Napoleon’s Termite Mound

Sitting outside a bar and restaurant in the Dutch city of Dordrecht, we were befriended by a local man who was showing the signs of having been drinking strong Belgian beer all afternoon. He asked us about our trip, and when I told him we were to visit Namur, he growled “Namen – we call it Namen!” Five days later, standing on the station platform of Brussels Midi, I was looking for the train to Namur but the only sign I could see was for Namen. Remembering this earlier conversation, we boarded the train and I made a note to always listen to inebriated locals as you never know when they’ll tell you something useful.

On leaving Namur’s railway station, we called into the friendly tourist information centre next door. The staff seemed delighted to see us and gave us a discount booklet for local attractions along with a town map and other useful information. They pointed out the walking route to our hotel which took us about 7 minutes.

Although it is the capital of Wallonia, my first impression of Namur was of a fairly run of the mill town, not so attractive as the canal laced cities we had visited in Flanders and Holland. However, the countryside around is more interesting and I had chosen to stay here as it is a public transport hub, and acts as a gateway to the Ardennes and the more picturesque parts of Wallonia.

We discovered Namur’s café quarter, a tangle of lanes and squares off Rue de l’Ange, comes to life in the early evening with restaurants and cafes spilling outdoors and teeming with diners, creating a very pleasant and family friendly atmosphere in this part of town. Close by is the town Belfry, one of 57 in Belgium and Northern France listed as World Heritage Sites.

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We also encountered some strange locals.

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Namur’s big attraction is its Citadel. Set on a hill above the confluence of the rivers Sambre and Meuse, there has been a fortress here since Roman times. Since then, occupying French, Spanish, Dutch, Austrians and even Belgians have added to it.

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Citadel of Namur

We climbed the hill and en-route came across more strange locals.

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At the ticket office, we found there were 3 things we could buy tickets for. There was a road train around the site which gave out audio information in French, Dutch and English. Then there was a guided walking tour of the network of tunnels beneath the citadel. Finally, the museum had audio guides for children and adults in multiple languages. A combined ticket for all 3 was better value than buying individual tickets. We purchased the former and received a further discount with our voucher obtained from the tourist information office.

First up was the road train, which was quite challenging on the hilly terrain and sometimes narrow tracks. The driver expertly navigated the route and returned us safely. One thing I would say is that as the train kept moving, by the time the multilingual audio got to the English version, we were often well passed whatever it was describing. It would definitely help if you are fluent in the local language for this trip which gave S and her A level French a distinct advantage over F and me.

When Napoleon visited the citadel, he described the hill on which it stands as “Europe’s termite mound” due to the extensive network of tunnels. Our guided walk through these passageways was probably the highlight of the visit. We had booked the English language tour with Amandine. She explained how all the various occupiers added to the network which had 3 objectives. The first was to connect various parts of the fortress. Second was for storage of supplies and ammunition. Given this is a fortress, the final purpose was for defence. To the latter end, we passed various open slits to the outside from where a gun or arrow could be fired at some unsuspecting enemy who would have had no idea where it came from. Amandine presented audio-visual displays on the walls which recreated events in history. A memorable one was a conversation between a Belgian military officer and the King of Belgium, which resulted in the surrender to the Nazis towards the beginning of World War 2. The Belgian army unit stationed at Namur retreated to the tunnels, but because the invasion had taken them by surprise, they had no supplies underground so could not hold out for long.

After emerging from underground, we headed for the café in the Terra Nova building. It offered a decent choice of good value food for a light lunch. There was also a “Made in Namur” section where visitors can purchase locally produced fare. Suitably refreshed, we headed for the museum, accompanied by English language audio tours for adults and child.

The museum was not just about the citadel. It presented a geological and human history of the Namur region from very early times to the present day, and even let us in on the town planning issues being considered for the city’s future. It was very interesting and very informative. The children’s audio was also a hit with F as I think you’ll see from her account of our trip to the Citadel of Namur as follows:

“The Citadel of Namur forms an interesting story. The best part is the tour of the tunnels. You get the chance to experience real events that happened, right where you’re standing. Plus, there are no wasps down there. The tour of the museum isn’t bad either. At the reception you may choose between a kids’ tour or an adults’ tour. The kids tour is more fun and gives you a little task after every story, whereas the adult tour isn’t as interactive as the child’s tour, but it is still informative.”

F’s point about the wasps is not wrong. Early August seemed to be peak time for these creatures to be at their most annoying in this part of the world. I read that they pester humans in search of sweet treats to supply them with a sugar fix, but this does not explain why they were so interested in dive bombing my beer or landing on parts of my body that I had caked in insect repellent. F was even less amused by their presence. The wasp menace did lead us to eat indoors in Namur, despite the warm evenings and convivial atmosphere around the outdoor tables in its café quarter.

Moving swiftly back to the citadel, we descended back to town while enjoying some panoramic views.

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There was more to see, including an adventure playground, a park and a perfumerie, but rain clouds were circling and it was already late afternoon, so we decided to call it quits. The termite mound had proved to be a worthy day out.

Factfile:

Location
Namur is in Wallonia, Belgium, about 70kms from Brussels

Transport
Namur has regular train services from Brussels Midi/Zuid (1h 10 mins) where international high speed connections are available from European cities including Amsterdam, London and Paris. It is sometimes referred to by its Dutch/Flemish name Namen on platform signs. The nearest major airport is Brussels

Information
Click the links for information on Namur and the Citadel. We found staff in the tourist information centre next to the station to be very helpful

Accommodation
We stayed at the Ibis Centre, a budget hotel 7 minutes walk from the train station. Click here for other options

Food and drink
The many cafes, restaurants and bars in the alleyways and squares off Rue de l’Ange provide a convivial and family friendly atmosphere for an evening meal. The area around the railway station can be intimidating after dark, although absolutely fine in daylight. Le Roma is a busy restaurant next door to the Ibis and serves good quality Italian cuisine. Booking is recommended

 

If you liked this, you may like to read my blog on Ghent

3 thoughts on “Napoleon’s Termite Mound

  1. They say that intoxicated people always tell the truth hahahah. Ah wasps, not good. I got stung once and the bite didn’t heal until after 2 weeks. That’s an interesting statue of a tortoise. It looks big, or was the man just small?

    Liked by 1 person

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