Anchored on both banks of the Dyle River, Wavre is a small city in Walloon Brabant not far from the boundary with Flanders.
In the 1970s Wavre was put on the tourist map with the opening of Walibi Belgium, an amusement park bursting with innovative rides, complete with a water park.
Wavre is often known within Belgium as the Cité du Maca, and this is to do with the statue of a boy climbing the wall in front of the town hall.
You may notice that Maca’s backside is shiny, from decades of people rubbing it for good luck.
On the epicurean side, the city is noted for the exceptional quality of its pralines, and also has the largest weekly market in all of Walloon Brabant.
1. Walibi Belgium
One of Belgium’s best-loved amusement parks is right across the E411 under ten minutes from Wavre’s city centre.
If you’re wondering about the name, Walibi is a portmanteau of the first two letters of the surrounding towns of Wavre, Limal and Bierges.
The park opened in 1975 and has stayed with the times, introducing a new thrill ride every couple of years.
For white-knuckle fans, the signatures are the epic wooden rollercoaster Loup-Garou (Werewolf) and 2016’s Pulsar, which is a launched shuttle rollercoaster topping 101km/h and finishing with a splashdown.
The classic Psyké Underground was the first launched rollercoaster in Europe when it opened in 1982, and reopened in 2013 after an update.
And then there’s the Dalton Terror drop, and its 77-metre descent.
There are tons more thrill rides at Walibi, and much more on the menu if you’re visiting with younger children.
The park stays open late and puts on special entertainment and fireworks on Saturdays in July and August, while in the build-up to Halloween there’s all sorts of spooky fun.
The top water park in the country opened at the entrance to Walibi Belgium in 1987. Sensibly, Aqualibi is mostly indoors, and under the vaulting glass roofs there’s a wave pool, a relaxation pool with massage jets and Laguna Verde heated to 36°C and accompanied by jacuzzis.
There are also slides for all ages, four of which offer plenty of exhilaration for thrill-seekers.
These are Zap, Jet, Xtreme and Flash, which hits a top speed of 50km/h.
Finally, Youngsters up to the age of eight can play to their hearts’ content at the Mini Beach, spread over 700 square metres.
3. Aventure Parc
Up in the woods on the west side of Wavre is the largest high ropes park in Belgium, in which you swing, climb and leap between the treetops.
There are 23 different colour-coded courses in Aventure Parc, catering to all ages, including children as young as four.
The littlest climbers can clamber over the two white courses, and, progressing in difficulty and age band, you’ve got yellow, green, red and black.
For those who have beaten everything else and need a real challenge, the black courses are higher above the forest floor and have trickier transitions.
Aventure Parc also has three zip-lines, including the Fly-Line, the first rotating zip-line in the country.
And if you still need a thrill you can take on one of the park’s “jumps”, from a 20-metre freefall to a reverse bungee jump.
4. Musée Hergé
Tintin fans will tickled by the address of this modern museum in honour of Hergé (Georges Prosper Remi). This is Rue Labrador 26, Tintin’s first home in the series of swashbuckling action-adventure books published from 1929 to 1976. The Musée Hergé’s extraordinary building in Louvain-la-Neuve was designed by Pritzker Prize-winner Christian de Portzamparc, with interiors by cartoonist Joos Swarte.
Beginning at the top, the museum’s trail takes you through nine rooms, where you’ll trace Hergé’s early life and beginnings as a commercial artist and see the development of his inimitable “ligne claire” drawing style.
You’ll be introduced to all the main characters in the series, see the many places that Tintin has travelled to around the world and even study the science behind the Tintin books at Professor Calculus’s study.
5. Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Wavre
There’s mention of a church at this exact location in the 12th century, but this was claimed by a massive fire in 1489 that also killed half of Wavre’s population.
The rebuild began right away, and the Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste has a mostly Gothic style, although elements like the choir had to be reconstructed after another blaze in 1695. The tower is from the 1630s and will capture your gaze with its tight bands of brick and white limestone, contrasting with the nave and choir, which are made from ferruginous sandstone.
Head in to admire the confessionals, baptismal font, pulpit, stained glass and high altar.
The building still has evidence of the fighting that took place during the Battle of Wavre in 1815. In fact a French cannonball is still visibly lodged in the third pillar, four metres above the floor in the right aisle.
The tower’s carillon was installed in 1954 and received its 50th bell in 2003. Wavre’s carilloneuse gives a little concert every Wednesday and Saturday, just before noon to coincide with the market.
6. Hôtel de Ville
Wavre’s town hall has a rather unusual venue, in the Baroque church of a Carmelite convent, built in 1662. Its completion heralded an eventful few decades: The convent was levelled by fire in 1695, rebuilt around 1720 and then suppressed in 1797, after which it was taken over by the city.
The building had to be restored after extensive damage from Luftwaffe bombing in 1940. You can look up at the solemn main facade from the square in front.
This is composed of red brick, but with a reddish ferruginous sandstone in horizontal bands, and on the dressings.
Check out the monumental main portal, the ornamented frame of a large stained glass window and the Baroque gable in two registers.
7. Le Maca
One monument you might find a little “cheeky” is the bronze statue of a boy showing his buttocks climbing the wall in front of Wavre’s Hôtel de Ville.
Le Maca was cast in 1962 by sculptor Jean Godart, and represents the famously irreverent spirit of people from Wavre.
The work also commemorates the town charter granted by Henry I, Duke of Brabant in 1222, giving Wavre’s burger class a degree of political and economic autonomy, and ushering in centuries of prosperity.
As you may notice, Le Maca’s cheeks have been polished to a shen by decades of people rubbing them for a year of good luck.
Wavre is often called “La Cité du Maca”, and people from the city, especially those born to parents from Wavre, are known as “Macas”.
