Anderlecht (Pop: 120,000)
Twinned with Boulogne-Billancourt, Anderlecht is, like the latter with Paris, a large city on the outskirts of the capital whose destiny is closely linked to it. Internationally known for its football club, RSC Anderlecht, winner of five European Cups (two Cupwinners cups, two Supercups and one UEFA Cup) and 34 national titles, Anderlecht is also an important city in the history of cycling since Philippe Thys, the first rider to win three Tours de France (1913, 1914 and 1920), was born here in 1890 and also died here in 1971. Winner of the 1946 Fleche Wallonne, the 1947 Tour de Romandie and a stage of the Tour de France in 1949, Désiré Keteleer is also one of the many riders born in Anderlecht. The city was also the finish place of Paris-Brussels from 1993 to 2004.
The most influential person in the history of the city remains Erasmus, even though he spent only five months in 1521 with his friend Pierre Wichmans. The pretty Renaissance house where he stayed became a museum dedicated to its guest. The Maurice Carême Museum is also installed in the house where the poet lived. Anderlecht also holds a special place in the history of “chanson” since singer Régine was born here in 1929 while Jacques Brel lived in Anderlecht and once worked in the family cardboard factory. Beer lovers should not miss the Brussels Museum of Gueuze, located in the last non-industrial brewery of the city.
PROVINCE OF VLAAMS BRABANT
Population: 1.1 million inhabitants (2014)
Surface: 2,106 km2
Districts: Hal-Vilvorde, Leuven.
Main sports clubs and events: OH Leuven. Suikerrock in Tirlemont, TW Classic, Marktrock. Festival van Vlaanderen.
Main tourist sites: Leuven arts city, breweries, Leuven Town Hall, Beguine convents in Leuven, 1,800 km of cycling trails, Hanenbos.
Economy: High Tech (Flanders Smart Hub), breweries (Stella, Domus), distribution, commerce, small businesses. Sugar in Tirlemont.
Lennik (Pop: 9,000)
The predecessor of the present castle was built in the 13th century as part of the defensive walls of Brussels. During the following centuries, the castle was destroyed and rebuilt several times. Its function also evolved over time, from a strategic stronghold to a summer residence and holiday resort. The house was successively inhabited by different noble families. Lamoral, Earl of Egmond, was one of its most famous owners. At the end of the 18th century, the castle passed into the hands of Italian marquis Arconati Visconti. It then became a gathering place for artists and scholars. At the end of the 19th century, Marquise Arconati Visconti restored the castle and transformed it into a museum hosting her huge arts collection. The Marquise handed the castle over to the Belgian state in 1921. Three years later, it opened its doors as a museum.
PROVINCE OF WEST FLANDERS (Belgium)
Population: 1,169,990 (2012)
Arrondissements: Bruges (Brugge), Courtrai (Kortrijk), Dixmude, Furnes, Ostende, Roulers (Roeselaere), Tielt, Ypres (Ieper)
Surface: 3,144 km2
Largest town: Bruges (Pop: 117,000)
Economy: food industry, technical textile, mechanical electronics, technology of image, plastic material, design industriel. Agriculture.
Specialties: mussels, speculoos, shrimps, nœuds de Bruges (Brugse achtjes), Bruges lace , babeluttes.
Tourism: belfries and grand places of Bruges, Courtrai, Dixmude, seaside tourism (Ostende, De Panne), WWI sites (Ypres), village of Damme.
Grammont (Pop: 33,400)
Known to cycling fans for its “mur”, a monument of the Tour of Flanders, Grammont has others charms to reveal to the visitor, starting with the Krakelingen & Tonnekensbrand festival in February during which a thousand persons parade in the streets and throw “craquelins” (biscuits) to the crowd, one of them containing a ticket awarding the winner a jewel especially designed for the occasion. This festival of “fire and bread” was listed as a world heritage celebration by UNESCO in 2010. Grammont-born rider Alin Van Den Bossche won the 1993 Belgian road championship.
Mur de Grammont
Known in Flemish as Kapelmuur or simply the Muur, Mur de Grammont is one of the most famous climbs in cycling and a monument of the Flanders classics, especially the Tour of Flanders. The 1-km cobbled ascent at 9.2 pc with 20 pc sections was ridden for the first time in a race in 1950 for the Het Nieuwsbald circuit. Since then, the Muur became a focal point of the Tour of Flanders, especially between 1988 and 2011 when it was the penultimate climb in the Ronde before the Bosberg. Taken off the course in 2012, it was back in 2017 but does not longer play a central role in the outcome of the race. It also featured on the course of Ghent-Wevelgem in 1960 and Het Nieuwsblad 49 times. The Tour de France rode up the Muur in 1969 and saw Roger De Valeminck and Eddy Merckx take the reins. The race came back in 2004 but only for a portion of the climb: Jean-Patrick Nazon finally won the stage in Wasquehal.
