Godfrey’s Bouillon in Belgium

BOUILLON, BELGIUM: Bouillon is the city of Godfrey, a legendary knight of the first crusade from 11th century (remember him from the movie “Kingdom of Heaven”?). This is the “Jewel of the Semois Valley” and a paradise for gourmets, nature lovers, and history enthusiasts.

Semois River and valley in Bouillon, Belgium

Semois River and valley in Bouillon, Belgium

TIME of TRAVEL: As we are preparing ourselves to leave Belgium in just a few weeks, we are making good use of every weekend and holiday. Last week, on the 3rd Saturday of June 2014, we took a day-trip to Bouillon. It’s about 1 ½ hours of drive from Tervuren, Belgium, may be same time if you are driving from Brussels too.

EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch at Pizza Hut in a service-inn on our way to Bouillon. We had some home-made gourmet ice-cream after we visited the castle and came down to the valley. And for dinner we sat down in a small restaurant on a small alley parallel to River Semois. Since we are big fans of FIFA World Cup, the restaurant “La Grignotte” were showing Argentina vs Iran match, so we decided to take a table there. It looked like the place is very well-known for their burgers and different kinds of sauces to eat with your burgers and fries. But they also had salad, pasta, sandwich, waffle, crepe, and omelets. But if you want to have your meal by the river-side, Bouillon has plenty of options for that too. There were countless big and small eateries by the river and they were all overcrowded with relaxers and chillers. Pick a place from there and enjoy a lazy meal or a drink by the water.

Some restaurants by River Semois in Bouillon, Belgium

Some restaurants by River Semois in Bouillon, Belgium

As for souvenirs or shopping, we didn’t see many shops along the riverside. May be the shopping streets were hiding in the more inner part of the city. However, we did see a tobacco shop where they were selling post-cards, shot-glasses, and other small things.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We reached Bouillon right after lunch, around 2pm. Since these summer days are longer, we were able to spend a good few hours here.

1) CHATEAU de GODEFRIOD de BOUILLON: This is the main attraction of Bouillon. Godfrey of Bouillon was one of the heroic knights of the very first crusade from the 11th century and His castle (from the 11th century too) in Bouillon is a major asset and a historic landmark in whole Belgium. The castle is also probably one of the best places to get some thrilling views of Semois Valley, the river, and town below.

A fantastic view from Chateau de Godfrey de Bouillon in Belgium

A fantastic view from Chateau de Godfrey de Bouillon in Belgium

We went thru two old tunnels “Pont a Bascule” and “Pont Levis” to come to the main front yard of the château where “Falcone Show” takes place few times a day. This was very exciting for our girls. The show was for half an hour and displayed all sorts of birds of prey. Two hosts were speaking mainly in French and Dutch, so we couldn’t really get the jokes, but really enjoyed the birds’ performance.  Godfrey’s Chateau has a huge complex of medieval defense with old walls and stone buildings. All the accessible spots are marked with numbers. There are many underground tunnels that you can explore here with countless stairs going up or down.

 

Inside an underground tunnel in Godfrey's Castle in Bouillon, Belgium

Inside an underground tunnel in Godfrey’s Castle in Bouillon, Belgium

Visiting this castle was the most enriching travel through time of crusades in Bouillon. This is one of the oldest and most interesting feudal castles from that era. Visitors follow the footsteps of the crusaders in this castle…a bewitching place of walks and discoveries. There were some small exhibitions all around the castle. You can even see a medieval torture chamber and an underground prison.

 

Godfrey's Castle and its surroundings in Bouillon, Belgium

Godfrey’s Castle and its surroundings in Bouillon, Belgium

Most of the information inside the castle complex is written either in French or Dutch, so I would highly recommend getting an audio-tour. We brought our car to the small hill the castle is on and drove back to the city center after we were done with the castle. There are many parking spots both near the castle and down in the valley. Ticket is 6.50 euros per adult and 4.50 euros for kids. Audio tour is available at extra fee.

 

Falcon Show in Chateau de Godfrey in Bouillon, Belgium

Falcon Show in Chateau de Godfrey in Bouillon, Belgium

2) WALK by RIVER SEMOIS: After we came down to the valley and near the river, we parked the car, and began walking by River Semois. We started from one side, crossed a small bridge, and reached another longer bridge on the other side. We had river on left side and lots and lots of restaurants on our right side. It was simply relaxing looking at the small paddling boats on the river, expressive buildings, and people the cafes having good time.

