This city on the Meuse River is in an incredibly picturesque spot, squeezed between the water and the high valley walls.
To the east is an insurmountable wall of limestone that has long made Dinant an attractive place for armies to gain a foothold on the Meuse.
That cliff is still topped by a citadel, above the distinctive 16th-centuy onion dome of the Collegiate Church.
On the riverside is Boulevard Léon Sasserath and its unending string of restaurant and cafe terraces.
Safe to say that Dinant is a city with sax appeal, as the birthplace of Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), the inventor of the saxophone.
There are saxophone monuments all over town in his honour, including along the bridge on which Charles de Gaulle took a bullet in the leg in 1914.
1. La Citadelle de Dinant
The formidable cliff enclosing Dinant to the east has been fortified since the 11th century when the Bishop of Liège ordered a castle defending the town and the crossing on the Meuse below.
This building was razed by the Burgundians in the Sack of Dinant in 1466. Later, the French military mastermind Vauban adapted the citadel for gunpowder, and this defence was modified by the Dutch in 1818-1821. The citadel was heavily involved in the Battle of Dinant in 1914, and there’s a space inside dedicated to this violent event, recreating trench warfare.
You’ll also find an intriguing weapons museum, apt for a city that has been caught up in so much fighting.
The preserved bakery, kitchens, barracks and dungeons meanwhile offer a sense of what it was like to be posted at the citadel in the early 19th century.
And to get up here you can save yourself long-winded journey by catching the cable-car that departs just next to the Collégiale Notre-Dame.
2. Collégiale Notre-Dame de Dinant
Maybe the first thing you’ll notice about the church on the riverside below the citadel is the curious onion dome that crests the western tower at a height of 100 metres, and dating back to the 16th century.
Another unusual feature is the rather short choir, curtailed by the church’s small plot as there’s a immense wall of rock behind.
In fact a rock fall took out the Collégiale Notre-Dame’s Romanesque predecessor, only the north portal of which survives.
The rest was built in the 13th and 14th century, but has had to be reconstructed three times after taking damage in 1466, 1554 and 1914. There’s painting inside by the Dinant-born Romantic artist Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865). Exceptionally old are the lifelike faces carved into the hexagonal Romanesque basin of the baptismal font, dating from the 1000s.
3. Grotte la Merveilleuse
This show-cave was discovered over the left bank of the Meuse in 1904 and quickly won a lot of admirers for its many concretions in varying colours.
On three levels, these stalactites and stalagmites come in pink, brown, blue and bright white, and are accompanied by subterranean waterfalls.
You can enjoy Grotte la Merveilleuse on a light stairway (120 steps) and the temperature in the cave rests at a steady 13°C all year round.
4. Rocher Bayard
On the right bank of the Meuse between Dinant and Anseremme is an iconic needle of rock, 40 metres tall.
Rocher Bayard stands along from an epic ridge of protruding limestone that continues up the side of the valley, and you can drive between the needle and the rest of the ridge along the northbound lane of Rue Defoin.
The story of how Rocher Bayard broke away is steeped in folklore, namely the Ardennes’ tale of the Four Sons of Aymon.
The story goes that the cleave was created by the hooves of their magical horse Bayard as it rescued the knight Renaud de Montauban and his three brothers from Charlemagne.
5. Parc de Furfooz
It’s hard to resist the lure of the nature all around Dinant.
You can traverse a piece of this terrain on foot along the Lesse Valley at Parc de Furfooz.
The scenery in this nature reserve, with its sun-baked limestone rock, has been compared to Provence.
There’s an archaeological angle to the place too, as people (or our close ancestors) have been living here since the Palaeolithic period.
A stairway carries you through caves once inhabited by humans, but there’s also a reconstructed Roman bath and a plateau that was fortified in the Middle Ages.
The main yellow trail at Parc de Furfooz is four kilometres and will take two hours at a gentle clip.
6. Maison Leffe
Abbaye Notre-Dame de Leffe has a brewing tradition going back to 1240, later spawning one of Europe’s most famous beer brands.
You can discover this riveting history at a museum set up by the brand in the chapel of the former Bethléem convent, now an upscale hotel.
Maison Leffe is a modern experience, full of touch-screens and interactivity.
You’ll discover how the abbey brewed beer initially as a way of avoiding waterborne diseases like typhus, and find out about its long-held reputation for hospitality.
There are also nine different Leffe beers to try, some of which may not be available in your country, and you’ll find out what food goes best with each brew.
7. Château de Vêves
This beautiful 15th-century château in the nearby village of Celles is posted on a rocky spur that has been fortified since as long ago as the 7th century and the days of Frankish statesman Pepin of Herstal.
The current early Renaissance design, with five commanding circular towers, came in the wake the building’s destruction at the beginning of the 1400s.
The outward appearance hasn’t changed much since then, but the interior courtyard was reworked several times, and has a fine two-level, half-timbered gallery and another facade in an 18th-century Louis XV style.
Head in for a guided tour to appreciate centuries’ worth of art, decoration and historical keepsakes, including ceramics, portraits and furniture, all in a stately setting.
8. Maison de Monsieur Sax
There’s lots of little reminders around Dinant about the famous wind instrument inventor Adolphe Sax who was born here.
And you can visit the house where Sax was born in 1914, set on his namesake street, fronted by a bench with a statue of the man holding his invention.
