The UNESCO World Heritage sites list isn’t a place I typically go for travel inspiration. Some of those places are historic and important, but don’t necessarily provide a great tourism experience.
The other day, though, one entry happened to catch my attention: the Belfries of Belgium and France. I’ve seen many, and I had never know that as a collective they are recognised by UNESCO for their cultural importance. There are fifty six in total, but I thought I’d highlight a few of the most iconic and beautiful belfries here.
Bruges and its fairytale belfry is no secret to tourists. Well documented here at STE for its chocolate and beer, it is well worth a visit, especially if you have time to pop over to Ghent while you’re here. Don’t miss the view from the top of the belfry!
Lille is one of my favourite cities in France. From the cobblestone streets the old historic areas, it’s just a great travel experience. It’s easy to miss the belfy, because there are so many beautiful buildings on the square its on.
As this gorgeous shot shows, the devil is in the details. Arras is a beautiful town – the town Lion sits above the belfry looking over a beautiful square. The town’s cathedral is also quite unique and a must see.
Most folk whiz by Mechelen in a rush to getting between Brussels and Antwerp. It’s a great town, with some nice bars and cafes, as well as this very imposing belfry tower. The builders weren’t successful, but actually their intent was to have the highest tower in the lowlands.
Dunkirk is somewhat notable as a historic backdrop during WWII. The city’s less than 10 miles from the Belgian border, and it’s on the sea and has a lovely boardwalk. The city’s belfry was one of two marking points (the other was in Barcelona) used in the first measurements to establish the meter.
Hard to believe this beautiful old tower and building was actually one of the largest commercial buildings during the Middle Ages and was the centre of Belgium’s cloth trade. If you happen to arrive on the day of the Cat Festival in Ypres, you may wonder what’s up with the stuffed cats being thrown off the tower; it relates to a medieval tradition, one that’s pretty much been unexplained.
Lucheux is a tiny little town with a lot of hidden secrets. The belfry sits atop one of the remaining city gates, and once you’re inside the walls you’ll find a number of other really interesting attractions. There’s a 15th century chateau, the “marriage” tree (strangely hollowed), other ruins and still intact buildings that reflect the typical architecture of this region of France.
Last but not least is this gorgeous belfry in Aalst, Belgium, one of the oldest in the country. It’s so pretty it could easily be a Disney castle, though don’t tell them about the former torture chambers in the cellar. Don’t miss the city’s cathedral, which also has a priceless Rubens painting inside.