Europe, Features

Belgium – Part Trois. Sax In The City

The Citadel of Dinant,

Well this article started out as one, but has turned into four! We hope you’re still with us. This is the last installment of our 2016 visit to Belgium (part 4 is Germany). If you missed our other installments here’s a link to each of them… Belgium – Home of Chocolate, Waffles… And Beer and Belgium – Part Deux. Airbnb, Towning, Waterfalls And Motor Racing

Dinant (Pronounced Dinon)

We said goodbye to terrific Airbnb host Phillippe, and set off for our next destination for the night: Dinant. Not only do we visit a unique cave system, but right just down the road a wee bit is a beer museum (see previous articles) and a really cool looking city right on the Meuse River that is birthplace of the saxophone.

Arriving in the Dinant area, the first stop for us was the caves. Driving through the city on the way in was quite a challenge because there are a lot of streets ripped up for refurbishment and the very narrow streets are quite packed. Fortunately the works department are not Canadian and it was very easy to navigate, follow the detour signs through the city and find our way to the caves.

Grotte La Merveilleuse
Less than 3 minutes by car (10ish if you walk) from the city centre is Grotte La Merveilleuse (The Marvellous). Once again TripAdvisor reviews sold us on this – not Belgian Tourism or even Dinant Tourism!

Several areas of Belgium boast caves of all sizes, and many people say that the Caves La Merveilleuse are the best, so how convenient that we were right there! The 50-minute tour starts every hour at top of the hour. Parking is plentiful and free (toilet facilities are very basic – no sinks/soap) and there is a snack bar for before, or after your tour. The friendly guide speaks French, Dutch, very good English and waits for everyone to get close before starting his information so you never miss out. There is a huge variety of stalagmites, stalactites, cascades of colourful rock curtains and the largest stalactite deviating from perpendicular in the whole of Europe. It’s about 10C (50ish F) in the cave all year round so wear a jacket and comfortable sturdy shoes.

The caves are accessible for everyone but we had a couple of older people that had a bit of a problem negotiating the wet stairs and damp floors. There are lots of stairs – be prepared for the final set – 120 to be exact – it’s the only way out – feel the burn!! The tour is great and definitely recommended. Pictures don’t do it justice because it’s just too dark, enjoy the tour and just buy a book at the gift store.

Grotte De Dinant La MerveilleuseWebsite
Address: Rue de Philippeville 142, 5500 Dinant, Belgium
Tour: 50 minutes – begin promptly at top of the hour
Price: Adults €9.00 / Children €6.00

Brief history of the caves
Discovered in 1904 while trenching for the street railway that was planned but eventually never built, the stroke of a pickaxe brought to light the previously unknown cavity. After some exploration the owners decided to develop the cave into a tourist attraction. The development turned out to be a huge job because they kept finding more caves with numerous elevation changes. There are a total of 3 floors with some of the chambers being 100 metres high as well as an underground river.

*** NOTE: There is a discount for the river boat cruise in conjunction with the ticket to Grotte la Merveilleuse – we saw the sign as we were leaving the parking lot! Others on TripAdvisor have stated that if you visit the Citadel you get a €2 discount here – and vice-versa. Apparently, you can also get a €2 discount at the Leffe Beer Museum just down the street a MUST visit! Sadly their co-branding/marketing is one of Belgium’s best-kept secrets and we missed out on the discounts!!

Driving into Dinant for the first time you see the following, in order 1) You drive through Le Bayard Rock 2) The Citadel, 3) The rock cliff the Citadel sits atop, 4) Collegiale Notre-Dame church at the foot of the Citadel, 5) the Charles-de-Gaulle Bridge and 6) the Meuse River that divides the city in two. After parking our car and stopping in to visit our Airbnb host, we did a quick walking tour of the actual city of Dinant in this order…Google Map of Dinant,

Charles DeGaulle Bridge
This bridge is one of the main reason we were attracted to Dinant, How cool is this?Charles DeGaulle Bridge - Dinant,

The Meuse River splits the city of Dinant through the middle and the Charles DeGaulle Bridge connects the two parts of the city right at the centre. The pathway on the bridge is nice and wide with each side having numerous colourful saxophone sculptures in honour of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone who was born there in 1814. Each sculpture has a plaque explaining which European country is depicted on the giant saxophone. There are plenty of opportunities to take pictures on the bridge and the locals just walk by like you don’t exist. On one side of the river is a bronze statue of De Gaulle recalling his participation in the defense of the Citadel during the First World War (he went on to become the French President from 1959 – 1969).

Collegiale Notre-Dame (Church of Our Lady)
No matter which way you come into city you can’t miss this church – it stands front and centre right in the middle of the city below the Citadel. Built in 1275 it has a rich history and connection to the city of Dinant as well as both World Wars. It’s not huge inside but has quite remarkable stained glass windows.
Cost: Free (optional donation boxes inside). Closed 12-1pm

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On the way you pass the Neuhaus Dinant chocolate shop be sure to stop in and take a look at the artisan chocolatiers’ works of art.

