A day in Tournai
With 'Gerrit and the City' I want to take you beyond the obvious, inspire you to go places other than the ones you already know. Charming Tournai fits right into that frame. With a history of more than 2,000 years, it is one of the oldest cities of Belgium. Despite its relatively small size, it has an exceptional patrimony, as testified by its two buildings that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Next to that, the city has seen the emergence of new, hip places in recent years, meaning you can get a taste of both past and present when going there!
Visit of the Museum of Fine Arts | Enclos Saint-Martin 3, 7500 Tournai
The Museum of Fine Arts of Tournai is sure to leave a permanent impression on you for two reasons: its architecture and its eclectic collection. I've mentioned Belgian master of Art Nouveau Victor Horta many times before. Well, this is the one and only museum he designed during his architectural career. Shaped as a turtle from the sky, the museum testifies of a period of transition between Art Nouveau and Modernism (leaning towards Art Deco). As for the works of art, they range from the Flemish Primitives (Campin, de la Pasture, Bruegel, ...) to contemporary artists. I especially love the Impressionist, namely Monet, Seurat, Van Gogh and Manet (of which the museum holds the only two works exposed in Belgium).
Walk in Parc du Musée/Parc Reine Astrid
A little greenery is always welcome. Right after your visit of the Museum of Fine Arts, you can enjoy some peace and quiet in the Parc du Musée and Parc Reine Astrid. In the summer, you'll find gorgeous roses and lively fountains over there. Whereas in autumn, you can enjoy the golden landscapes formed by the fallen leaves. It is also the perfect place for romantics as it features the most picturesque bandstand.
Walk through Grand Place
The Grand Place is the epicenter of Tournai. This is the place life revolves around over here. On any sunny day, you can find all the locals enjoying drinks and company on one of the many terraces. Sun or no sun, make sure to look around you as you walk through the square to marvel at the countless classified building facades it has to offer!
Lunch at Eva Cosy | Rue Piquet 6, 7500 Tournai
At Eva Cosy they had me from the moment I saw that banana leaves wallpaper. But that's not the only reason you should go there for lunch obviously! The pies and cakes on display look ever so appealing, but their savory dishes are equally delicious, ranging from open sandwiches to salads. Options seem unlimited when it comes to drinks, so if you need a little help choosing, just ask the friendly staff!
Walk along the docks
The docks are another place popular among locals because it is packed with cafés. As it is the case for many other cities, the river played an essential role in the development of the city in the past. Nowadays the docks of the Scheldt River form the perfect backdrop for a relaxing walk. While you're there, make sure to enter at L'Oiseau Rare (Quai Saint Brice 19, 7500 Tournai), a dream come true for vintage lovers. L'Oiseau Rare is the result of the reunion of three passionate people: one brings in the mid-century furniture, another has the collection of ancient bikes and men fashion, and the last one dresses women in vintage garments.
Walking further on the docks, you'll encounter the very special Pont des Trous. It was built during the Golden Age of Tournai (12th and 13th century), the same period the Belfry and the Cathedral were built. Thanks to huge gates, it was used to prevent entry into the city by water. There are only a few relics of such medieval military architecture left in the world, so enjoy it while it's still there (rumor has it the bridge will be destroyed to allow passage for bigger boats).
Visit of the Cathedral | Place de l'Evêché 1, 7500 Tournai
Tournai is often referred to as the 'city of five bell towers' and we have its huge Cathedral to thank for that. The sheer size of the Cathedral and its mix of different styles (Roman for the nave, Gothic for the choir) have earned it a special place: it was named exceptional patrimony of Wallonia and it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Large-scale restoration works have been going on since 2006 (and who knows when they'll be finished), but this should definitely not prevent you from visiting it.
Visit of the Belfry | Grand Place 15, 7500 Tournai
Tournai's second building to be a part of the UNESCO World Heritage is its Belfry, the oldest of the Kingdom! It is 72 meters high and if you want to reach its top, you'll have to climb the 257 stairs up there. It gets a little claustrophobic at the end, but it's definitely worth it. On the upper terrace, you'll enjoy amazing views of Tournai and its surprisingly green surroundings. (Make sure to be there before 16:15 or you won't be allowed to go up.)
Coffee break at L'Atemporel | Rue Saint-Martin 35, 7500 Tournai
By now I'm sure you'll be in much need of a sweet break and L'Atemporel is just right for that! This tea room serves pastries that are exquisite, both in taste and look, and they have all the teas and coffees you can hope for to go with them. As for the interior, I'm madly in love with it as it is composed of all kinds of different furniture found at flea markets and other vintage places.
Shopping at Spiridon | Rue des Maux 14, 7500 Tournai
Whether you're looking for a beautiful gift or unique modern furniture, Spiridon has got you covered. It is always a pleasure to enter this showroom slash concept store because each time you're surprised by a new layout of objects. It doesn't matter if you haven't got the budget for their outstanding furniture, a visit to this boutique is an inspiration on itself and you can still indulge yourself with their smaller deco items.
Dinner at Le Greco Oenobar | Place de Lille 27, 7500 Tournai
If, like me, you're a big fan of Greek cuisine, you're going to love Le Greco. This is actually not one place, but three: a restaurant, a bar and a boutique. For dinner, either you go to the restaurant where you'll be served "classic" dishes (do remember to make a reservation), or you go to the bar where you can enjoy all sorts of tapas in a casual atmosphere (my favorite option, no reservations possible, so you shouldn't arrive too late). Not only the food is quintessential Greek, their fine selection of wines also comes from the land of the Pantheon Mythology.
Cocktails at Check-in Bar | Place de Lille 16, 7500 Tournai
To end your evening in style, head to Check-in, the vintage cocktail bar. The interior isn't so much vintage, but their approach is, in the sense that they wish to elevate cocktail making to an art form, with respect for its history. Therefore you can choose between great classics and surprising creations of their own. Personally I love their cocktails served in teacups, a reference to the way cocktails were served in the 20s and 30s during the Prohibition.
The train will take you from Brussels to Tournai in a little more than 1 hour. By car it will take you approximately 1 hour and a half. You can park for free on the 'Esplanade de l'Europe'. Tournai is pretty close from the French city Lille so you could consider combining those two cities in one weekend.
Special thanks to my best friend Stéphanie (author of the literary blog The Most Wonderful Story) for her precious help on this city guide. Her love for her city definitely inspired me.