In association with the Belgian Tourist Office

Namur: Adventures in Europe's historic heart

Henry Palmer on a stylish city that bears the scars of war with dignity

Handsome, thriving Namur is home to the parliament of Wallonia, and also the setting for a large university. Alongside this is a host of heritage attractions that reflect the fascinating history of intensive European power play here. For the city is more or less at the mid-point of a triangle between France, Germany and the Netherlands. Belgium is famously at the crossroads of Western Europe – and Namur, strikingly set on the confluence of the Meuse and Sambre rivers, lies at the very heart of this intersection. It was, of course, an enormously important objective during the First World War.

Advancing west along the Meuse, about 300,000 German troops marched on the area in mid-August 1914, and thundering along with them were horses, traction engines and guns capable of projecting large and devastating shells. The first bomb of the attack fell on the city's railway station on 17 August. By 21 August the invaders had established a siege, and were raining fire on the city's outlying defences. As with Liège, these took the form of a ring of forts, in this case nine (Maizeret, Andoy and Dave on the right bank of the Meuse; Malonne, Saint-Héribert, Suarlée, Emines, Cognelée and Marchovelette on the left), and as with Liège they were unable to withstand Germany's formidable "Big Bertha" howitzers. On 23 August the nearby town of Dinant suffered the first in a long series of attacks – as had Visé, near Liège, nearly three weeks earlier. By 24 August the Belgian troops were forced to abandon their defensive forts, and Namur fell to the Germans.

When you arrive in Namur today you see a city dominated by its ancient citadel ( citadelle.namur.be), a stupendous arrangement of fortifications spread over a dramatically rocky hill that rises steeply beside the Meuse-Sambre confluence. Yet these played little part in the First World War. By 1914 the citadel had become obsolete as a defensive fortress because of the development of long-range guns: it lies close to the town and had it remained in full military use it would have posed great danger to the civilians living just below. Hence the separate ring of forts that were constructed about 7km away. However, these are not open to visitors today, so to learn more about Namur during the First World War you should head to the citadel: its formers barracks now house an exhibition centre, with one of the rooms devoted to a pithy display on the fighting.

Diagrams and explanations present absorbing detail about the outlying forts and the great military engineer Henri Brialmont who devised and constructed them. Massive triangular structures were sunk into the ground – they were made of concrete and considered revolutionary when built in the late-1880s. Yet it is astonishing to find out how rudimentary communications between them still were in 1914. There was no radio or telephone contact between the forts. The citadel remained the nerve centre for messages, which were conveyed by carrier pigeon. Meanwhile the Germans arrived with falcons to hunt the pigeons down.

Within the citadel, the military dovecote lay on slopes just below the barracks. In the typically enterprising style of Namur's residents today, it is now a perfumerie ( delforge.com) which is increasingly renowned for its atmospheric displays of scent-making. There is a great deal to see in this vast historic site. Guided tours are conducted around underground passages created at the turn of the 17th century by Louis XIV when he too laid siege to Namur. Walks are also conducted around the remains of the citadel's medieval sector. Meanwhile, a cheerful tourist shuttle takes visitors around the peak of the complex where, in the 1890s, King Leopold II transformed much of the citadel into a pleasure park, planting trees, creating an outdoor theatre and masterminding the construction of a stadium for concerts and other entertainments.

Alternatively, you can simply walk (at no charge) around the old fortifications: there are five well-signed routes of varying length, which are dotted with information boards. The views from the historic battlements are terrific, especially those to the north across the water and over the roofs and spires of Namur's old town. From the information and exhibition centre in the old barracks, it's just a 15-minute walk to the cafés of Namur's historic heart – you'll find a lively choice around picturesque Marché aux Légumes.

Staying there

Les Tanneurs (00 32 8124 0024; tanneurs.com) at 13B Rue des Tanneries is an intriguing small hotel created from 11 ancient houses in the old tanning district. It offers 32 rooms that have been carefully fashioned to fit the buildings, some split-level with spiral staircases, some with amazing vaulted ceilings and skylights. The hotel is also home to two of Namur's most lauded restaurants: L'Espièglerie for fine dining and Le Grill for brasserie fare. Doubles cost from €55 room only.

Eating there

There is a wide variety of excellent restaurant options here, but for the very best, head for Cuisinémoi (00 32 8122 9181; cuisinemoi.be) – a real gourmet haven lying just behind the Walloon parliament building at the foot of the citadel on Rue Notre Dame. It's a chic little establishment which has boasted a Michelin star since 2010 and offers a delicately balanced set menu every night based on the very best seasonal produce.

 

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone