Where’s Wallonia, you say? Only a couple of hours drive from Calais or the Eurotunnel in Southern Belgium! An easy reach for a jolly group of travellers looking forward to World Heritage Sites, castles, gardens, museums and a flurry of colourful festivals. It’s five miles from the French border and has English links going back to Tudor times. For six years, from 1513 to 1519, Tournai, the oldest city in the country, was ruled by Henry VIII, (longer than he was married to some of his wives) But there’s more to Tournai than Tudor titbits, including the outstanding Notre-Dame Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage attraction. This gorgeous church is built in a grand mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles, which combine to produce a medieval gem. Some of the black marble in the columns was also used in the construction of Winchester Cathedral. I bet that was a deal done on the quiet.
You could visit Wallonia for a day and get home for tea, but there’s too much to see and you’re going to have more of an opportunity to wander and find some delicious French food and wine if you make it an overnighter. There are plenty of places to stay!
Near Tournai are Mons and the Battle of Waterloo memorial so, if you’re a military history enthusiast, you’ll be thrilled. Mons is a town that has been ritually flattened by invading armies for centuries, generally on their way to somewhere else. That said, it was European Capital of Culture in 2015 and has been fabulously restored and rebuilt. Winding cobbled streets and alleyways lead up to the beautiful Grand Place and the excellent Mons Memorial Museum focuses on the town’s military history, especially the first and second world wars.
If you want to avoid all that, you come with as many friends as you can in June, for The Doudou, a week-long, spectacular festival of colour, music and entertainment. Doudou translates literally as ‘security blanket’ so, in a way, this is the festival of the security blanket. Actually, the festival dates from the 14th century when the reliquary of St Waudru, the patron saint of Mons, was paraded through the streets to save the town from the plague. It worked! Nobody got Plagued! Almost every year since, the people of Mons have paraded the reliquary and a golden coach through the streets. And if that’s not a bit like clutching a security blanket, then I don’t know what is.
It’s an amazing festival full of food, drink and spectacular outdoor entertainment so come with a group and enjoy it and the rest of this glorious bit of Belgian heaven! Find out more about how to get there and where to stay in our online magazine.