Namur – No wonder it rhymes with amour!

“Why did I have to take the bus?”, I kept asking myself over and over again whilst lying on the floor of the ferry, in the middle of the night, crossing the English Channel from Dover to Calais.

Trying to save some money on the expensive Easter flights, I decided to take the bus. Brussels is just across the channel, how long can it take? And knowing me, I’ll be sleeping for the entire time. What could go wrong? Well…. I did not take into consideration the ridiculous small leg space on the bus, the passenger behind me who forbid me to recline my seat, the crazy driver who almost left a girl behind at one of the stops, and the getting on and off the bus at customs and on the ferry. Why was I on the floor you may ask… there were not enough seats on the boat for all the passengers and we were not allowed to remain on the bus.

I arrived in a freezing Brussels at 6am, tired but happy to be off the bus. Luckily the bus stop was right next to Brussels Midi train station, from where I jumped on the 6:30 train towards Luxembourg, heading to Namur.

IMG_4946

 

Find a cheap flight to Bruxelles:


 

I must confess that I didn’t hear about Namur before last year’s World Travel Market in London, when I met the wonderful team from the Touristic Office and the Citadel, who invited me to visit their city. Namur is the capital of Wallonia, the French part of Belgium, hosting the Walloon Parliament, its Government and administration. It is about 1 hour and 20 minutes away by train from Brussels and only 40 minutes from Charleroi. If you are arriving by plane, this is the closest airport. Charleroi is also the Belgian airport for low cost flights.

IMG_4943

Surrounded by forests and at the confluence of the Sambre and the Meuse rivers, overlooked by the Citadel, Namur is a charming old town. Off-the-beaten-tourist-track, traditional and with a beautiful architecture, Namur will sweep you off your feet and make you fall in love with it through the kindness of its people. This is just the introduction of the series I have started on Namur, in which I will tell you all about the wonderful sights, the culinary delights, the unique things you can experience and the amazing people I’ve met.

 

Felicien Rops and the giant golden turtle

One of the first things you notice when you look up towards the Citadel of Namur is the giant golden turtle overlooking the town. Involuntarily ask end up asking yourselves: “what’s with the turtle?”.

“Searching of Utopia”, the official name of the statue, is a work of art created by the Belgian contemporary artist Jan Fabre. The statue is made from bronze and covered with a thin layer of gold, to be protected by the weather conditions. It depicts a giant sea turtle carrying a representation of the artist on its back.

IMG_4929

The statue arrived in Namur in 2015, with the “Facing time. Rops/Fabre” exhibition. The people of Namur loved is so much that the town ended up buying the statue and make it a symbol of the city.

The exhibition, “Facing time”, created an itinerary through the city, sharing the connection between the two artists. Jan Fabre was inspired by Felicien Rops, both artists having a very bold approach towards the human taboos and the society’s decadence. Most of Rops’ work was found unacceptable by the time’s society due to the eroticism and satire in it.

IMG_4966

Today you can admire his work at the Felicien Rops Museum, in the old town of Namur. Situated on a quiet street, the museum displays all aspects of the artist’s work and the important stages of his life in Namur, Brussels and Paris. The combined ticket for the museum and the temporary exhibitions is 10 euros for adults and 5 euros for students and seniors (as per 2017).

 

The Citadel

The biggest touristic attraction of Namur is the Citadel, the oldest permanent settlement in the Benelux and one of the largest fortresses in Europe.  The view from the top of the Citadel towards the town is spectacular, especially from the observation point situated at the tip which looks like a ship’s bow. From here you can admire the panorama of the entire city and look far away, over the river and the stone bridges crossing it, towards the town of Jambes.

IMG_4876

To visit the Citadel you can either take the bus or hike on one of the different routes going up, through the woods or on the road.

The Citadel dates all the way back from 937 when the first references state the existence of a wooden castle belonging to the nobility of the period. Over the years the construction kept evolving so that in the 14th century a mighty stone castle was built, on three levels. Today, the only remains that challenge our imagination to think of how the Castle of the Counts used to look like are three medieval towers: the Oven Tower, the Treasury Tower and the Cistern Tower.

