Discover Benelux, Issue 26, February 2016

Page 48

Discover Benelux | Culture | Festivals & Events

Enjoy the beautiful surroundings of Tournai’s Grand Place and belfry

Tournai: Belgium’s best-kept secret TEXT: LIDIJA LIEGIS

Tournai is, jointly with Tongeren, the oldest Belgian city and has played a key role in the country’s history. Situated close to the French border, it is a charming place of 30,000 inhabitants. It was once the first capital of France, and there are many testimonies to its vibrant past. These include two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the 70-metre belfry and Notre-Dame Cathedral. The city offers something for everyone, whether you like culture, architecture or the great outdoors. From Romanesque to contemporary style, Tournai is one of few Belgian cities to have such a wide variety of architectural styles. Henry VIII even occupied the city, which was once one of the richest bishoprics in Europe. Visitors can see Henry VIII’s circular stone fortress in the residential castle quarter with its seven-metre thick walls. Highlights include the annual Beer Festival, when the city is host to dozens of ar48 | Issue 26 | February 2016


tisanal beer makers. Entry is free and visitors can sample over 100 Belgian beers and meet the brewers in the historic centre of one of the most remarkable cities in Belgium. Now in its sixth edition, the Beer Festival will take place in March. In 1092, when the plague was devastating the Tournai area, inhabitants sought safety and solace in the cathedral. Since then the city has held the Great Procession of Tournai to commemorate its gratitude to God. According to Jean Francois Dumoulin, promotional officer at Tournai Tourist Office, despite the inhabitants’ calm demeanour, they are “always ready to celebrate and are known to have a party for any occasion”. Another key landmark is the Pont des Trous. It is one of the world’s three remaining military river bridges, and one of the most prestigious vestiges of medieval military architecture in Belgium. For art lovers, head to the Museum of Fine Arts,

which is the sole museum designed by Victor Horta. It boasts the only works by Manet exhibited in Belgium, and also has an impressive collection including works by Bruegel, Rubens, Monet, Seurat and Van Gogh, and Tournai-born Rogier van der Weyden. For those who prefer nature, the countryside is a mere four-and-a-half kilometres from the city centre and there are many scenic cycling routes to be discovered. Dumoulin adds that, regardless of its compact size, Tournai is “beautiful, calm, and safe; it has lots to do and is ideally situated for exploring the region”.

The Beer Festival will take place in Tournai, Belgium, on 19 and 20 March.