Industrial Valley of Belgium
Belgium, a small country but so much to offer to any visitor. I cannot count any longer how many times I’ve come to everywhere, especially Bruges, Ghent and Brussels, yet never getting tired for returning to Brussels. One of my favourite European cities with difference and because of its pretty much central location in the country, easy for making it the base and visiting other places around. If this is your first time travelling to the country and planning a visit to Brussels, then it’s best you check the separate travel guide for it, just simply click here. Right now, I will be splitting into 2 different guides all the places that we planned for this weekend.
In order for me to plan where else to go within a country and what is there worth to visit and keep returning to that country, sometimes often, I usually check the UNESCO website in search of UNESCO sites. This is already a very solid base that has never failed to us, not to mention we are strongly UNESCO sites seekers. So in this occasion, I could work out and prepare another great trip full or surprises: The Four Lifts of the Canal du Centre and the Major Mining Sites of Wallonia, all of which scattered along some 100 kilometers between the farthest ones, all the others in between more or less near each other, and south of Brussels. From near Liege at the east to Saint-Ghislain in the west, you will see it makes perfect sense to follow an east-west or west-east order since once site comes after next.
Either if this is your first time at 19th/20th century coal mines or if you’ve visited elsewhere some other mines, it is guaranteed you will love it! Not only the incredible underground tour at the Blegny Mine, but also the beautiful pieces of industrial architecture that was raised above, some of which influenced in the art-nouveau style.
Visiting the 4 sites will take you a while the entire day, and if you do not have your own transportation, say a rental car, then it will be hard to be able to see them all, unless getting on an organised tour which in any case will not take you to the 4 sites. With a car it is easy and very flexible, and major reason why you can visit all the sites including the hydraulic lifts of the Canal du Centre that lie in La Louviere right in between your mine tour.
For more information about the mining sites of Wallonia check Wikipedia site. Belgium’s currency is the Euro. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
How to get there
The mines sites are 4, and so are 4 the hydraulic lifts. You will be visiting them in a mixed order. From our experience I will describe our east to west route in that order coming from Brussels, our base. The first point, Blegny Mine is 110 kilometres to the east from Brussels, almost at the nearby city of Liege. From here, the logical order comes straightforward, with Bois du Cazier taking the next long distance drive at 113 kilometres from Blegny. And once you reach Bois du Cazier, however, all other sites are very near each other, in combination with the 4 hydraulic locks of the Canal du Centre in between.
Bois du Cazier to Bois du Luc is 35 kilometres to the west, and only 2 more to the north for the first set of hydraulic lifts of the canal. From here simply following the parallel road to the Canal du Centre (which is anyway marked indicating where the lifts 1, 2, 3 and 4 are) you will pass through them all, and by the lift number 4, almost next, is also the “new” Strépy-Bracquegnies lift, the second largest in the world. Farther to the west for another 25 kilometres you will reach Le Grand Hornu, the last of the industrial mine monuments. Unfortunately let me tell you, by the time you reach the Hornu it will be closed, sou the only you can see is from outside. It is up to you if you want to make the extra effort to come here or no. I only managed 3 pictures, but I can say I was there too. From this point back to Brussels is around 80 kilometres.
If you count all together, it might sound like a lot of kilometres to be done in just one day, but the reality is a nice and fast drive in both motorways and local roads passing nice industrial landscapes and villages, making it extremely enjoyable journey.
What to see and do
- Blegny Mine Located to the east of the city of Liege, 109 kilometres from downtown Brussels. This former coal mine closed in 1980 and converted to a museum right afterwards, offering also a very nice underground tour. It is very complete since nothing was dismantled after closure, with original equipment in place and still working for demonstrations.
- Bois du Cazier Just south of Charleroi, 113 kilometres west from the Blegny Mine. This coal mine closed in 1967, and is unfortunately well known for the disaster of 1956 where 262 workers were killed in an accident. It has beautiful art-nouveau style buildings that can be visited, but is not open for underground tours.
- Bois du Luc In La Louviere, just south from the first 2 hydraulic lifts of the Canal du Centre; 35 kilometres west from Bois du Cazier. One of the oldest mines in Belgium, with recorded activity since 1685 at the site. It was active until 1973, and nowadays of special importance and character for the surrounding “company town” that was created to house the workers, making it the best example in the country.
- Le Grand Hornu 30km west of La Louviere, in Saint-Ghislain. One of Europe’s oldest collieries, built in 1830, an unique example of functional town-planning.
As we did not stay overnight at any of those places but back in our base, Brussels, I cannot say anything about the region of Wallonia with regards to accommodation. A good point to start your search, however, is by checking some of our preferred hotel search engine websites such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers. And for one of the most complete selection of hotels we’ve been in Brussels, check the travel guide here.