This is the Belgium of the Middle Ages, of Emperor Charlemagne and all his kin, of wars, and of wonders without end.

The Spell of Belgium by Isabel Anderson (1915)

While Ypres may be Belgium’s most underappreciated city and Brewtiful Bruges may be my favorite, perhaps the Belgian city that will surprise outsiders the most and linger, almost romantically, years later in one’s travel memories is Dinant. It has all of that unexplainable charm, quirkiness, and aura that make Europe so appealing. Perhaps it is the way it is built into two sides of a river, one side a shear cliff, defying a sense of space and logic with provocative buildings hearkening back to bygone eras. I cannot possibly exude the superlatives to homage Dinant any better than I already have in my Maredsous and Leffe post. Dinant is one of those places that reminds me of the wide-eyed wonder I had when I moved to Belgium so long ago, where the real joy was discovering places like Dinant. Places mysterious and remarkable because they are hidden away like small gems in the former glory of Belgium’s river valleys.

During the research on the Quatre fils Aymon legend for my Elfique blog post, I was inspired to take a cold, bleak January Sunday afternoon drive to Dinant to visit one of its most characteristic features, the rock formation known as Rocher Bayard, named after the magical horse of the legend. In all of my previous visits, I had inexplicably missed it. I walked along the River Meuse promenade, stopped to have a look inside the magnificent Notre Dame de Dinant, and strolled the shopping street, which despite COVID was still quite buzzing with people who were out taking advantage of the one activity that is still permitted in abundance… walking.

But it was a chance encounter with a local beer shop that set in motion the next visit to Dinant.

Ac’t’heure dinant!

There in blue packaging with four bottles and a glass, was the kind of beer that will always catch my attention and inspire borderline obsession. The beer was called La Croisette de Dinant and on the label of the beer was a graphic of the Notre Dame de Dinant’s famous bell tower, shaped like an onion, pear, or tulip bulb depending on where you read about it. My soul leapt internally, clicking its heels. Words in my head raced like a child on a sugar rush. Beer photo, hike, blog post, legends, history, blue butterfly{indecipherable chaotic ramblings} My mind felt cluttered like a chalkboard of complex mathematical formulas, but the answer was quite clear. I had to come back.

Which I did, the following weekend, an even colder and bleaker January day.

Hike Details

Starting PointPlace Patenier Parking
Ending PointRound Trip
Distance17.9 km
My Total/Moving Time4h16m / 3h38m
Eating PlaceDuring COVID: several takeaway restaurants in Dinant. Nowhere on the hike.

It’s Not Just a Beer, It’s a Journey

The iconic bulbous bell tower of the Notre Dame de Dinant made its first appearance in 1566. I am not sure if anyone today knows why a cathedral of glorious gothic architecture would be capped with such an un-gothic bell tower. One can only imagine the horror of the hardened and proud stone masons when it was unveiled. If the reason has been lost over the last 450 years, it almost didn’t matter. The bell tower, along with most of the rest of Dinant, was completely destroyed in World War I by the invading German army. But in 1924, the citizens voted to restore the tower to its original shape. Whether it made sense stylistically or not, it was the symbol of the city.

Notre Dame de Dinant

When the real reasons for things fade over the centuries, legends use those opportunities to fill the historical gap. And in this part of Belgium, it seems like the legend of the Quatre fils Aymon (or the Four Sons of Aymon) has been used quite liberally for that purpose. In one version of the legend, the knight Reynault, who was one of the sons, fell in love with Charlemagne’s daughter Erembour. When Reynault would visit her castle, she would always greet him by throwing a tulip bulb from her turret down to Reynault while he was waiting outside the gate. This is the type of simple gesture between two people who love each other which becomes a romantic ritual, a language only understood between them. The type of connection, which like a chrysalis becomes something more beautiful, a butterfly, taking on a life of it’s own, enduring more deeply and being missed far more intensely than mere words or gifts. Why is the bell tower the shape that it is?

An unopened tulip was the flower of Erembour, the daughter of Charlemagne whom Reynault loved. He wore it always upon his helmet; and, when he died and was buried in Dinant, it shot up from his grave and blossomed into our beautiful tower.

Romance of Old Belgium by Elizabeth W. Champney (1915)

I have to admit, I am pretty satisfied with that answer.

La Croisette de Dinant is a beer named after a restaurant which lies on the quaint waterfront of Dinant, dare I say, the best waterfront promenade of restaurants and cafes that I know of in Belgium. In Spring and Summer, it is an absolute delight to enjoy a light meal or a beer there while watching people taking selfies next to the various saxophone sculptures on the Pont Charles de Gaulle bridge or looking down river towards the city’s famous rival Bouvignes-sur-Meuse. But this hike was in January during COVID times and the waterfront lay solemn. It was easy though to hear the echoes of my former visits. The beer itself is not brewed in Dinant but in the Brasserie de Legendes, about 1h45m away, also known for the brands Goliath, La Corne, Quintine, Hercule, amongst others.

