We had a few days left over after spending a week in Brussels and thought we might like to see a couple of towns in the Wallonia region of Belgium before leaving that country. We would be returning to Namur to catch our train out, so decided to stay in Namur and do a day trip to Dinant.
We arrived in Namur, an hour south of Brussels, on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Even on the short walk from the station to our accommodation, we could see that the town was lively with plenty of busy outdoor bar and restaurant seating and lots of people heading toward the historic center. We parked our bags and went out to enjoy the afternoon. On our wanderings, we spied posters for a circus arts festival that ended that day, and then we came across several plazas with tents and shelters in town and at the water’s edge, people seated on stairs or chairs, and performances just beginning or in full swing.
On Sunday, though, it felt like we were in a completely different village. All of the street seating had been stacked up and put away or tucked tightly against outside walls. Almost no shops were open. Everything was cleaned up from the festival and the streets were very quiet. Thankfully a few restaurants opened by about 6:00 pm so we didn’t go hungry.
Namur is the capital of the Wallonia region and is situated at the confluence of the Meuse and Sambre rivers. Perched on the hill overlooking both rivers is a citadel whose first rendition is more than 1,000 years old. We took the gondola up and then meandered down, which worked out well. There are several sites and views to see on the way. We had noticed lots of people gamboling up on the hillside the day before (festival activities took place just below), so a non-festival Sunday was a perfect day for a low-crowd visit.
Sitting on its own ledge part way up the citadel hill is a massive sculpture by Jan Fabre. There are three of these in existence; the other two are in Italy and Belgium. The one in Namur was recently at risk of being removed when the artist was handed an 18-month suspended sentence for sexual harassment in April. Shortly thereafter, it seems that the city council decided to keep the work in place and institute specific measures for an 18-month period. I can’t vouch for the validity of this story since, when we were there a few weeks after the decision, there was no black bandana covering the eyes of the rider (said to be the artist), and no interpretative sign explaining the situation. (I’m not sure if the lighting was turned out since we weren’t there in the dark.) In any case, it certainly adds some drama and tension to the eye-catching sculpture.
Two things drew us to Dinant. We had seen many images showing a picturesque riverside village as well as a bridge full of brightly painted saxophone sculptures honouring the town as the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone.
As you walk across the bridge from the train station to the Dinant center, you are welcomed by colourfully painted saxophones making it quite clear that Dinant is happy to broadcast its connection with Mr. Sax. Each of the original 22 sculptures on the Charles de Gaulle Bridge was decorated by one of the countries of the European Union in 2010. There are now at least 60 saxophones placed throughout the city.
The 13th Century gothic Notre Dame de Dinant cathedral is also a sight to behold, positioned as it is at the water’s edge. Its unusual spire drew our eyes up to the walls of the Dinant citadel. The entrance to the base of the citadel’s gondola is squeezed into a passage to the right of the cathedral. You are welcome to climb the 408 steps to the top if you prefer. We took the gondola.
The interpretative signs throughout the citadel were informative. In one area, preceded by warnings, the museum offered an intense sense of life in dugouts with canons blasting all around, complete with very off-kilter stairs leading down, crooked floors and a bit of anxiety that goes along with being in that simulated environment.
The views from a balcony looking out over the river were stunning.
We finished our time in Dinant with a quick visit to La Maison de Monsieur Sax, a small but well-done museum showing the evolutionary design of the saxophone and discussing the impact its inventor had on the musical landscape. Mr. Sax himself is perched outside of the museum keeping an eye on things.
- Namur Citadel: €4 one way on the gondola most of the way up the hill. There are many combination tickets that can include a tourist train, access to the visitor center, and the tunnels beneath the citadel (they were closed when we were there). Paths and roads are in good shape, but they are cobbly. The stairs and ramp down to the turtle would be challenging with mobility issues.
- Dinant Citadel: €11 per adult for the gondola up and back and entry to the citadel. A combination ticket that includes a boat trip on the river is available for €19.
- Train: Namur to Dinant, €5 each way for both of us (current Duo ticket promotion).