Have you ever passed through somewhere and regretted that you didn’t stop to take a closer look? When I take the late night Dover to Calais ferry, I always plan ahead for a brief stop over before moving on. I have stayed at the Tournai Aires, on several occasions. But on an earlier visit, I had the opportunity to view some of the sights of Tournai and knew I must return. The Aires is situated next to a large parking area, which in my experience serves as an ideal overflow. The Aires is free of charge and has some services.
The Aires is a few minutes walk from the town centre. The first sight you will see is the 12th century Romanesque and Gothic styled Belfry, the oldest in Belgium. Tournai is not only the oldest city in Belgium, but according to the local literature, it is the birthplace of France, thanks to Merovingian king Childéric I and his son Clovis.
The best way to experience Tournai is either on foot or by cycle. The Tourist Office is near the Belfry and worth a visit, if only to pick up the details of the 5km Discovery Tour and the sights of this wonderful city.
The Notre Dame Cathedral, also in the Romanesque and Gothic style, is impressive. Unfortunately, it was under some restoration whilst I was there. The towers of the cathedral, give Tournai the name ‘City of Five Towers’.
If you do take the tour, you will encounter a number of other churches that are worth visiting, all are open to visitors.
The Romanesque / Gothic Saint Quentin church, dates from the end of the 12th Century.
The 12th century Saint Jacques Church, was by far my favourite and is typical of the Gothic style in Tournai.
The red fort, is a tower that owes its name to the colour of its tiles, it was restored in 2003 and is open to visitors.
Tournai is the only city in Belgium that was ruled by the English (1513-1518), in which time King Henry built a castle on the banks of the river Scheldt, the tower is all that remains. At the time of my visit, it was undergoing major restoration.
The fortified bridge over the river Scheldt, used to be part of the second surrounding wall, protecting the city from a river borne attack.
There is much more to see and experience in Tournai, particularly the Belgium beer and local dishes. If you often bypass Tournai en route to your destination, why not visit, you won’t regret it.