Belgium // The Ardennes //

Namur and around

Just 60km southeast of Brussels, NAMUR is a logical first stop if you’re heading into the Ardennes from the north or west, and is refreshingly clear of the industrial belts of Hainaut and Brabant. Many of Belgium’s towns and cities have suffered at the hands of invading armies and the same is certainly true of Namur, so much so that from the sixteenth century up until 1978, when the Belgian army finally moved out, Namur remained the quintessential military town, its sole purpose being the control of the strategically important junction of the rivers Sambre and Meuse. Generations of military engineers have pondered how to make Namur’s hilltop citadel impregnable – no one more so than Louis XIV’s Vauban – and the substantial remains of these past efforts are now the town’s main tourist attraction. Down below, the centre crowds the north bank of the River Sambre, its cramped squares and streets lined by big old mansions in the French style and sprinkled with several fine old churches and a handful of decent museums. There are some top-flight restaurants here too, but despite a substantial student presence, the nightlife is a little sedate, not that you’d guess if you visit during one of the town’s main festivals: in particular, the four-day Namur en Mai (whttp://www.namurenmai.be) packs the streets with jugglers, stilt-walkers and all sorts of spectaculars, and also showcases the talents of some internationally acclaimed performers.