IMG_4869

During the years, with the strategic position of Namur on the trading routes, the fortress has been fortified over and over, with the development of new cannons and military equipment. A large network of underground galleries has been built as well, because the enemies started to dig into the rocks to conquer the fortress. In the 18th century the defence built protection forts up to 1000 meters away from the old medieval castle.

Many military architects have contributed to the fortification of the citadel, the most famous of them being the French Sebastien Vauban, the most celebrated representative of the profession. After the siege from 1692, when the city of Namur was conquered by the French because of Vauban’s engineering knowledge, he improved the fortifications by adding armouries, barracks and underground warehouses.

In history, the citadel has been under many different occupancies (The French, the Dutch, the Spanish), and all of them have added their own fortifications and defence to it.

IMG_4794

In 1975 the Citadel has been demilitarized and in 1978 it has been completely opened to the public. Today you can spend an entire day on the grounds. You can visit the underground tunnels, see the fantastic exhibition in the brand new Terra Nova visitor centre, take the mini train for a ride back in history, take a peek inside Guy Delforge’s perfumery or just enjoy the beautiful views and the natural environment.

The price of a guided tour at the Citadel is 6 euros and the admission to the visitors centre is 4 euros (as per 2017).

 

The Belfry

The Belfry is the only monument in Namur on the Unesco list of protected sights, built in 1388 as part of the city wall. During the history, the belfry had both a military role, by protecting one of the city gates but also civilian, by indicating the time, signalling the opening and closing of the gate and announcing events.

IMG_4930

Unfortunately when I visited it was under reconstruction and I wasn’t able to take a good photo of it.

 

St Aubin’s Cathedral

St Aubin’s Cathedral was built in 1559 following the plans of an Italian architect, Gaetano Matteo Pisoni who designed it having Vatican’s San Pietro Cathedral in mind. This is why St Aubin’s is the only cathedral in Belgium built in academic Late Baroque style. The wide windows around the dome allow a lot of light to come into the Cathedral, making it look very spacious.

IMG_4791

The interesting thing about St Aubin’s Cathedral is that inside, the altar includes a casket containing the heart of Don Juan of Austria.  He died of typhus at only 31 years old, on a battlefield near Namur.

 

Eglise Saint Loup

Every time I passed by Saint Loup church it was closed so I could only admire its beautiful Baroque architecture from the outside. The church is located on a narrow street, making it impossible to look at the higher details. To catch a good look of the church you have to go to the citadel, from where you can admire it from above.

20170415_213601

However, one evening, as I was passing by, the doors were open and some sort of event was taking place inside. As soon as I stepped in I was blown away by the décor: high pink marble columns, wooden round stairs, detailed carvings on the ceiling, black marble arches… I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautiful church in all my travels!

Even Charles Baudelaire was impressed by this church: “Saint Loup is different from anything I have ever seen by the Jesuits. The interior of a catafalque decorated in black, pink and silver. Confessionals, each different in style, fine, subtle and baroque, a new antiquity.”

 

Namur and its folklore

Namur’s folklore is very much alive, with events happening each month. Probably the most popular one is the Fetes de Wallonie, a 5 days event full of music, traditional games, dishes and drinks from the region.

IMG_4781

A long tradition in Namur is the Combat d’Eschasseurs, a game in which men on stilts fight each other and try to knock their opponent down. Initially, in the 15th century, the stilts probably were used during the flood times to cross the river Meuse. Today the tradition is taken very seriously, and during the Wallonia days, the different teams from the city fight for the golden stilt trophy. You can recognise the old town’s team, Melans by their colors, black and yellow.

While I visited Namur I had the chance to attend the Folknam, a day dedicated to the folklore, with a market, a folk ball and a traditions parade.

IMG_4612

Joseph and Francois

The symbol of Namur is the snail and it refers to the slow pace of life in this city. If you take a stroll to Place d’Armes you will not see a statue of a historical character or of famous people. No, you will see the statue of Joseph and Francois, with their two snails, one of a lead and one caged.