Go in and there’s a smart multimedia exhibition letting you distinguish between the various types of saxophones and explaining Sax’s immense technical contribution to the music world.
You’ll discover the saxophone’s impact on popular culture, from Charlie Parker to Lisa Simpson, and learn Sax’s unfortunate life story, which ended in poverty, with only posthumous recognition and success after a 20-year legal dispute over patent infringement.
9. Jardins d’Annevoie
A few minutes down the Meuse and you’ll come to a château embedded in a set of water gardens unique in Belgium.
Primarily in the French formal style, but with Italian and English flourishes, these gardens were laid out by the Montpellier family at the same time as the château in the middle of the 18th century.
The water for this sequence of ponds, waterfalls and fountains is channelled from the Rouillon River, and rather than being pumped by artificial means, flows through the gardens according to the natural contours of the landscape.
The château is closed to the public but from the end of March to the start of November you can spend an hour or two lost in the beauty of the water gardens.
10. Crèvecœur Castle
High on the Meuse’s left bank are the crumbling ruins of a castle constructed in the 14th century to defend Bouvignes-sur-Meuse.
In 1554 this was besieged and fell to Henry II of France.
The king slighted the castle to stop it being reused, which is the origin of its current name, ” Crèvecœur” (Heartbreak). The story goes that three local women threw themselves from the highest tower to avoid falling into the hands of the invaders.
Meeting you at the bottom of the steps is a historic gatehouse, once part of the castle.
And up among the ruins you can easily make out the base of a powerful semicircular tower erected around 1430. The ruins command stirring vistas of the Meuse Valley, over Bouvignes and south to Dinant, just a couple of kilometres away.
11. Abbaye Notre-Dame de Leffe
On the right bank of the Meuse pay a visit to the Premonstratensian abbey that gave us the famous beer.
This was founded in the middle of the 12th century and has operated ever since, apart from during a hiatus from 1784 to 1903 caused by the French Revolution.
In the summer months you can take a look around for free on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 15:00. Long before the French Revolution Abbaye Notre-Dame de Leffe had been largely destroyed in 1466 by Burgundian forces during the Wars of Liège.
The oldest buildings on the double interior courtyard date from the rebuild during the 17th century.
The Abbots’ quarter is particularly grand, and has a chamber with an expansive fireplace, Renaissance furniture and numerous sculptures and portraits.
12. Castle of Freÿr
A short drive up the Meuse from Dinant will bring you to this fine property that was the summer residence for the Dukes of Beaufort-Spontin.
The Castle of Freÿr’s opulence comes from 16th and 17th-century Renaissance and Baroque extensions.
But before that time it had defensive role on a strategic stretch of the Meuse until its keep was destroyed by the French in 1554. As you see it now, the castle, which has been in the Beaufort-Spontin family for 20 generations, is a shining example of an 18th-century aristocratic residence, enriched with the family’s period furniture.
There are glorious Louis XV-style ceiling frescoes and wall paintings by Frans Snyders (1579-1657), but it’s the formal terraced gardens landscaped in the style of André Le Nôtre that are most celebrated.
These have magnificent views of the soaring limestone cliffs on the opposite bank and are famed for their orange trees planted at the beginning of the 18th century and among the oldest in Europe.
At the highest point is a Rococo pavilion with dainty stucco mouldings of tritons and angels.
13. Pont Charles de Gaulle
Possibly the darkest moment in Dinant’s tempestuous history came in August 1914, during an engagement between the French and Germans in a fight for control of the Meuse.
The Battle of Dinant was bloody and chaotic, and amid the confusion (probably caused by friendly fire) the Germans accused Dinant’s citizens of partisan attacks and massacred 674 unarmed civilians.
The battle also laid much of the historic cityscape to waste.
One man involved in the fighting was the young lieutenant Charles de Gaulle, who was also one of the first to be wounded when he was shot in the lower leg.
Close to the west bank there’s a plaque marking the spot where the future president of France was wounded, and there’s a stylised statue of the man close by.
On the brighter side of things, since 2010 the bridge’s roadway has been lined with saxophones, each painted in the style of a different European country.
14. Lesse River Trip
The Lesse meanders through breathtaking scenery on the way to its confluence with the Meuse at Anseremme.
This river threads through peaceful, sparsely inhabited woodland, and looming over the banks are wild rock formations and fairytale castles.
The best way to appreciate this scenery in all its majesty is from the water.
In the summer Dinant Evasion offers kayaking experiences on a short (12km) or long (21km) course down the river.
There’s a regular shuttle taking you to your starting point, and as you float back to Anseremme you’ll pass plenty of places where you can pull your kayak ashore for a drink or meal.
For trips on the Meuse, Dinant Evasion also rents out silent and eco-friendly electric boats.
15. Dinant Aventure
The same company renting out kayaks on the Lesse also runs an outdoor adventure park close by at a converted sandstone quarry.
Dinant Aventure sprawls over almost 20 hectares and has a variety of rope courses high above the Meuse Valley.
These vary in difficulty and the time it takes to complete them, as you traverse a variety of suspended bridges, scale sheer rock walls on Via Vita trail, put your sense of balance to the test and swing from tree to tree.
The longest crossing is 100 metres long, 60 metres high, while on the XL swing you’ll swoop from a 60-metre platform.
Dinant Aventure also has two landscaped arenas for paintballing and laser tag, and you can combine these courses/activities in a range of different packages.