Here in the Lowlands, Spring seems to have finally escaped the clutches of the Covid Winter. The first few weeks of Spring 2021 have been riddled with questionable weather, including a rare patch of snow and several days of freezing temperatures, which, to the dismay of wine lovers, may have devastated this year’s wine crops in Bordeaux, France. The harsh transition also seems to have coincided with my annual writer’s block. It is coming a little late this year thanks to having an unusually active Winter hiking regimen in an effort to escape the Covid doldrums.

Before I turn my attention to the activities of Spring, I cannot yet close the book on an eventful Winter, where I spent a great deal of time exploring some of Belgium’s most historic Wallonian river valleys, such as the Lesse, Meuse, and Ambleve. One of the highlights of these hikes was to explore the fortified cities, Dinant and Huy, which are situated along these rivers.

Perhaps the granddaddy of all fortified Belgian cities is Namur, which sits at an important junction between the Meuse and Sambre rivers, both of which continue on into France. This geography has made the city strategically important. Namur has passed back and forth over the centuries between the French, Dutch, Spanish, and Austrians, with the French continually trying to regain it. The citadel for which Namur is known is a conglomeration of rebuilding, renovations and improvements that have occurred as the city’s control has changed hands. In addition to the citadel, a ring of forts were built in a roughly six mile radius around the city.

There have been forts in Namur since Roman days, and perhaps before that. A year ago there were nine… Namur was the door of France, and the nine forts were its bolts and bars.

The Spell of Belgium by Isabel Anderson (1915)

One of these forts was Fort Malonne, which was a waypoint on my Floreffe hike.

Fort Malonne, one of the forts built around Namur

As a city, Namur feels like three places in one. There is the historical city center on the north bank of the Sambre and Meuse, the Citadel at the river junction, and the suburb of Jambes which sits on the south bank of the Meuse across from the citadel. I have been to Namur three times so far, but for reasons I cannot articulate, the city center has never interested me. I prefer to be up on the citadel or walking along the river promenades.

Namur citadel where the Meuse and Sambre meet

For my third visit to Namur, I decided to spend a sunny late February Saturday afternoon doing a Beer & Hike. The vicinity around the citadel is nicely forested and walking along the Meuse gives a nice variety to this hike. Afterwards, I capped off the hike with a quick tour around the city center. However, the icing on the cake was a Four Sons of Aymon sighting. My fascination with this legend and how it is weaved into the Belgian culture continues.

Exploring the citadel is more enjoyable to me than the city center (photo: Oct 2011)

Hike Details

Starting PointNamur city center
Ending Point Roundtrip
My Total/Moving Time3h43m / 3h16m
Eating PlaceThe Citadel has a couple cafes,
otherwise only in Jambes or Namur.
During Covid – bring your own food

It’s Not Just a Beer, It’s a Journey

For the hike, I brought along the city’s namesake beer, the Blanche de Namur, a witbier brewed by one of my favorite Belgian breweries, Brasserie du Bocq, featured in my Beer & Bike: Maredsous and Leffe post.

The Belgian witbier has the distinction of being one of my least favorite beer types. They are made from unmalted wheat, and later on, coriander and orange peel are added to the process. The witbier should never be foolishly mistaken for the German wheat beer or Hefeweizen. They are quite different. Other examples of witbier are Hoegaarden, Brugs Tarwe, and Blanche de Bruxelles. The witbier is a refreshing summer beer usually served with a slice of lemon, but it is simply not my taste. Nevertheless, I can’t deny that there was no beer more appropriate to appear in the featured picture than the Blanche de Namur.

Blanche de Namur by Brasserie du Bocq

Having beers in Namur gives one a chance to experience some Wallonian beers which may be a little more hard to find in the average Flemish pub. Floreffe, Cuvee des Trolls, and Barbar are three Wallonian beers which I had for the first time during my visits to Namur. The best place to try any of these is the cafe overlooking the Meuse up next to the esplanade.

Best place in Namur to have a beer and a meal on a sunny day (Oct 2011)
Brasserie Lefebvre’s Barbar honey beer (Oct 2011)

For the brewery experience, there is Brasserie Houppe which is south of the Citadel along the Citadel side of the Meuse river.

Brasserie Houppe: home to Namur’s local craft beer

Photographic Journey

The Four Sons of Aymon riding the steed Bayard
Ascending up the citadel with a great view of Namur and the Sambre river.
Snaking around to the Meuse side of the citadel gives a great view of Jambes
Beyond the citadel, a sun-drenched trail unscathed by the Winter’s dampness
The forest has well maintained and spacious trails
Low intensity hike on these pristine paths
A magical copse of trees filtering the sunlight, still emerald undergrowth in late Winter.
Crossing the Meuse
Seems like every significant city along the Meuse has a historic stone bridge
Looking over at the Citadel from the Jambes side
Place d’Armes and the historic UNESCO belfry behind the archway

Final Words

Even now a shadow of war overhangs this part of Europe; and if those who think that, sooner or later, the Belgian neutrality will be violated are right, it is very likely that the line of the Meuse, with its navigable stream, its railways, and its roads, so well adapted for military purposes, will be used.

Belgium by G.W.T. Omond (1908)

These words written six years before the outbreak of World War I are chilling to read. For any war involving Belgium, Namur would always have stood directly in the path of any invading army. As I sat along the wall looking over at the citadel, my eyes scanned the cliffs, admiring structures that seemed to defy spatial logic and gravity, stone and man-made fortifications blending together like a mysterious combination of architecture and arcane science. People behind me were strolling carefree along the promenade eating ice cream and looking hopeful. It is hard not to feel some sense of hope when the sun is shining in February. Despite the positive vibes of the beautiful day, I tried to imagine the events of late August 1914, six years after Omond’s prophetic words. Augusts should be spent doing things like today. Strolling and ice cream, beer and hiking, watching for butterflies. But that August, the city was met with the relentless pounding of German artillery. Namur, despite its citadel and ring of nine forts succombed in three days. It was a reminder of how life can change almost overnight even with the best laid plans.

At one time, Namur was the guardpost of France, but today it is the seat of the French-speaking Belgians as the capital of Wallonia. It found ways to adapt to the changing times as we must all do under the circumstances in which we are living.

Namur is splendid, very similar in its quiet assurance to an English market town, apparently unconcerned, and rather indifferent to the world. In reality it is inwardly acute, wise, and prosperous.

A Wayfarer in Belgium by Fletcher Allen (1934)

After centuries of invasions and by 1934, with still one more major invasion just over the horizon, it is admirable of Namur to be a place of “quiet assurance”. They could easily be forgiven for being quite the opposite. I am not sure how the author came to project such human traits on Namur as a whole, but as I pondered the way life can impact us thru sudden difficulty, it takes a person with such inward characteristics to rise above it. Finding one’s meaning and resiliency is an inward journey, not an outward one. Prosperity is the impact you have on people’s lives. A bear and butterfly universal law of physics. Inspiration cannot be created or destroyed. Only given or shared. That’s a lesson I’d even consider drinking a witbier to toast.


2 thoughts on “Beer & Hike: Blanche de Namur

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