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Namur: Storm a fabulous fortress

Emily Reynolds falls for a citadel that is full of architectural rewards

Hit the heights

If you’re under the illusion that Belgium is uniformly flat, a trip to Namur, and its tremendous citadel will challenge your thinking.

The armies of the Austrians, French, British and Dutch (largely responsible for the layout today) have variously occupied this site (00 32 81 65 45 00; citadelle.namur.be). The result is one of the largest fortresses in Europe, covering 80 hectares and complete with subterranean passages.

Guided tours (including going underground) cost €9 (children €6) and are run from the Terra Nova information centre at the summit (open daily 10am-6pm). There is no charge, though, for exploring on your own, with five well signed routes dotted with information boards. The views from these battlements are terrific, especially those to the north over the old town. This pretty district sits at the foot of the fortress and offers winding old streets and green squares whose peaceful atmosphere belies the great history of power-play here.

Merveilleuse scents

The well-named Route Merveilleuse winds around the south and east of the citadel. At number 60, part of the old artillery block is now a striking perfumery where you can see scents being created in the old cellars, then buy them. Access to the main exhibition area of Guy Delforge (00 32 81 22 12 19; delforge.com) is free; guided tours run on Saturdays and school holiday week days at 3.30pm and cost €3.50.

Whether you’re a walker, cyclist or motorist, the Namur Province Tourism Federation has also developed a range of pioneering sat nav assisted trails ( tourismegps.be).

Drift along the river

See Wallonia from the water: you’ll gently wind your way through dreamy wooded landscape getting relaxed perspective on life in the region. River cruises start near the foot of the citadel and are operated by Compagnie des Bateaux (00 32 82 22 23 15; bateaux-meuse.be): 50-minute puttering round trips on the Meuse and the Sambre cost €6; excursions to Wépion south of Namur cost €11 return.

Sweet meats

Just across the Sambre, Namur’s old town contains a number of striking buildings as well as several absorbing museums. For the moment, you can see these two attributes combined in one at the town’s former meat market on the waterfront at Rue du Pont.

This glorious 16th-century building contains the town’s archaeological museum (00 32 81 23 16 31; ville.namur.be; adults €3) which displays an impressive collection of jewellery and Gallo-Roman finds from the area. Plans are underway to move the museum to a larger site. An arm of the tourist office is also located here.

Terrific townhouses

A world of supreme elegance lies behind the front door of the 18thcentury mansion at 3 Rue Saintraint. Indeed you feel you might have wandered straight into the Age of Enlightenment at Musée de Groesbeeck de Croix (00 32 81 24 87 20; ville.namur.be; closed Mondays; adults €3) with its huge windows, beautiful furnishings and rich wall decorations. Many of the items on show are the work of local craftsmen – cabinets, glassware and a collection of pots for sugar, coffee and chocolate.

The quiet garden is a delight, too.

Café society

Fringed with cafés, the lovely old Marché aux Légumes is a great place for people-watching in the evenings. At the new wine bar, Vinomania (00 32 81 65 65 89; namurvinomania.be) order a glass (try those from the Namur region – Chenoy, Ry d’Argent, Château Bon Baron) and savour the atmosphere.

Savour the local flavour

From Blanche de Namur beer and Bister mustard to petits gris snails and Bietrumes caramels, Namur presents a wide variety of local specialities. Make for La Cave de Wallonie Côté Terroir at 6Rue de la Halle where you can buy many of the area’s products.

Among the gourmet restaurants in Namur, La Petite Fugue (00 32 81 23 13 20; lapetitefugue.be) on Place Chanoine Descamps has particularly inventive menus based on fresh regional produce.

A two-course dinner menu costs a very reasonable €29. For other fine dining options try Cuisinemoi at 44 Rue Notre Dame (00 32 81 22 91 81; cuisinemoi.be) which has been awarded a Michelin star and where you can expect to pay around €45 for three courses.

An eccentric artist

The remarkable Musée Félicien Rops at 12 Rue Fumal (00 32 81 22 01 10; lesmuseesenwallonie.be; closed Mondays; adults €3) presents work by an artistic original. Félicien Rops was born in Namur in 1833 and became a highly regarded printmaker, etcher and caricaturist.

He was a close associate of poet Charles Baudelaire for whose work he created a number of illustrations and he caused much controversy over the erotic nature of some of his art. The museum’s permanent collection, housed in a gracious old townhouse, reflects his life in Namur, Brussels and Paris. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions based around 19thcentury themes.

Baroque beauty

Namur’s church of St Loup is considered to be one of best examples of Baroque style in Belgium. Constructed for the Jesuits in 1621, it presents a boldly ornamented exterior created by the Namurois stone cutters. Yet it is the interior that is especially fine with high, intricately carved vaulted ceilings supported by columns of rose and black marble.

Sleep in quirky style

There’s an originality to Namur’s accommodation. Hôtel les Tanneurs (00 32 81 24 00 24; tanneurs.com) at 13 Rue des Tanneries is a delightfully different boutique outfit created from 11 ancient houses. The 32 rooms have been fashioned to fit in with the idiosyncrasies: some spacious, some charmingly small. Prices are widely ranged, too, with doubles costing from €55 to €215 per night including breakfast.

The hotel also offers two well-rated restaurants: L’Espièglerie for fine dining and Le Grill for brasserie fare. Or try a barge: moored off Quai des Chasseurs Ardennais, La Valse Lente (00 32 479 56 91 16; lavalselente.be) is a B&B with four neat en-suite cabins, a Jacuzzi and a comfy sitting room. Doubles cost from €50 per night, including breakfast.

More information

Namur Maison du Tourisme (00 32 81 24 64 49; namurtourisme.be) at Square Leopold is open daily 9.30am-6pm.