Make sure you see the Pont des Trous while you still can. This arched bridge was formerly a part of Tournai’s second wall and defended the town from invaders – of which there were many – from the 13th century. It was destroyed during World War II but then rebuilt and widened to make room for the massive freight barges that ply their trade along the river Scheldt. Don’t delay though – plans are underway to open the river to even larger vessels, which could mean that the bridge will be removed for good.
Often overlooked in favour of the more famous belfry and Romanesque-Gothic cathedral is the Musée de Folklore. With a barely believable 23 rooms squeezed into what appears to be a pair of small buildings, the museum tells the story of Tournai life through the ages. Numerous tableaux depict everything from common workday tasks to carnival fun. It’s a deceptively spacious museum, so make sure you have a couple of hours to spare. Entrance fees start at a very fair €2, but all museums in Tournai are free on the first Sunday of every month.
Tournai is so close to the French border it’s (happily) difficult to avoid French cuisine. The diminutive restaurant Si Jamais right in the middle of town, serves French and Belgian fare, with many dishes giving a slight nod to world cuisine. If you can’t decide, the threecourse menu découverte is good value at €34.
For something a little different, Un Thé Sous le Figuier has sparse décor but a packed menu featuring Picard, French and North African dishes. Try the Ch’ti burger, a Picard delight with braised chicory and Maroilles cheese, or move on to North Africa with a chicken and preserved lemon tagine.
The Belgians love a good carnival, and the Tournaisiens are no exception. Those lucky enough to be visiting in March can enjoy the spectacle of the Tournai carnival. Every year, the event has a theme and this year it’s ‘Balloons and Candy’ – what better one for a carnival? Things get started on 16 March with ‘La Nuit des Intrigues’ and culminate in a masquerade and grand ball on the Saturday. Even the town’s statues are dressed for the occasion. This year is also going to be a particularly festive event as the carnival is celebrating its 30th birthday.
Het Bintjeshof (rooms from €70) is a converted farmhouse that provides a relaxing base from which to visit Tournai or indeed nearby Lille. This B&B offers bicycle rentals (pedal-powered and electric) as well as cosy, calm and thoughtfully decorated rooms in farmland surroundings – 6km from Tournai. The rooms are, unconventionally, all named after potatoes.
Nightlife, in the usual sense, is difficult to find in Tournai itself, but take a stroll along the quayside in good weather and you will find numerous bars, bistros and cafés that stay open long enough for night owls.