 

Walking by River Semois in Bouillon, Belgium

Walking by River Semois in Bouillon, Belgium

3) PADDLE BOAT on RIVER SEMOIS: Looking at other people paddling on River Semois, my elder daughter wanted to give it a go. We rode on camels in Giza, rode on donkeys in Petra, did plenty of horse-wagon rides, boat tours, cruising, and stuff…but never tried a paddle boat. So why not? It was a lazy late afternoon and we really had nothing else planned out to see or do. We crossed the small bridge to the other side of the river and rented a small shaded boat to explore pleasant River Semois.

 

Walking towards to rent a paddle boat, can see Godfrey's Castle on the hill...in Bouillon, Belgium

Walking towards to rent a paddle boat, can see Godfrey’s Castle on the hill…in Bouillon, Belgium

Boat is 3 euros per person for 30 minutes ride and 5 euros for an hour ride. It closes at 7pm in summer. We took a 30 minutes ride and it was enough to go around the river on one side by the old buildings, restaurants, and hotels.

4) UNKNOWN CHURCH: One of the famous churches of Bouillon is Basilique de St. Hubert. We didn’t visit that one, but we found another one that’s steeple was raising high, dominating the old town of Bouillon, very close to River Semois. We couldn’t find the name of this church; tried searching its name in the web…but no luck. But it was a beautiful church outside and inside. There was a service going on when we arrive, so really couldn’t walk around to its dazzling altar that I saw from the entrance.

The unknown church in Bouillon, Belgium

The unknown church in Bouillon, Belgium

Nature walk in La Hulpe, Belgium

LA HULPE, BELGIUM: Belgium continues to surprise us with its history and natural beauties. La Hulpe is one of those places where both nature and history come together in one splendid landscape.

La Hulpe Castle in Belgium
La Hulpe Castle in Belgium
              

Since fall is almost here in Belgium, I wanted to get out of the house with my camera to shoot some fall colors in any nearby site. La Hulpe, a Walloon town (French territory of Belgium), is only 10 miles from Tervuren. Park and trails of La Hulpe is part of Soignes Forest which is the biggest preserved forest in Belgium.

Fall colors in Soignes Forest in Belgium
Fall colors in Soignes Forest in Belgium
              

I reached there around 5:30 pm, by then, the sunny harsh light was gone. Many children, especially scout teams, were there to do some nature walks and exploration activities. The park is huge, I mean it’s very big and will need few trips to cover at least the main natural sites. I didn’t really go into deep trails or forest on my first trip, just followed a paved path that led me to the Castle of La Hulpe.

Close-up La Hulpe Castle in Wallonia of Belgium
Close-up La Hulpe Castle in Wallonia of Belgium
               

I am not sure if you can actually go inside the castle. But my daughter was saying they went inside during their trip here with school French instructor two years ago. But anyways, it was closed by the time I went there. There is a small but beautiful garden in one side of the castle and front of it is a big meadow. A lake awaits after you cross the neat green field of grass. It was just beautiful. I promised myself that I would come back here once again during the peak of fall and get some nice photos of patches of colors from the trees surrounding the lake.

A small lake in front of the castle in Soignes Forest, Belgium
A small lake in front of the castle in Soignes Forest, Belgium
           

La Hulpe Park is a perfect place for joggers, runners, photographers, explorers, and people who just love nature. There was a little history board giving some info on the castle as well as Soignes Forest, but everything was in French…so really couldn’t figure out anything. But overall it was worth spending 2 ½ hours here with my camera last Saturday…gotta come back again though.

A perfect place to mingle with the nature in La Hulpe, Belgium
A perfect place to mingle with the nature in La Hulpe, Belgium
       

Half a day in Dinant, Belgium

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.

River Meuse and City of Dinant from the citadel in Belgium
River Meuse and City of Dinant from the citadel in Belgium
     

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.

A beautiful day in Wallonia, on our way to Dinant from Tervuren, Belgium
A beautiful day in Wallonia, on our way to Dinant from Tervuren, Belgium
     

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.

The steps of Dinant Citadel from the 16th century (on the left) and cable car on the top
The steps of Dinant Citadel from the 16th century (on the left) and cable car on the top
    

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.

