The symbol of Namur is the snail. Take it easy in medieval Namur’s cosy squares and gracious streets lined with mansions, chic shops and cafés. Glide by on the rivers Sambre and Meuse passing the striking Namur fortress, one of Europe’s largest. Spice it up with a trip to the seductive Felicien Rops art museum. See the light that inspired Turner to paint settle on the rivers, and in the valleys leading deep into the Ardennes.
Best for: Romantic strolls from the Citadel and along the River Meuse, shopping without the crowds and eating a three-course chocolate meal at Galler Chocolat-Thé.
Flavour: Fresh fish from the vibrant food market, Ardennes game pâté with onion jam or strawberry jelly, les petits gris (Belgian snails) in a creamy garlic sauce and Namur caramel - le Biétrumé.
Status: Capital of Wallonia and gateway to the Ardennes.
Founded: Pre-Roman times
Glory days: Roman settlement (3rd & 4th centuries); seat of the counts of Namur from 908; Spanish military power and religious centre (16th-17th centuries); military stronghold 17th-20th centuries.
Location: Where the River Meuse and River Sambre meet, 40 miles southeast of Brussels. Connections: 2 hours’ drive from Calais and 50 minutes by train from Brussels.
Locals: 100,000 Namurois, also known as Chwès.
Find your feet: it’s hard to get lost in Namur with the great hulk of the Citadel perched on a rocky outcrop to guide you. Today, you can descend deep into the labyrinthine tunnels (or termite’s nest, as Napoleon called them) which extend for miles or stroll along the ramparts through 2000 years of history from Romans to Vauban. More landmarks include the impressive 16th century Halle al'chair (Meat Hall), on the bank of the River Sambre, made of brick and blue stone, the 14th century St James belfry tower, on the Place des Armes, and the richly Italianate, 18th century St Alban’s Cathedral.
Across the River Sambre from the Citadel, head for the Rue de Fer and Rue de l’Ange if you have the shopping itch.
Scented cellars: Heady scents emanate from the citadel’s cellars where perfumes by the award-winning Guy Delforge mature like fine wines (Castle of the Counts, www.delforge.com). You can just buy your favourite bottle or – this is Namur – take it slow and watch and sniff an unusual Sound, Light and Perfume show light up the depths.
Dazzling gold: The Convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame (17 rue Julie-Billiard) dazzles with Friar Hugo’s 13th-century religious artefacts, lovingly made for Oignies priory in fine Mosan style, and designed to protect relics brought back by Jacques de Vitry from the Holy Land.
Spend and Save: Shop along the main drag Rue de Fer and Rue de l'Ange and perpendicular Rue de Bruxelles and Rue Emile Cuvelier. Explore the little streets around. There are a host of foody shops - from patisseries to chocolatiers, charcuterie and cheese shops. Look for the Comptoir de l'Oliviat (rue de la Croix) for delicious jams and foie gras, La Cave de Wallonie (rue de Halle) for a choice of 350 Belgian Beers and chocolates at Galler.
Saturday is market day when a huge market takes over almost half of the city centre. This is the place to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, and foody specialities, such as Ardennes pâté, straight from the farm.
Dine and unwind: Choose a café around the bustling Place du Marché aux Legumes, the Place Chanoine Deschamps or the Place de l’Ange. Satisfy your chocolate cravings once and for all at the smart Galler Chocolat – Thé restaurant (3 rue des Fripiers, +32 (0) 81 22 91 47) where fine cocoa bean scents every dish on the otherwise classic French menu (you can just pause for the green chocolate tea).
Try a glass of Florange (orange flavoured aperitif) and the typical Belgian cuisine at rustic Les Temps de Cerises (22 rue des Brasseurs, www.cerises.be) or stop for lunch (or dinners summer, Friday and Saturday nights) at Les Embruns (rue le la Tour). Once a fish shop, it is now a buzzing restaurant where flavours from North Africa spice up Belgian staples. For ultimate romance where money is no object, give yourself up to L’Espieglerie (13 rue des Tanneurs, www.tanneurs.com).
Local characters: Ancient legend tells how the god Nam created Namur and its Citadel. When Gaul was Christianised, St Materne banned Nam worship, making Nam mute (nam mutus), but giving Namur its name.
Meet Félicien Rops (1833-1898) – Namur born and bred, dandy and friend of Charles Baudelaire, whose seductive illustrations and teasing caricatures are on display in an 18th century mansion in Old Namur (Félicien Rops museum, 12 Rue Fumal). Passion for women inspired him. Old age haunted him in the pre-Viagara era: “I am afraid of being old and of no longer being able to inspire love in a woman, which is a true death for a man of my nature and with my needs for madness of mind and body" ( letter from Félicien Rops to Louise Danse).
Jean Biétrumé, born in Namur 1704, is a local hero who mocked the Dutch army, married Trinette in 1753 at Saint-Jean Church, Place du Marché aux Légumes, and enjoyed the good life and taking fun out of everyone in a gentle way. Today he is remembered in the form of Namur’s caramels – Biétrumés.
Explore: Take a river trip between Namur and Givet, passing the romantic ruins of ancient chateaux set on rocky cliffs, and the picturesque town of Dinant, birthplace of saxophone inventor Adolphe Sax and Leffe beer, with its ancient citadel, huge Notre Dame church topped by a bronze dome, delicious ginger biscuits – Couques de Dinant .
Drive out to the neighbouring valleys dotted with romantic castles. The Château d’Annevoie – just 20 minutes’ drive along the River Meuse, has dreamy 18th-century gardens which marry French symmetry with English wildness.