While a lot of people have heard or may have been to Belgium, the cities they usually go to are Bruxelles or Bruge. Tournai right along the French boarder often remains an undiscovered gem.
I was invited by friends for a birthday party and it was the perfect excuse to visit this beautiful town. It is around a two and half hour drive from Paris to Tournai via the freeway.
Here are some shots along the way. Fall is in full swing and has turn all the leaves to yellow, orange and gold.
It was a cloudy day but perfect for a weekend road trip. The country side was quite charming, peppered by farms and villages each with their own little churches and/or castles.
Arriving in Tournai the houses started to show the typical Belgium style.
My friends live in a gorgeous 500 m² mansion just off the Belfry Tower in the town’s heart. The front of the mansion dates back to 1721 ! This is a town house style as all the houses touch one another (see street view bellow).
It used to be part of an abbey. It is three stories high and has two staircases : the main one and a servant stair case! I settled my bags and went on a tour.
It has a small barn complete with its haystack and an attached cellar. The mansion also has an inner court yard home to some hens.
Here are some of the cute and vintage details that caught my eye in the Belgium manor. They really bring home the history to this amazing place :
Here is a view from the balcony on the front of the mansion showing the houses on their street.
Diner was delicious warm soup, Belgium bread and French wine !
The next day after a nice breakfast, I set off to visit the town and take pictures.
The Historic downtown is pedestrian with only a few cars that can go through it. It centers around the main town square La Grand Place. It is a wide open space with fountains, benches, that leads up to the city Belfry tower. Its triangular shape is quite unusual for a square haha! Historians say this is due either to preserve a Gallo-Roman necropolis or to the converging of 2 ancient Roman ways towards the location of the Belfry Tower.
This beautiful monument that is actually the oldest belfry in all of Belgium! Construction of the Belfry began around 1188 when King Philip Augustus of France granted Tournai its town charter. It is a freestanding bell tower of medieval origin, 72 metres in height with a 256-step stairway. I didn’t actually go in, just admired it from the outside. It is also a Unesco World Hertiage site. It looks like a feudal keep and was actually used as a prison and watch tower all in one. A dragon symbol of power and watchfulness adorns the top of the tower.
On the opposite side of the Belfry is the fairy-tale church Saint Quentin. Doesn’t it look just like a castle? Romanesque style is my favorite kind of architecture. I love the simple yet powerful lines. To me this style is quietly beautiful. Less truly is more. I find it to be more peaceful than the busy High Gothic style that came to popularity later.
This Romanesque church was built in 1200, replacing a more modest building. originally this church consisted of a Latin cross flanked by four semi-circular chapels. It was damaged by the Germans during World War II and was restored in the 1960’s.
The houses bordering the grand place were built out of timber, wooden beams and cob during the Middle Ages. In the 1600’s the landowners started to build stone houses with the typical crow stepped or scrolled gables.
I loved the fact that there are many arched passage ways around the town. Here are a few I stumbled upon. They give a gothic romantic feel to the place.
Behind the Belfry Tower you can see peaking over the rooftops, the steeples to the magnificent Notre Dame de Tournai Cathedral which is a Unesco World Heritage site.
This impressive work of architecture has actually witnessed 15 centuries of history ! It boggles the mind when you think about it. We are really a whisper of time in the grand scheme of things. It currently has 5 steeples.
The current cathedral saw its construction start around 1200. However this was built over even older foundations dated back to the 5th century! Unfortunately it was under heavy restoration so I wasn’t able to see it in its full splendor but there was a small exhibit outside showing what was and what will soon be again. I was allowed to go in some parts of the cathedral and take pictures. Some parts were closed off to the public completely.
Rose window (Charles Benvignat J-B Capronier – 19th century) and the large pipe organ (P-A Ducroquet – 1854)
It always pays to take a closer look at the art displayed in cathedrals, you can always pick up a quirky little detail.
After a nice visit, it was well past lunch time so I headed back to the mansion and had a good meal with my friends. French cheeses, smoked salmon, smoked meats etc… Yum!
Then all too soon, it was time to hit the road and get back to Paris. However it definitely made me wish to discover more of Belgium and stray from the beaten paths.
Have you ever been to Belgium?
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6 thoughts on “Tournai – Belgium’s undiscovered gem – October 2015”
[…] my trip to Lisbon and Sintra in Portugal, and then to Montpellier in southern France to finally Belgium last weekend, it’s been a lot of fun. I’m going to have to find the time to do blog […]
I’m glad to hear about Tournai. I knew nothing about it. Beautiful city, nice post. Thank you for sharing! Happy New Year!
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Thanks and you too
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Great post. great photos. I have visited this glorious Cathedral last time I was in Belgium from India, but part of it was still under restoration. I am visiting this architecturally rich country and it’s great heritage again next week and was.wondering if anyone knows if the restoration work is finished by now. great towns of Belgium are very beautiful but my heart is for this cathedral and want to see it again.
Such a pity that much of the architecture is ruined in the heart of Brussel city by the architects in the past 40 years. what’s done can not be done but feel like punishing those architects who helped in ruining Brussels.
Please send me info of Tournai Cathedral– My email is– firstname.lastname@example.org .
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