HAINAUT PROVINCE (Belgium)
Population: 1 341 645 hab. (2018)
Chef-lieu: Mons (Bergen)
Arrondissements: Ath, Charleroi, Mons, Mouscron, Soignies, Thuin, Tournai
Suface: 3 786 km2
Largest town: Charleroi (Pop: 205,000)
Economy: cool, chemicals, steel works, glassware, mechanical industry.
Specialities: rabbit with prunes and beer, Escaveche of Virelles, doubles of Binche, cheese oatcake, pork paunch, peket (spirit)
Tourisme: belfry in Mons (Bergen), Tournai (belfry, grand place and cathedral), rampart of Binche, castle of Chimay.
Enghien (Pop: 13,700)
Enghien gave its name to the French thermal town of Enghien-les-Bains after the 1487 wedding of Marie of Luxembourg, heiress of Enghien, with François de Bourbon-Vendôme, lord of Montmorency and an ancestor of King Henry IV. The town is know for its lace and its park, created in the 17th century by the Arenberg family.
Park of Enghien
It was created in the 15th century by Pierre of Luxembourg, lord of Enghien, who turned the woods around his castle into a park. Two centuries later, in 1607, the domain was sold by French King Henry IV to the noble family of Arenberg. It was the start of a fabulous history for the grounds, which were transformed into one of the most beautiful parks in Europe. Listed as major heritage site of Wallonia, the park is being restored to claim back its beauty and renown.
Braine-le-Comte (Pop: 21,700)
Ronquières inclined plane
The development of the traffic on the Charleroi to Brussels canal and the unusual topography in Ronquieres led to the construction in 1968 of a 1,432 metres-long inclined plane, topped by a 150-metres tower, to allow boats to go ahead without problems. The mechanism is relatively simple: the inclined planed is composed of two caissons in which the boats enter before crossing the waterfall. Each caisson is pulled by cables and rolls down a 5 pc slope. The two caissons each have 236 wheels and can take several boats on board in a very short period of time. The site is open to visits.
Ecaussinnes (Pop: 11,140)
Écaussinnes is renowned for its “matrimonial tea party”, held in Spring and resurrecting the tradition of the May Tree, which consisted for pretenders in planting a tree in front of the house of the loved one. The tradition led the town to be dubbed “the city of love”. Ecaussinnes is also famous for its quarries of granite, known locally as “blue stone”. The Ecaussinnes-Lalaing château, dating from the 11th century, is a listed monument. It is the birthplace of popular Belgian singer Julos Beaucarne.
Charleroi (Pop: 202,000)
A major industrial centre and the social capital of Wallonia as well as a stronghold of comics, Charleroi is familiar with the Tour de France, even hosting a prologue won by Francesco Moser in 1975. There were six starts and six finishes in town, often crowning sprinters like Jaan Kirsipuu on the Tour’s last visit in 2004. Charleroi was also often the start and finish of Fleche Wallonne. In 2006, it also hosted a stage of the Giro won by Robbie McEwen. Several ricers hail from Charleroi, the most famous probably being Pino Cerami, the 1960 Paris-Roubaix and Fleche Wallonne winner, who also won a Tour stage in 1963, at 41. A Grand Prix named after him in has been held since 1964. While coalmining has ceased, Charleroi remains a stronghold of the steel industry and has successfully turned to aeronautics and biotechnologies.
Most of the architectural heritage of Charleroi (town hall, belfry, Art Nouveau facades) dates from the late 19th century and early 20th century.
PROVINCE OF BRABANT WALLON
Population : 401,000
Surface: 1,090 km2
Arrondissements: Wavre, Nivelles.
Major events: Welcome Spring Festival in Louvain-la-Neuve ; Inc’Rock à incourt
Tourist sites: Waterloo memorial, Hergé museum, Lion’s Mound, Villers abbey, Folon foundation, Wellington museum, provincial domain of Hélécine.
Economy: services, new technologies, small firms.
Waterloo (Pop: 30,000)
Waterloo remains famous for the 1815 battle that saw Napoleon Bonaparte defeated by an allied army led by the Duke of Wellington. A famous railway station in London was named after the battle. The Lion’s Mound celebrating the battle is located in the nearby commune of Braine-l’Alleud. In 2004, Waterloo was the start of a Tour de France stage won in Wasquehal by Jean-Patrick Nazon.
