Tournai, Belgium

TOURNAI, BELGIUM: Interestingly, Tournai (or “Doornik” in Dutch) is a French-speaking Flemish town of Belgium. Meaning it is in Wallon region (French part) with lots of Flanders (Dutch) influences. This is in the Province of Hainaut which is very scenic and traditionally, rich in culture and heritage. Situated by River Scheldt, this is considered as one of the oldest cities in Belgium. It was badly damaged during WWII. Since then the city authority has been restoring the city to its old glory. If you are in Brussels and want to visit a less touristy city of Belgium, Tournai makes a perfect day-trip from the capital of Europe.

Flemish style buildings in the old town of Tournai, Belgium
Flemish style buildings in the old town of Tournai, Belgium

This was the religious capital of Flanders many centuries ago. Tournai marble/limestone is well-known in this region and was once used for sculpted items, especially in churches.

TIME of TRAVEL: We visited Tournai in March of 2013. It was a cold Saturday in Belgium. Everything was empty in Grand Place and other parts of Tournai.

An empty square in Tournai, Belgium
An empty square in Tournai, Belgium

EATING and SHOPPING: Old town, especially Grand Place had some restaurants, cafés, and quick food places. I can’t even remember where we had lunch or if we had lunch in Tournai at all.

Historically, tapestries and draperies of Tournai are very famous and belong to the great Flemish school of tapestry. Being a Belgian city, you will find many chocolates and waffle stores by default. Grand Place had plenty of other stores for shopping too.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We literally spent only couple hours in Tournai. There are lots of things to do here. Since the weather wasn’t very pleasant, we kind of hurried and took a crush tour thru the city. Although we didn’t visit them, two of the oldest private houses in Europe (from the 12th century) are located in Tournai. If you can manage, visit the old city gates, museums, and Pont-des-Trous…a 13th century bridge on River Scheldt.

1) GRAND PLACE and CLOTH HALL: Grand Place is main square or heart of Tournai, like any other Belgian cities. It has several old buildings from the 15th and 16th century. There was a big fountain in the middle which was closed due to chilly weather outside (?).

Grand Place of Tournai, Belgium
Grand Place of Tournai, Belgium

2) SAINT QUETIN CHURCH: This is an old and beautiful church in Grand Place. The building caught our eyes and entrance was free to go inside, so wanted to check it out. It is a nice big church, and you can tell it has been standing there for a few centuries.

3) THE CATHEDRAL of NOTRE DAME de TOURNAI: This Romanesque and Gothic style cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tournai. The original cathedral on this spot was built somewhere around the 5th century. The current look of the cathedral is from the 12th century. The nave is in the Romanesque style and inspired by Norman churches. Later, the vaulting of the transept and the construction of the chancel were inspired by the Gothic period, with very high walls. The Gothic choir of this cathedral is a Flemish art element, very typical of this region.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame de Tournai
The Cathedral of Notre Dame de Tournai

4) BELFRY of TOURNAI: This is the oldest belfry in Belgium and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The construction of Tournai Bell Tower started from 1188. The spire is crowned by a dragon and the turrets are topped by statues of soldiers defending the city. The tower is 70 meters high and there are 257 steps leading to the top. It was closed and we couldn’t go up to the top.

Tournai Belfry (Bell Tower) from the 12th century
Tournai Belfry (Bell Tower) from the 12th century

5) LE CHATEAU de BELOEIL:  After we were done with Tournai and heading home, we took saw a sign on the road side for this castle or château. Feeling curious, both my husband and I were curious to see this castle. After lots of twisting and turnings, we finally reached Le Chateau de Boleil. If I am not mistaking this small town in Wallonia is called Beloeil. The château sits on a majestic pond surrounded by beautiful landscape. The castle belonged to the princes “de Ligne” dynasty is one of thirty generations of lords, vice-rois, ambassadors, senators, warlords, writers, aviators, settled in Beloeil since 1394.

Le Chateau de Beloeil in Belgium
Le Chateau de Beloeil in Belgium

We didn’t go inside the castle and not sure if it can be visited at all. But it holds some fine paintings, furniture, and dishes dating essentially from the 14th century. Library of this castle is famous of housing some 20,000 old leather books.

6) CHATEAU d’ATTRE: This was another château or castle we passed by while heading back home from Chateau de Beloeil. This was more like a big mansion in a beautiful setting. From the outside information board, it looked like that the castle and its park are open to visitors.

Chateau d'Attre in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium
Chateau d’Attre in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium

6 Comments on “Tournai, Belgium

  1. I’m reading this early on a Monday morning and thinking, “Wow! I’ve just seen Tournai!” Thanks for letting me learn about a town I’d never even heard of through your pictures and commentary!


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