8. Wavre Pralines
If you have a taste for luxury confectionery then you couldn’t pick a better place than Wavre, celebrated for its pralines since just after the Second World War.
Each one a little work of art, pralines in Wavre are handmade to exacting standards by master chocolatiers, using first-rate ingredients and no preservatives.
Some shops to check out are L’Art de Praslin (Rue de Nivelles 12) in business since 1958, Chocolatier Lio (Rue des Carmes 12) known for its decadent ganache pralines with chilli, rosemary or violet, and finally Chocolate Temptation (Rue Charles Sambon 19) making 30 different varieties from Earl Grey to deep, rich 70% cocoa ganache.
9. Pont du Christ
The Seventh Coalition might not have defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 were it not for the Battle of Wavre, which took place mostly on the same day, on 18 June.
Fought on the Dyle between the Prussian rearguard and the French Army, it allowed 72,000 Prussian troops to reinforce Wellington at Waterloo, while keeping 33,000 French troops engaged, away from that decisive battle.
There are commemorative plaques at the Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste (mentioning the cannonball) and at the Pont du Christ.
This crossing on the namesake street leading down to Place Bosch is so small that you might not notice it.
But you will see a metallic crucifix, which predates the Napoleonic war and has a hole on its left side caused by a musket ball in the battle.
Along the Dyle, on the Quai du Trompette especially, a lot of facades still display scars from the fighting more than 200 years ago.
10. Château de l’Ermitage and Parc Nelson Mandela
Very close to the city’s western fringe, at the foot of the Beumont Hill, there was a Medieval hermitage that stood the test of time for centuries.
At the end of the 19th century a Renaissance Revival château took its place, and this hosted Wavre’s German Kommandantur during the First World War.
The building was later a boarding school until it was bought by Wavre in the 1980s, becoming a cultural centre, with exhibitions, talks and concerts.
The grounds, rechristened Parc Nelson Mandela in 2013, are an inviting green haven, with neat lawns, formal flowerbeds, and featuring Wavre’s municipal greenhouses.
11. Bois des Rêves
For a stress-free summer day out with the family there’s an alternative to Walibi Belgium, 15 minutes south at this provincial estate in 67 hectares of parkland.
Walkers and joggers can make their way along 17 kilometres of marked trails in woodland and meadows at Bois des Rêves.
The estate also has a designated mountain bike track, a fishing pond, a huge playground for youngsters and seven barbecue pits.
But the main attraction from June to August is the outdoor pool, accompanied by a beach and a paddling pool for babies and toddlers.
12. Basilique Notre-Dame de Basse-Wavre
A worthwhile stop if you find yourself in Basse-Wavre to the north-east of Wavre proper is this Baroque church that was elevated to minor basilica in 1999. The reason for this is an image of the Virgin carved in 1640, named Notre-Dame de Paix et de Concorde.
This image has long been the subject of pilgrimages, as well as an annual procession (Grand Tour) which we’ll talk about next.
The church, Notre-Dame de Basse-Wavre was built in the 16th and 17th century on the ruins of a Benedictine Priory going back to the 1000s.
As well as that statue, there’s a reliquary shrine known as “Arche d’Alliance” (Ark of the Covenant), holding relics for more than 40 saints and martyrs, and also carried in that annual procession.
13. Grand Tour
The famous procession of veneration and thanks to Mary takes place on the Saturday after the Feast of St John the Baptist (24 June). This ritual, and enduring spectacle of religious devotion, was established by the Benedictine monks who founded Notre-Dame de Basse-Wavre at the start of the 16th century, and is recognised as intangible heritage by UNESCO.
On the Saturday evening pilgrims arrive in Wavre on foot from Noville-sur-Mehaigne, 25 kilometres away.
They are welcomed with a torchlight procession to the church in Basse-Wavre and a fireworks display in front of the Hôtel de Ville.
On the Sunday the Grand Tour takes the 17th-century image of Notre-Dame de Paix et de Concorde, accompanied by the 130kg reliquary mentioned above, around a dozen chapels and shrines in the area, covering a distance of nine kilometres.
The province of Walloon Brabant has a large and growing network of cycle paths that are integrated with systems in Flanders, as well as the Walloon provinces of Liège, Hainaut and Namur.
As of 2020 there are 1,080 kilometres of mostly traffic-free paths right on Wavre’s doorstep.
You’ll be able to plan your own trip on this system using “Point-Nœuds”, numbered junctions.
Remember the numbers and it’s impossible to get lost.
The website for Walloon Brabant has a comprehensive guide to the junctions in the province.
The continental Eurovelo 5 route passes through Wavre, and you can ride a portion south-east towards Namur.
This will take you along little country lanes in the fertile Hesbaye Valley, through fields growing crops like wheat and beetroot.
15. Marché de Wavre
Wavre has markets on Wednesday and Saturday.
The Wednesday market is recognised as the largest in Walloon Brabant, and what’s amazing is that there’s a document from 1292 that specifies the exact streets on which it’s held.
With 200+ stalls, the market trades from 08:00 to 13:00, bringing a real buzz to the city centre along Quai aux Huîtres, Rue du Chemin de Fer, Rue du Commerce, Rue Haute, Rue de Nivelles, Rue du Pont du Christ, and on Place Cardinal Mercier and Place Alphonse Bosch.
We’d need a whole article to list the kind of traders, at the market, but typically you’ll find greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers, florists, as well as also sorts of dairy products, baked goods, organic food, confectionery, international/speciality foods, perfume, fabrics and a whole lot more.
Then on Saturday there’s a smaller market for fresh produce, cut flowers and annual plants on Place Cardinal Mercier and Rue du Commerce.