The Lion’s Mound
It is a 40-metres-high artificial hill on top of which stands a 4.5-ton statue of an iron lion. A 226-step staircase takes the visitors to a terrace offering a panoramic view of the Brabant countryside. The imposing monument was built in 1826 on the site where the Prince of Orange was injured during the battle and over an ossuary. The pillar on which the lion stands is said to have been maid of melted arms used during the battle. Every year on June 18, a reconstitution of the battle is held at the bottom of the hill.
La Hulpe (Pop: 7,520)
On the outskirts of the Soignes forest, it is the hometown of Toots Thielemans, one of jazz most famous harmonica players, who was buried here upon his death in 2016. A small museum pays homage to the musician.
Château de Solvay
In 1833, Marquis Maximilian of Bethune bought 341 ha of land in the Soignes forest, which cleared to create a park. He then built three houses and two farms and began the construction of the castle (completed in 1842), which he entrusted to French architect Jean-Jacques Nicolas Arveuf-Fransquin and Belgian Jean-Francois Coppens. In 1893, Ernest Solvay, founder of the international company Solvay & Co, bought the property to make it his summer residence. He asked designer Victor Horta to refurbish the interior of the castle. His son, Armand Solvay, and his grandson, Ernest-John, made major improvements to the estate, giving it its current appearance. Listed in 1963, the castle was handed to the Belgian State on the condition of promoting cultural events. One of the farms in the estate houses more than 500 works by the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon, who has set up his foundation there.
Tervuren (Pop: 22,200)
One of Belgium’s wealthiest communes, Tervuren is linked to Brussels by a monumental avenue (avenue de Tervuren) built for the 1897 World Fair. The Tervuren dog is one of the four varieties of the Belgian Shepherd.
Cycling fans are familiar with Tervuren thanks to Eddy Merckx, who was once nicknamed the Ogre of Tervuren. He actually lived here in 1969 when he won his first Tour de France. And while he only stayed there for a couple of years, the nickname remained.
The origin of the AfricaMuseum dates back to the 1897 Brussels World Fair. At the initiative of King Leopold II, the colonial section of the Fair was moved to Tervuren in the Palais des Colonies. The halls displayed stuffed animals, geological samples, foodstuffs, Congolese ethnographic and artistic objects and works of art made in Belgium. An African village housing Congolese people during the day, was built in the park and seven of them died during the fair. Leopold II saw the museum as a tool of propaganda, intended to attract investors to Congo and to convince the Belgian population of his colonial project. In 1898, the temporary exhibition became the first permanent museum in Congo. From the start, AfricaMuseum was both a museum and a scientific institute. The Palais des Colonies soon proved too small. Leopold II approached Charles Girault, architect of the Petit Palais in Paris, and undertook an ambitious construction program. The plans included a complete site with a new Congo museum, an international school, a convention center, a train station, Chinese pavilions and a sports complex. In 1908, the Congo Free State became the Belgian Congo and the museum was renamed Belgian Congo Museum. Construction work was suspended. Leopold II having died before the completion of the works, King Albert I inaugurated the museum on April 30, 1910.
By Royal Decree of March 10, 1952, the museum became the Royal Belgian Congo Museum. At the independence of Congo, its name was changed to Royal Museum for Central Africa, offering a wider field of study. Today, two thirds of AfricaMuseum's staff and budget are devoted to scientific research.
Woluwé-Saint-Pierre (41 000 hab.)
Lying alongside the Brussels Ring, Woluwé-Saint-Pierre is interesting for the cycling fan as the place where Eddy Merckx grew up. His father, Jules, ran a grocery store in town. Today, a metro station – displaying the bike on which he broke the one-hour reord in 1972 – and a school are named after the five times Tour de France winner.
In the 1969 Tour, the first half-stage was finishing in Woluwé-Saint-Pierre and was won by Marino Basso. In the afternoon, Merckx’s Faema team won the team time trial and the Cannibal took the first of a long collection of yellow jerseys. Eddy left his childhood town in yellow heading for Maastricht. Still he briefly left his jersey to fellow-Belgian Julien Stevens, winner of the second stage. Merckx took the overall lead back a few days later at Ballon dr’Alsace and kept it all the way to Paris.
On the commune stands an innovative building listed by UNESCO as a Wolrd Heritage site. The Stoclet palace, prefiguring Art Deco, was built in 1905 by Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann for Belgian financier Adolphe Stoclet. The interior decoration was conceived notably by Gustav Klimt and Fernand Khnopff. The building, disputed by its inheritors, cannot be visited.
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