Dinant is a town that I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. Ever since I saw pictures of this place, I was mesmerized by its grace and charm. I don’t know what took me so long to finally visit, but being only an hour away from Louvain-la-Neuve, there was no reason not to go yesterday, especially when rare sunshine showered over my part of Belgium and the weather couldn’t be any better!
As the train pulled into Dinant slowly along the Meuse, I woke up from my semi-nap, rubbed my eyes, and looked out the window. I gasped. I was still in sleeping mode and I wondered myself why I gasped, but I remember thinking in my mind, “Wow, so this is Dinant, huh. It is SO pretty.” I was already impressed before the train even made a full stop, and so the anticipation to start exploring grew exponentially and chased away any remaining traces of fatigue. I hopped off the train and off I went into the unknown.
After the visit, I could seriously look into your eyes and tell you affirmatively that Dinant is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen in Europe and I enjoyed every nanosecond spent in this enchanting little place.
Two things prompted me to go and explore Dinant: the citadel and the caves. Well, count the Meuse River as the third, because I’ve always thought that bodies of river add richness and appeal to a city, but to see the Meuse, I didn’t have to go to Dinant specifically. Anyway, I wanted to go up to the citadel and view Dinant from way up high. It’s one of my favourite things to do in any new city, to see it from above, whether from a belfry or a building or in this case, a cliff. Next, I wanted to plunge into the Grotte la Merveilleuse, a series of underground caves in Dinant.
Wandering around these sites and simply strolling through the narrow streets of Dinant made me realize that this town reminded me of Luxembourg City. Watching Dinant from the citadel was like staring into the Petrusse Valley in Luxembourg, and the Grotte in Dinant was certainly similar to the casemates in Luxembourg. I particularly liked the authentic atmosphere in Dinant. It was busier than I expected for a Sunday (I was surprised that many shops were open), but it wasn’t saturated with tourists like Bruges. One thing that bothered me slightly, though, was the sheer amount of cars for a small town. I often found it hard to cross the street because of non-stop traversing traffic, especially with the lack of traffic lights. Nothing too traumatizing though; enjoyment of the town wasn’t too much compromised.
I know this is a super typical picture of Dinant. You can Google Dinant and find 5000 pictures that look the same, but c’mon, it’s gorgeous. It was the first sight I encountered as soon as I exited the train station; how could I resist? As Sharon said, it looks like it came right out of a fairy tale, or more like an undiscovered civilization hidden in a secret valley. The Notre-Dame de Dinant stands guard by the cute little houses by the Meuse (which is the same river that traverses Liege), backed up by the mighty citadel on a cliff. Just stunning.
You wonder why the title of this post is “Sax and the City”. Well, it turns out that the inventor of the saxophone, Mr. Adolphe Sax, was born in Dinant! That explains the array of colourful saxophone statues lined up along the bridge over the Meuse. Apparently each saxophone is from a different country and boy, they look jazzy (pun definitely intended!!!) Strangely the flags of the countries don’t correspond to the saxophones that they’re paired with…hmm. Still, I couldn’t get over how cool the bridge looked. The people of Dinant certainly love their saxophones!
To prove that, they’ve filled every corner of the town with saxophones. Aside from its very own saxophone museum called “Maison de Monsieur Sax”, many bars and restaurants have saxophone signs outside which I’m sure light up at night. Though I left in the afternoon, I can imagine the town turning into a jazzy wonderland at night. The cutest thing I saw all day, however, was a tiny saxophone sticking out of the wall of a building. Little details like these is one of the attractive features of Dinant. I would totally have passed by without noticing if I didn’t for some reason stop and look up to see whether I’d find anything interesting…seriously.
And up we go to the citadel! A town of green, gray, and white – plain colours, but combined with the layered layout of the buildings, the whole landscape gives off a feeling of inexplicable intricacy. Love!
Here is some sort of weapons history museum all the way up on the citadel. Not sure why the soldier guy on the right has a slight hunchback…
After the citadel, it was time to head over to the Grotte la Merveilleuse. The name implies that the caves are marvellous, and it was perhaps the part of the trip I was looking forward to the most. Underground caves in the dark? Sounds like some awesome fun.
As it was a guided tour with well over 20 people (lots of kids) from different places, our guide used three languages: Dutch, French, and English. I wasn’t sure why the majority of the visitors spoke Dutch – I thought there’d be more French speakers because Dinant is in the French-speaking region of Belgium, not the Dutch. The guide stopped using English halfway through the tour because the English speakers wandered off on their own and the guide had always thought I spoke French only. Oops. I did catch most of what he was saying though, thankfully.
Now, let me see if I can remember all the numbers. The caves were discovered in 1904 and opened to the public in 1905. They go down to a depth of 40 meters underground, and there’s a total of approximately 850 meters of cave area. The temperature inside the caves was 10 to 12 degrees Celsius, a step down from the outdoor temperature that day. As we went along, our guide explained the technicalities of the stalagmites and stalactites, which are respectively the names of the deposits of mineral pillars growing from the bottom and dripping from the top. They do look quite spectacular, really.
As it is almost time for Halloween, the caves are in the process of being decorated for some school events, hence the presence of pumpkins in a large open area deep within the caves. That area really reminded me of the Mines of Moria. Serious badassery right there.
Speaking of Halloween, Dinant is busily getting ready to celebrate! Back in daylight, I saw lots of shops selling Halloween-related items and pumpkins were especially popular! I don’t celebrate Halloween myself, but I found these decorations way too adorable, which instantly boosts Dinant’s spot on the cute-o-meter.
The east side of Dinant by the Meuse, as seen from the saxophone bridge – I don’t know if the bridge actually has a name, but it’s from now on known as the saxophone bridge to me.
Goodbye little Dinant, it’s been truly enjoyable getting to know such a cozy, lovable town. You’ve captured my heart. I will probably see you again…:)