Cafe de la Croisette
Charles de Gaulle next to his bridge

The hike starts with a climb up to the imposing Citadel of Dinant. To get the best photos overlooking the city, it is highly recommended to pay the ten-euro entry fee. Once up on the plateau, the hike passes mostly thru forests, extremely muddy at this time of year, and farm roads. There are several amazing viewpoints but the ultimate highlight of this hike is getting to the optimal viewpoint for the Château de Walzin, a privately-owned castle perched precariously and proudly above the Lesse River.

The Lesse itself is a turbulent little stream of almost incomparable beauty and situation. It’s first surprise is the Castle of Walzin, which can be seen from the train, but it is better seen by crossing the meadows.

A Wayfarer in Belgium by Fletcher Allen (1934)
The best view possible of the Château de Walzin on this day

The meadows, unfortunately, were inaccessible. A lot of recent rain and snow-melt had turned the Lesse from a turbulent little stream into a raging river flooding the meadows adjacent to the château and other parts of the river valley. While it was not possible to get the best view of the château, at least the hiking trail back to Dinant was unhindered by the flooding.

Back along the River Meuse, the water level had also reached heights where it was threatening the river promenade. The walk here is highlighted by great views of the towering Charlemagne Bridge and Rocher Bayard. Rocher Bayard, besides representing the magic horse of the Quatre fils Aymon legend, is also significant historically as marking the furthest point that the Germans reached during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

Photographic Journey

Commonwealth War Graves behind the Citadel
Prime view of Dinant from the Citadel
View towards rival Bouvignes-sur-Meuse from the Citadel
The trails were ridiculously muddy today
Breathtaking fields
Coming towards Château de Walzin step by sloshy step
The path thru the meadows should be here
Flooding in the vicinty of Château de Walzin
Lakes forming in the Lesse River valley
Some cyclists improvising
River Meuse and the Charlemagne Bridge
Rocher Bayard
Promenade towards Dinant
The riverfront of Dinant, normally a bustling assortment of cafes
Visiting the interior of the Notre Dame de Dinant, famous for its stained glass and colors

Final Words

I arrived back in Dinant, shoes bathed in mud from a couple missteps along the way, thinking to myself how COVID has forced many of us to escape from the doldrums of lockdown life by exploring places we might otherwise take for granted. What would I normally be doing on a drizzly 4-degree Celcius January day, just one year ago in fact? Probably content to idle away the day watching old movies. There is no doubt, in years past, I would have waited until Spring to do such a hike, yet this hike and others which I have done recently have been inspiring me to newly discovered levels of appreciation for the joys and discoveries in my own Belgian backyard which simply require me to don a pair of hiking shoes and head out the door.

As I stood looking up at the Notre Dame de Dinant, I was not thinking of the pounding of hammers and the scraping of trowels, or an architect poring over sketches, or the names of the Canons who have served beneath it’s vaulted ceiling or have given communion in the kaleidescope of light shining thru it’s famous stained glass windows. Rather, I pondered heart-broken Reynault lying almost forgotten in its foundations, whose very last thought would have been a turret, a delicate hand, and a falling tulip forever out of reach as the light passed from his eyes, while his love for Erembour has remained unsilenced for centuries, ringing out from the tower for those with hearts to hear. Never fading if but one believes.


10 thoughts on “Beer & Hike: La Croisette de Dinant

  1. Dinant, a charming wander through history and stone and romance. I rather smiled at the photo of Charles de Gaulle – bigger than the river, the bridge, the cathedral, even than the flag at the topmost point. ☺️ Overcast skies only heighten the beauty and mystery of it all, and the bright green rolling hills inviting one to linger. The Meuse feels as an endless sidewalk to stroll upon or beside. Perhaps, once did himself. I am very tempted to search for one of the old books on Belgium that you quote from. ☺️ Delightful! And, although this is already far too long I will add one thing more – an up close look at the map you included gave me yet another smile. Duchesne ☺️ I can’t tell exactly what it is but it was the name that caught my eye. It’s the name of my school. I loved it very much and almost never see the name of it anywhere. A wonderful share all the way round! Have a marvelous week Matthew ☺️🌷

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dinant is really wonderful and the Charles de Gaulle is quite a humorous statue. Not flattering at all when you compare to say a statue of Patton 😂 And very cool that you found a name reference to your school 😁 I strongly encourage checking out early 20th century and late 19th century travel books. They have priceless anecdotes and that is why I refer to them a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

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