DINANT, BELGIUM: Belgium never stops surprising us with its coolness and charming little towns. Situated by River Meuse, Dinant is a French-speaking (Wallonia) part of Belgium in Province de Namur. The name for the town of Dinant was first recorded about 800 BC. The first bridge of this town was built around 1080 AD. In those old days, Dinant’s main activity was to manufacture copper. Interestingly, Dinant is home town of Adolphe Sax, the famous Belgian musician who invented saxophone.
Dinant would be a perfect place for a day-trip from Brussels or other cities of Belgium. We didn’t take river cruise on Meuse, but saw some boats and water-taxis for visitors to hop on for a lovely tour around the river.
TIME of TRAVEL: It was a bright and sunny Sunday of April, 2013 when we visited Dinant. My uncle-in-law from Chicago was here visiting us. The day turned out to be a fantastic one for exploring. After Dinant, we went to Durbuy (another Wallon city in Belgium close to Dinant) for the latter half.
EATING and SHOPPING: There are many big and small restaurants and cafes by River Meuse. You can enjoy good food with good view near the Saxophone Bridge (not sure if this is the actual name of the bridge). We had some quickies in a fast food type small place.
I didn’t see too many souvenir shops here, may be one or two by the river side and one inside Dinant Citadel. I am sure if you explore small streets, you can find some specialty places.
PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We spent few hours in Dinant. Walking around the citadel, then taking cable car down to the lower city, and strolling by River Meuse were fantastic. Small cities like these may not have world-famous tourist spots but the charm they cultivate is something you can’t find in big cities.
1) DINANT CITADEL: Visiting Dinant Citadel is like visiting many centuries of history. The first fortress was built at its current spot towards 1040 AD. This fortress was erected between 1818 and 1821 under the Dutch regime. It once used to dominate the Meuse Valley from a height of 100 meters. The stairway of 408 steps to connect the citadel with lower town was constructed in 1577 and the cable car was installed in 1954.
Dinant Citadel gives a splendid view of the city and River Meuse from up above. You can see the French border only 12 km away and famous Bayard Cliff on your left from the view-point of this fortress. The massive defense wall can be seen from far away and lower part of the city. There are many small galleries and museums depicting life in 1820, prisoners’ cells, torture room, armory, and a collapsed shelter cave/trench from 1914. This is like a big park great for strolling and wandering around while discovering old history. Looking at those century-old walls take you back in time when Dinant used to be a tiny city.
An underground temporary exhibition, Disney Sand Magic, was at display inside the citadel during our visit. We got to see many sand sculptures of famous Disney characters and castles from the movies and TV shows. It took us about 15-20 minutes to see few rooms full of these sculptures in an underground space of the citadel.
Citadel + cable car + Disney Sand Magic cost 11 euros per person and 9 euros per kid. There is a free parking for citadel visitors on the hill. The citadel is open from 10 – 5 (10 – 6 during high season). There is a small snack and souvenir shop in the main courtyard of this fortress.
2) COLLEGGIATE CATEHDRAL: Located at the foothill of Dinant Citadel, this beautiful cathedral is a unique signature and landmark of the city. Visitor’s shouldn’t miss the chance of going inside to see its gorgeous interior (also because it’s free). Decorative altar, giant stone columns, and stained-glass windows are very nice. Cross the saxophone bridge and go on the other side of the river to get a prettier outlook of the cathedral.
3) SAXOPHONE BRIDGE and RIVER MEUSE: I really don’t know the exact name of the bridge, but this is the closest one to Collegiate Cathedral. The bridge is dedicated to Charles de Gaulle who had been wounded there on 1914. I call it Saxophone Bridge because both sides of this bridge is decorated with many colorful and artistic saxophones.
Once we were done with the citadel and visiting cathedral, we crossed the bridge and went to the other side of the river. Lines of old buildings by the river with the cathedral and fortress in the back look brilliant. Take time to just walk by River Meuse while enjoying cozy old atmosphere of the city.