Breathtaking view of the city and river from Dinant Citadel in Belgium
Breathtaking view of the city and river from Dinant Citadel in Belgium
   

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.

Sand Sculpture of Mr. Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in Disney's Sand Magic in  Dinant Citadel, Belgium
Sand Sculpture of Mr. Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in Disney’s Sand Magic in Dinant Citadel, Belgium
       

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.

Collegiate Cathedral of Dinant and the citadel in the backdrop with River Meuse flowing in the front in Dinant, Belgium
Collegiate Cathedral of Dinant and the citadel in the backdrop with River Meuse flowing in the front in Dinant, Belgium
     

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.

Saxophone bridge in Dinant, Belgium
Saxophone bridge in Dinant, Belgium
    

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.

Old buildings by River Meuse in Dinant, Belgium
Old buildings by River Meuse in Dinant, Belgium
    

Visiting the smallest town in the world – Durbuy, Belgium

DURBUY, BELGIUM: Arguably, Durbuy is (or at least once was) known to be the smallest town in the world (or may be just Europe). Situated by River Oarthe, this village of Province de Luxembourg is a charming French-speaking part of Belgium (Wallonia) with many hidden wonders. I can visit this place over and over without getting tired. This is a naturally beautiful city in the hilly area with beautiful old town and cute buildings. The village has only 14 streets and 250 inhabitants, according to one of the locals my husband spoke to.

Charming restaurant in Durbuy, Belgium
Charming restaurant in Durbuy, Belgium

It was jam packed…I mean, seriously, heavily crowded the afternoon we visited Durbuy. We reached there after 4/5 pm and had hard time finding a parking spot or a proper parking place. I thought something was going on, but no it’s just locals, people from surrounding villages, other tourists and lots of bikers…made this tiny place a real lively spot to hangout.

Decorative doors and windows of Durbuy, Belgium
Decorative doors and windows of Durbuy, Belgium
   

TIME of TRAVEL: It was a bright and sunny Sunday of April, 2013 when we went to Durbuy for couple hours. We first stopped at Dinant, then drove another 45 minutes to go to Durbuy.  The day turned out to be a hot day and felt heavenly after a long and dark winter in Belgium.

EATING and SHOPPING: Although this is a tiny village but no shortage of restaurants and cafes…they are everywhere. City center or the main square of the village has tons of them lining at one side.

Durbuy has some nice small boutique stores at many corners of pedestrian zones. They looked so nice and cute from outside…too bad we didn’t have enough time to fulfil my heart.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED:  This is not only the smallest town in the world, but also one of the prettiest. Durbuy is a popular destination for kayaking. We saw plenty of stores renting out kayaks. Other than the following mentionable places, whole city of Durbuy is very beautiful and scenic. Roaming around small alleys of old town is pretty cool. A walk through the old town is a must for every visitor. We spent some near a small park by the river at the end of the day.

Old stone houses in Durbuy, Belgium
Old stone houses in Durbuy, Belgium
    

1) ST. NICHOLAS CHURCH: This is a small and simple church very close to the chateau. Interior and exterior of the church show the age of this place. You can tell it has been standing here for centuries.

2) LE CHATEAU: The castle was built around 1880 and is located at the heart of the city. Tourists are not allowed to go in but the bold architecture is definitely admirable.

Durbuy Chateau in the back
Durbuy Chateau in the back
   

3) CITY CENTER: Located at foothill of a small hill, city center is the hot spot of Durbuy. Many restaurants and shops can be found here. They had a nice antique market here during our visit. Most of the crowd gather here for meeting, hanging out, and watch the world go by.

Looking over city center of Durbuy, Belgium
Looking over city center of Durbuy, Belgium
   

Wallon capital of Belgium – Namur

NAMUR, BELGIUM: Namur, Namen in Flemish, is the capital of the Province of Namur and Wallonia region which is the French-speaking part of Belgium. Located by River Meuse (Mass), the city has its own heritage and unique look. This charming city can be a great getaway for tourists when visiting country’s capital, Brussels.

City of Namur, Belgium
City of Namur, Belgium
      

TIME of OUR TRAVEL: It was 2nd Saturday of March, 2013 when we visited Namur. We had a friend from Antwerp who accompanied us in this trip. The winter wasn’t over yet, but that day turned out to be a surprise for us. It was still cold and a bit gloomy in the morning, but luckily no rain (as predicted) and no bone-freezing cold. We left our home around 10:45 am and took us about an hour from Tervuren to reach the citadel of Namur.

