They enable some pretty amazing water features, especially considering when they were made. The Water Steps, or Buffet d’Eau are unique in Belgium, and possibly in Europe. They have run without machinery since 1760. The Grand Cracheur, a 7 meter water jet, is an engineering marvel.
Most of it is fed from the Grand Canal, which is 400 meters in length. “The entire system is governed by the simple principle of communicating vessels!” explains the Tour Map.
The garden is comprised of several symmetrical, formal French gardens like the Drive of Flowers, the Grand Drive, the French Cascade. The English Cascade and Neptune’s Cave are two of the more natural, English style gardens. And even Italian style gardens are evident, with architectural features like the Drives of Desire hornbeam lane, the Artichoke Pond, the chateau’s curve.
Kitchen gardens overflow with produce – basil, lettuces, huge zucchini, peppers, and massive artichokes on bushes. As much as they want to restore this area, Monica explains preservation rules are dictated by the government and approval is necessary. Unlike France with its 100s of gardens, Belgium has five and as a result, no one specific governing authority to oversee them. In a perfect world, they would restore the chateau for events and weddings.
Like most of the best gardens, there is a surprise – a Fountain of Love or wishing fountain located down the arbored Drives of Desire path. Monica instructs us how to manage this fountain without getting soaked, while making wishes for love or whatever.
The gardens remained in the family until 2000 when they were purchased by Stephan Jourdain. Since then the grounds have been expanded, adding the pond near the entrance, a kitchen garden, the raspberry garden, a playground near the entrance, and the gift shop.
It is unfathomable to me that more individual travelers and worldwide gardening groups don’t clamor to visit Annevoie. If you will be in the area before October 11, don’t miss the chance to see the sculptures of Robert Arnoux in such a perfect setting.
Never one to follow the crowd, and being more comfortable in French than Flemish, for me Wallonia was a natural pairing with Brussels instead of the more visited Bruges. For those seeking an authentic destination, less touristed and known than the cities in the north, Namur and the area around it should not be overlooked.
If you are interested in traveling to Brussels, Namur, Wepion or Wallonia, please email me via the Contact form at the top of the page.
The Namur Tourism Board covered my visit to Annevoie Gardens and tour of Namur. Thank you to the Tourism Boards of the Namur Region for a marvelous lunch at Le Lodge Wepion.
And, an extra special thank you to my excellent Namur city guide Chris, Monica Goosen at Les Jardins d’Annevoie, and Valerie Tryoen for showing me around your spectacular area!
My opinions are my own.