Cycling through World Heritage from France to Belgium
Itinerary - 7 days
Day 1 - Lille
You will not need a bike to go around Lille, but this charming city is worth the visit.
Strolling on the Grand’ Place, buying old posters and books in the Vieille Bourse, visiting the Opera or the Musee des Beaux Arts, or cycling to the Citadelle Vauban are a few of the many possibilities Lille has to offer. You can also very well just decide to walk in the narrow streets of Vieux Lille.
Day 2 - Mining Basin
Before starting this cycling trip, you can take the bus going directly to Bruay-La-Buissière, or take a train to Béthune and then the bus. If you choose the second option, you might want to make a stop at Béthune and walk around the Grand Place to admire the architecture and the beautiful belfry, inscribed on the World Heritage List. If you are there on a Monday, you can even go to the Market, which has only been held here for 10 centuries.
Once you arrive at Bruay-la-Buissière, you cannot miss the spoil heaps emerging from the horizon. You will also observe the city’s peculiar architecture with its aligned and identical houses. These used to be miner’s homes. Before heading to the “Terrils du Pays a part” (twin spoil heaps), make sure, to go to the Art Deco stadium-park and swimming pool. Even if you are not feeling like having a swim, the swimming pool will genuinely make you feel as if you were in the 1930s! A lot of movies were shot here because of its unique style. After this back in time experience, cycle to the “Terrils du Pays a part”: you can drop your bike at the bottom hill and climb up the wooden stairs for a magnificent view up the Northern pyramids.
Then cycle towards Lens, which is 25km away. While you cycle in the streets of Lens, remember that the city was completely destroyed during World War I and was rebuilt from scratch. You cannot leave Lens without making a stop at the Louvre-Lens Museum. This brand new museum will take you through the collections of the Louvre for an unprecedented journey.
You can then cycle to Douai and find a hotel if you are not too tired or in a city in-between Lens and Douai.
Day 3 - Douai
In Douai - the City of Giants- you cannot miss the World Heritage inscribed belfry with its impressive Gothic architectural style. You are encouraged to visit it! If you want to see an authentic mining village, go further north of Douai to the Clochette mining village. The 1920s church was built with Art Deco and Polish styles, which reveals the history of the mines and Douai.
Take your bike for half an hour to Lewarde, to the Mining History Centre and Delloye Mine. This is a true experience in the old Delloye pit, exploited until 1971 after three centuries of activity. It is now an industrial and human memorial with a mine museum explaining all you need to know about mining activities.
Day 4 - Valenciennes
Cycle further east, 30km away, to Valenciennes. This city was once called the Athens of the north because of its artistic influence. Stroll around the city to the town hall, the Watteau Square, Saint Géry (the city’s oldest church), place saint Nicolas, rue des Sayneurs… You might also take the time to go to the Musée des Beaux Arts to discover or rediscover 17th century Flemish paintings. At the outskirts of the city, look out for the unusual shape of the head frame of the Dutemple pit, one of the oldest of the Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin, which operated for 185 years!
Day 5 - Grand Hornu
It’s now time to go to Belgium. Ride your bike for 30 km east, cycle through the border up until Le Grand Hornu. Grand Hornu used to be one of the largest mining companies in 18th century Belgium. This place was exclusively built around mining works; from miners’ houses, to a school and shops. This place was once abandoned in the 1950s but renovated later, with a Contemporary Art Museum.
Cycle 10 km to Mons and explore the beautiful city centre.
Day 6 - Bois-du-Luc - Bois du Cazier
From Mons, ride to Bois du Luc, at 20km. On your way there, you will witness the impressive lifts of the Canal du Centre. If you have time, you can take a boat trip. If not, make sure to wait for a boat to come to see how the mechanics function.
Once again, you will get the impression to go back in time in Bois du Luc. It is one of the oldest mines in Belgium. Take the time to go through this authentic miners’ village. You can also go for a tour with audio guides to know more about the history of this place.
Take up your bike again to Charleroi, 30 km away. Head to the Bois du Cazier mine. This mine is a sad reminder of the 1965 disaster that made many victims. It is the place to commemorate miners’ work and their tough working and living conditions. The museums will give you insights into a miner’s daily life.
Day 7 - Namur
From Charleroi, you can either take your bike again to Namur (it is a long ride, 40km), or take a bus going straight to Namur (1h).
Spend the day in Namur to visit this historic city, located at the confluence of the Sambre and the Meuse. Walk up to the beautiful fortified citadel for an amazing view.
The Terra Nova Visitor Centre has an educational exhibition. You can book guided tours of the citadel and the citadel’s undergrounds that were recently restored. If you want a tour of the city, the tourist train can take you to the famous spots, unless you decide to wander around by yourself.
Once the day is over, you can go back to Charleroi by bus. Brussels South Charleroi Airport is only a few kilometres away, but it is better and safer to take the bus to the airport.