EATING and SHOPPING: Most of the streets in old town near Cathedral St. Aubain are loaded with variety of cuisines and cafes. We had lunch in Express Asia on Rue de Fer. There are many bakeries and waffle house to treat your sweet tooth too. By the way, the smell of these waffles were divine…I thought I would have one before leaving, but forgot…hmmm.

Namur won’t disappoint you when it comes to shopping. In fact, I want to go back to Namur one day by myself only to do some crazy shopping spree. You will find almost every type of store on Rue de Fer and all the other small branches of alleys from or around Rue de Fer and close to the university.  I wonder if this is the biggest shopping center in Wallonia!

PLACE WE’VE VISITED: We spent about a whole day in Namur, about 6/7 hours. We didn’t have any itinerary or a to-see list to follow. We knew we wanted to see the citadel, after that we just wandered around and went inside whatever looked good in our eyes. One thing that we didn’t see but should have seen was the Belfry of Namur which is an UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are the places we’ve seen and enjoyed:

Namur, Belgium - a view from the citadel
Namur, Belgium – a view from the citadel
    

1) CITADELLE de NAMUR: The citadel is town’s most prominent sight. It is more like an open park for the public on top of the mountain. Many locals come here for jogging, walking, and biking. The best part of being on the top is that you get a fantastic view of the whole town. The scenic beauty of River Meuse with old buildings by the side is picture perfect.

View of Namur from the citadel in Belgium
View of Namur from the citadel in Belgium
     

The hill where the citadel is located is called, Champeau hill. From 10th – 15th centuries, the castle was the residence of the earl of Namur. In the 16th century, a modern fortification called “Mediane” was built.   Chateau de Namur was built in 1910 AD. There are some underground passages to take a walk but can only be done with a tour. Even though there are very few remains from the medieval period, some elements can still be seen, such as the general outline of the castle, 3 of its towers, and part of the foundations.

There is no fee to enter the citadel. Train ride costs 4 euros per person (4 years and below are free) and lasts for about 20 minutes. Another package which is available to the tourists costs 9 euros. This is with a guided tour and includes the train ride, underground passages, medieval part of the citadel, and a film. There is a big parking lot in front of reception where we parked for free.

Tourist train in Citadelle de Namur, Belgium
Tourist train in Citadelle de Namur, Belgium
   

2) CATHEDRALE ST. AUBAIN: Turquoise dome of this cathedral can be seen from far distance and from top of the citadel. Outer Late-Baroque look of St. Aubain may not impress you as much but it’s a totally different story when you go inside. It’s very big in size but more than that the walls and vaulted ceilings are delightful. The highlights of this church are probably the richly carved dome, decorative main altar, and the huge organ in the back. It didn’t look like a typical Belgian church to me…has more of Italian/Roman touch to it.

3) RUE de FER: This is probably one of the busiest streets of city where Namur Town Hall is located. The whole stretch of this street (partially pedestrian zone) has tons of shops, local boutiques, brand name places, chocolatiers, and etc…you can say this is the fashion street of the Walloons.

One of the major shopping streets of Namur - Rue de Fer
One of the major shopping streets of Namur – Rue de Fer
     

4) CHURCH of ST. LOUP: This is a very sophisticated looking church located in the old town/heart of Namur and very close to Cathedral St. Aubain. The interior of this Baroque style church is very gorgeous. The vaulted ceilings, main altar, the black and red marble naves and columns are remarkable. It is a small church but a must see in Namur.

Inside Church of St. Loup, Namur
Inside Church of St. Loup, Namur
   

5) PLACE de I’ANGE: As I said before, we really didn’t have any to-see list for Namur. We were doing some window shopping on Rue de la Croix (one of the alleys of old town and this big square sort of opened up at the end of the street to our surprise. This is a lively and lovely square with many shops and cafes along with an indoor shopping mall, Galerie Jardin D’harscamp. Most of it is pedestrian zone. We came here little bit before our parking meter was almost up…so could only spent little time here.

Place de I'Ange in Namur, Belgium
Place de I’Ange in Namur, Belgium
   

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