IMG_4941

Namur is the perfect place to visit if you want to go slow. Time in Namur seems to pass slowly and I noticed that here I was able to take a break from the fast pace of my own life and just breath.

Disclaimer: This post has been written with the support of the Namur Touristic Office and the Citadel of Namur.

 

Traveler. Dreamer. Cat lover.
Wondering around the world with my backpack and my camera.
Contributing to make the world a better place.

64 Comments

  1. Hi Joanna, Namur is really a beautiful city and it’s great that you wrote about all the folklore that is still alive. If ever you get the chance to visit again, you should go during september for the Fête de Namur… a very fun event! 😉

  2. Wow, what a trip. I would say you are lucky but I know how much work goes into press trips afterwards. Isn’t it great to be able to visit new places and write about it though? That giant turtle is so cool! Looks like an amazing place to visit.

  3. Namur looks like a wonderful city to visit, with loads to do and see. The history sounds rather exciting, and am loving the sculptures and the styles. Really lovely. (shame about the trip out there).

  4. Hahaha!!! I remember my several trips across the English Channel on the ferry!!! But I enjoyed those though! Sometimes I got the deck and had the wind blowing against my face and it felt awesome!!! But yeah, midnight immigration is painful!
    I haven’t heard of Namur as well! So thanks for this enlightening post! The place does look gorgeous! Esp the Citadel standing since 937 is just gorgeous!

  5. I would love to see the World travel market in London next year. It really exposes you to places you that have not heard of before. Glad you came across this beautiful place through the market.

  6. Oh my gosh the start of your post reminded me of the time I thought it was a good idea to get the Megabus to London from Preston. I do NOT envy you – but it’s so tempting when other travel methods are so expensive!

    It looks like this was so worth the trip though! The giant golden turtle looks amazing.

  7. I had never heard about Namur. Indeed the place looks beautiful and full of history too. That giant turtle is awesome and I loved the symbol of snail, depicting slow paced life. The church with pink pillars is really beautiful.

  8. I love that I’ve never heard of this place before. I went to World Travel Market last year in London too! It’s amazing the places you can discover there. Seems like it was worth the effort to get to Namur!

  9. I can’t believe that passenger wouldn’t let you recline your seat! At least you made it and it was well worth the suffering. I wonder how many people end up in the hospital from stilt fighting – seems a long way to fall:)

  10. I had never heard of Namur before and I didn’t know that the French part of Belgium has its own Parliament. I love really informative blogs like this. Namur definitely sounds like somewhere I’d love to visit to absorb the history and vibe of the place.
    V <3

  11. I had never heard of Namur but it looks amazing! Full of history and somewhere not many people venture. Definitely on the list to visit.

  12. I am in awe of the citadel and hearing about its history up until now is fascinating. For six euros I think that it is very much worth it and I would love to see Guy Delforge’s perfumery too as I have a keen interest in scents. This is actually my first time hearing of Namur but I am really glad I read your post as it really put Namur on the map for me so thank you x

  13. I would have loved to trek through the woods to get to the Citadel. That view is absolutely amazing! This is the first time I’ve heard of Namur and I am fascinated! That stilt fighting competition sounds like so much fun. So many things I want to see and do, and so little money to do them all.

  14. Like everyone else I have never heard of Namur but it sounds absolutely wonderful, thank you for sharing- it’s gone on my travel list now, love the idea of the snail to represent the slow pace of life! 🙂 xx

  15. Looks like the trip to get there was all worth it in the end! I had never heard of Namur before reading your post either, but it looks like a really nice place to visit. I love visiting old castles, and that Cathedral you shared a picture of looks beautiful.