Adolphe Sax Statue/Museum
Dinant is a very small city. When we were looking at it on Google Maps it looked quite big, but in reality it’s tiny. On the same side of the street as the Collegiale Notre-Dame (on Rue Adolphe Sax) – about 100 metres away, is the Adolphe Sax Statue and Museum. You can’t miss it, just follow the street posts made of saxophone parts and the bronze footsteps embedded in the pavement. When you spot the statue, you’ll see the museum behind it. Once again, visiting tourist areas in the off-season is a treat because we were the only two people there and had the statue and museum to ourselves for about 15 minutes. The museum is tiny, but you have to visit it if you’re in Dinant.
Cost: Free
Hours: 9am – 7pm

After visiting the museum we wandered into the city looking at the various shops and looking for a couple saxophones statues placed around the city centre. We’d found a brochure at our Airbnb that had a map in it to show us everything we needed to know. The city itself is quaint but a little run-down. It’s obviously seen better days, but there is an extensive amount of roadworks along the waterfront that should bring that area to life in the near future. The main road through the city – Avenue W. Churchill, is under construction too, but there’s plenty of empty storefronts giving the city a shabby look. One thing we have to say though, at no time did we ever feel vulnerable or unsafe anywhere in the city. At the City Hall we found a huge saxophone (Water Clock) that would look amazing at night when it lights up, but unfortunately we had to get moving and continue our trip to Germany.

Citadel / Citadelle
We saved the Citadel visit for last as we would then continue our journey on to Germany via Luxembourg. We’d grabbed a tourism brochure from our Airbnb and it did a better job of selling us on the river cruise and hospitality and banquet opportunities than the actual Citadel, so we didn’t have a very high expectation. Having viewed the Citadel from afar during our entire visit to Dinant, it was a bit of a disappointment when we actually got there. There’s virtually nothing to see, and from outside it didn’t look like it was worth the admission price. Another annoyance was the fact that the entrance fee included a 2-way trip on the cable car that takes you right back into town – where we’d just come from. You can’t delete the cost of the tram it’s all or nothing so plan accordingly.

Tip… Drive to the Citadel and park for free. Pay admission to the Citadel and then take the cable car down into the city centre. Wander around, visit the bridge, museum and saxophone’s, then take the cable car back up and enter the Citadel. Not only do you get to use the cable car, but it negates trying to find a very tough-to-find parking spot (€1/hr) in town. Also, thanks to extensive comment reading on TripAdvisor (after returning home – d’oh), the guided tour of the Citadel is included, but not obvious (numerous people complained about this), and is apparently very good, taking you to areas that you can’t get to by yourself…meaning we should have gone in and taken the tour anyway… and got to see some spectacular views too. Ah well, just have to return again sometime.

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The Citadel of DinantWebsite
Address: Citadel Road, 1 to B-5500, Dinant
Price: €8.50 includes cable car into city centre (or take 408 stairs) // €14 citadel + cable car + river cruise
NOTE: There is a discount in conjunction with the ticket to Grotte la Merveilleuse. Others on TripAdvisor have stated that if you visit the Citadel you get a €2 discount there, and vice-versa. Apparently you also get a discount at the Maison Leffe Beer Museum.

Unfortunately we ran out of time and didn’t have an opportunity to take a river cruise (45 minutes or 90 minutes). This had been one of our priorities when planning our trip to Belgium, but alas time slipped by way too fast and the weather wasn’t spectacular either.

Another place we wanted to see, but couldn’t was…

Parc de Furfooz
About 15 minutes south of Dinant, this woodland park has walking trails, prehistoric caves, a Roman fortress, Roman baths (rebuilt from their ruins), fantastic views, huge rocks and a pathway down to the Lesse River. Sounds great and yet another reason to return to this area again!
Address: Rue du camp Romain, Dinant 5500, Belgium
Price: Adults – € 4.00 / Students (under 25) and seniors – € 2.00
Leaving Dinant - Belgium,
After reluctantly leaving Dinant, our next destination is a city called Trier in Germany (these guys know how to do tourism!). We jump on the motorway and clock a couple hundred kilometres from Belgium, through Luxemburg (score another country off our ‘visit list’) and arrive in Trier around 4 o’clock. Once we get to Germany everything holiday-wise comes to a grinding halt and its back to work for a ‘workation’ week. Due to our time constraints, we were happy to squeeze one more session of “Towning” as we’ve dubbed it (previous trips were all about the “Castling”) before reaching our final destination for the evening, near Speyer.

What started off as a quiet leisurely stroll around a former Roman city, quickly turned into 21st Century fear…Why don’t you join us in part (4) quatre of this series called – Germany – Trier And A Terrorist Sighting! It’s a heart-stopper – we promise.

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