Taking care to enunciate his vowels, Stuart Render takes a breather next to the man who invented Charlie Parker’s instrument of choice – and visits the House of Sax…………….
Walking through the streets of the picturesque southern Belgian (Wallonia) town of Dinant you spot a bench up ahead. Ah, time to rest your weary feet. Oh, there’s already someone sitting on the bench. Oh well, no matter, they surely won’t mind if you join them.
You take your seat, but quickly realise something’s not quite right. The person next to you has his arm stretched out along the back of the bench, and he’s not moving it. How rude! You turn to see who this person is, and you get quite a shock. This isn’t a real person at all, but a bronze statue, and there’s a saxophone sitting in his lap.
You’ve just done what many thousands of visitors to Dinant do every year, and taken a seat next to Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone and arguably Dinant’s most famous son. The statue is an invitation to visit ‘La Maison de Monsieur Sax’. This small museum is located in a building just behind the bench on the very spot where Adolphe Sax was born on 6 November 1814. This isn’t really a museum, more an ‘interpretive centre’ that helps you discover more about the history of both the man and the instrument. It doesn’t take very long to have a look around, but it’s all very nicely done. ‘The House of Mr Sax’ is open every day from 9am to 7pm and is free to enter.
There’s another sax related surprise in Dinant. The town sits on the River Meuse. Crossing the river in the centre of Dinant is the Charles de Gaulle Bridge. The former French president was shot in the leg during WWI as he passed through Dinant. A statue at one end of the bridge tells the story. But you probably won’t be looking at the statue because along both sides of the bridge are a total of 28 large, multicoloured, stylised saxophones. Erected in 2010 to represent the European Union and the instrument’s connection with the town, each sax is decorated to represent a different European country.
Perched high on a cliff above the town, Dinant’s famous Citadel is a relatively recent construction, completed in 1815, although there have been fortifications on the site since the 9th century. Should you feel fit, there are 408 stone steps to reach the top. Alternatively, take the little cable car. Information panels in the Citadel tell Dinant’s story and you can visit the dungeons, kitchens and the fascinating carriages and weapon museum.
A short way upstream is Chateau Freyr and Gardens. This former summer house of the Dukes of Beaufort-Spontin has a definite air of Versailles about it, and the riverside location is rather impressive too.
Every August Dinant hosts the International Bathtub Regatta, a unique sporting event that sees a fleet of floating bathtubs decorated in unusual and original ways, propelled by human force alone along a one-kilometre-long course. Each year more than 25,000 people descend on the town and the river to watch the spectacle.
Further along the Meuse, take time to visit the Jardins d’Annevoie, home to more than 20 ornamental ponds and lakes, all fed by 50 or so waterfalls, jets and cascades, and all powered by gravity. Once a year, usually in May, the gardens play host to a Venetian Carnival Festival. During this three day event, around a hundred people dressed in full Venetian carnival costumes slowly wander around the gardens. It is a most magnificent sight, and truly an event not to be missed.
Dinant is a three-hour drive from Calais. Alternatively, take Eurostar to Brussels and continue by connecting train. For more information about Wallonia, go to www.walloniabelgiumtourism.co.uk