One of the strangest events on the Walloon festival calendar takes place on 15 August, when the historic riverside town of Dinant stages a ‘sailing’ regatta – without a spinnaker in sight. Dozens of local families and groups decorate old bathtubs, launch them into the water, whereupon a bizarre flotilla meanders down the River Meuse for a kilometre or so at snail’s pace, cheered on by 20,000 or more spectators, many of them cramming on to the Charles de Gaulle bridge to get the best view. Onlookers are encouraged to dive into the river and impede the progress of the bathtubs, or throw ‘water balloons’ from the riverside to try to sink the contestants.
The rules of the race are simple: each bathtub can only be propelled by human force, and the prizes go not to the fastest, but to the most beautiful and original creations, with extra points for the quality of the crew’s fancy dress. Creativity takes precedence over speed: the America’s Cup it is not!
Nobody is absolutely sure how this regatta came into being, but it’s 35 years old in August and is more popular than ever. This being Wallonia, vast quantities of beer and food are consumed, with musicians, dancers and jugglers doing their stuff on dry land. The bathtub regatta is Wallonia at its weird and wonderful best.