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Alternative City Breaks - city summaries

Namur

You can start your tour of the region by visiting Namur, a picturesque town some 60km south of Brussels and a major gateway to the Ardennes. It is presided over by a citadel overlooking the Meuse and Sambre rivers that affords great views, and can be followed by a visit to the Musée du Prieuré d'Oignies (Museum of the Priory of Oignies). Housed in a modern convent, it includes Gothic religious treasures including crosses, reliquaries and chalices. Other museums of interest are the Musée des Arts Anciens du Namurois, housed in an 18th-century mansion with paintings from the region, and the Musée Félicien Rops is devoted to works by the 19th-century Namur-born artist who illustrated erotic lifestyles and macabre scenes, as well as satirical cartoons.

Dinant

Dinant, just 28km south of Namur is most famous for being the birthplace of Adolphe Sax , who was the instrument's inventor. Look out for a stone plaque and saxophone statue in the avenue named after him! You can also climb up the 408 steps leading to the cliff-front citadel that affords magnificent views of the Meuse River below. The Lesse Valley is also ideal for kayakers or for day-trippers wishing to hop on a boat cruise.

Liege

The Ardennes' largest city and capital of its own province is Liège, situated east of Brussels. A good place to start your tour is the Montagne de Bueren, where a flight of 373 stairs leads up to a former citadel with an excellent panorama of the city. The city's many museums below house medieval religious art, and fans of the fictional character Inspector Maigret may want to pay homage here, as it is the birthplace of the writer Georges Simenon. There is a Simenon route brochure that describes a walking tour where the writer spent his youth. The Musée de la Vie Wallonne, (Walloon Life Museum) is also well worth a visit containing reconstructed workshops from various trades including basket-weavers, candle-stick makers all housed in a restored convent. Art-lovers should visit Musée d'Art Wallon that accommodates a collection of art by French-speaking Belgians including 16th-century paintings. Shopaholics can visit the local flea market, La Batte, that stretches along the river quays and takes place on Sunday mornings.

Spa

Sitting in a valley south-east of Liège, Spa is Europe's oldest health resort, and was recognised as far back as the 16th-century. This is the town to visit if you want to relax and pamper yourself and is easily accessible by train or car. There is an excellent choice of natural springs in the area, as well as mud baths, water treatments and gyms. The resort is surrounded by hills that offer enjoyable walks along well-marked paths and is ideal for all ages and levels. Spa turns into a skiing resort in the winter months and has several cross-country tracks, as well as an old casino to retire to in the evenings.

Durbuy

Reputed to be the smallest picturesque town in the world, the town of Durbuy flanks the Ourthe River and has been around since at least the 11th-century.

Traditionally loved by locals for its many cycling and hiking possibilities, you can spend a fun-filled day out or a leisurely weekend here throughout the year, as the town houses a range of lovely quality hotels, good restaurants and bars. There's also a topiary garden, a small brewery, a jam-making shop, and ice-skating rink to keep you occupied.

Bouillon

One of the Ardennes premier resort towns, Bouillon houses its very own Château, which is Belgian's finest feudal castle and commands great views of the surrounding landscapes. Flanked on both sides by the Semois River, a fortress has existed here since the 8th century, and you can take a torchlit tour at night! In the summer months the castle is home to a small contingent of birds of prey who are the pets of a local falconer.

Mons

Another town not to miss is Mons. This town is best associated with war as it was here that the battles that marked the beginning and end of the First World War for the British were fought. There are many battlefield and war-related tours that can be taken from here, including museums n both wars containing coins and medals, and since 1963, Mons has been home to SHAPE, the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe. Apart from war-themed trips, visitors can also relax in one of the many cafés on the Grand Place that also houses the 15th-century town hall. Its front wall holds a small iron monkey that is believed to bring good luck to those who stroke its bald head! You can also admire the central baroque belfry, a black-domed gilded affair standing amid gardens from where there's a good rooftop view. And don't forget the Collégiale St Waudru, a 15th-century church and home to the Car d'Or, a gilded chariot dating from 1780.

Tournai

The oldest city in Belgium is Tournai. For a good overview, visit the five towers of the Romanesque Our Lady's Cathedral, and the 12th-century enormous belfry that is Belgium's oldest and dates from 1188. There are many museums of interest here. This includes the Musée des Beaux-Arts; the building itself was designed by Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta. It houses a magnificent collection of paintings and sculptures by local, national and international artists. The Musée de la Folklore has many ancient and religious relics from Tournai's past, and Musée de la Tapisserie is well-known for its 15th and 16th century tapestries.

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