  16. I was literally dreaming of Namur mid-reading this! Looks like such a wonderful place! It’s also so beautiful that most of the traditions are still alive. Another plus is that it doesn’t seem so expensive after all and it’s all so worth it x

  17. You had me at “not a tourist destination”. I am in desperate need of taking a holiday to just slow down from the hectic pace of life and I am partial to city breaks so this is a win-win for me. Your photos are truly beautiful, and it seems as though you enjoyed it, apart from the actual getting there, I bet. 😉 x

  18. I haven’t heard from Namur but it looks beautiful! I love places that aren’t obvious tourist destinations, they seem so much more interesting! I’m not sure about a coach though haha. I might have to fly!

  19. What a fun post! I love visiting cities that are so deeply seeped in history where I can wander around and get lost in my imagination. Your pictures are beautiful, too! One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new city is to find the highest (or one of the highest) points in the city and get to the top, whether it’s a building or hill. It helps me gain a new perspective and vantage point. The Citadel would have been ideal!

  20. That golden turtle looks amazing! My son LOVES turtles so he would be happy in Namur I think 🙂 I have to be honest and say I’d never even heard of it before. But if the pace of life there is slow, then it’s definitely somewhere I’d like to visit as I’m in desperate need of a break right now!!

    Louise x

  21. This sounds like this trip was so much fun. I love the way you write and I love the pictures you take. You make me feel like I have to enter in a plane right now and see this place.

  22. I didn’t know Namur is so beautiful! Your pictures speak for itself! The architecture of the St Aubin’s Cathedral is splendid and that statue of the giant turtle looks amazing!

  23. It really looks lovely here. I would like to visit Saint Loup church too! I wouldn’t get the bus though! I think I would just get a flight or I think I can even get the Eurostar…

  24. I have never heard about Namur before and am glad that I stopped by your blog and learnt about this beautiful place. Your pictures are truly amazing and I loved the way you described everything about this place

  25. This place sounds so relaxing but fun!! I love that you can take things real slow there. I love what you wrote about the history of stilt fights too! It looks like a beautiful place to travel to!

  26. I’ve traveled to Belgium a lot recently, and I had never even heard of Namur! It looks lovely. Guess I should add it to my bucket list of places I have yet to visit in one of my favorite European countries 🙂 It’s also convenient that it’s a Franco-Belgian city, as I don’t speak Flemish but I speak French 🙂 Looks like you had a lovely time there 🙂

  27. I couldn’t help but smile when I read about the bus. My husband is from Chicago and growing up, took mass transit everywhere. When we met he was always taking the bus over to my house (we live in a college town of about 50,000 and it was only a 10 minute drive). For the life of me I couldn’t figure it out, until one day I took it with him. It was actually pretty relaxing. I could sit and read a book and steal glances at everybody out of the corner of my eye. Plus, everybody was really nice. I certainly drive all over, but if he said let’s take mass transit somewhere, I’d no longer turn up my nose. (ps: That church! I’m such a sucker for old churches)

  28. This is where my family are from, but I haven’t been in over 15 years. This post brought back some happy childhood memories.

  29. Can you believe that I grew up in Belgium and have only passed through Namur. I never stopped to visit. So thanks to your post I am finally convinced that it is a beautiful city and worth a visit. Thanks for sharing!!

  30. The citadels in this area are just gorgeous – I am in love with the one in Dinant (I just love Dinant as a whole). But this one is super too – I haven’t been (yet)! Also – that giant turtle is definitely on my list now 😉

    Really informative post – I’ll bookmark it for when I make the stop in Namur!

  31. Ohh Namur!! A friend of mine is from there, but I have never had the chance to visit. It looks so charming with the architecture and history. Thanks for sharing!

  32. Don’t feel bad. I have never heard of it but I love that turtle statue. It looks so neat, along with the citadel and belfry. I am just so sorry that the bus was so bad. You poor thing. The things we do to try and save money. Lol.

  33. So nice to read a post about Namur. So nice to know that non-Belgians also go there because it’s a true gem. 🙂 I love the Felicien Rops museum and the citadel is so beautiful, you can just sit there for hours.

  34. To be honest I have never heard about Namur before. It looks like an excellent city to visit. I love slow travel. Citadel seems interesting place to explore. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *