Bois du Cazier & other things to do in Charleroi (Wallonia - Belgium)

This article first appeared in My Travelogue by Bhushavali
 
ONE DAY IN CHARLEROI TRAVELOGUE

I've visited Charleroi so many times, but only for the Brussels South Charleroi Airport where all the low-cost carriers including most Ryan Air flights operate from. Everytime I boarded or alighted a flight here, the thought of visiting the city for the sake of the city, kept returning. Plus, I did have a major motivating factor too - the presence of Bois du Cazier coal mine - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So here's more about Charleroi, the city, and whether is it worth visiting Charleroi.
 
That's the funny thing. For more than a year I pronounced it Charleroi, like how you'd pronounce it in English - Charle-roy. That's how the other airports also pronounced it when mentioning their destination in announcements. BUT THEN....... the local language is French. '***oi' in french is always pronounced '***wa', may it be any word that ends with 'oi'. For eg., 'your' in french is 'toi', pronounced 'twa', 'law' is 'loi', pronounced 'lwa' etc.... 
Hence, Charleroi is correctly pronounced correctly as 'Charl-rwa'.... 'Roi' literally means 'King' in French and Charleroi literally means King Charles..... 

The reason why I didn't proactively head to Charleroi was because I wanted to visit Aulne Abbey too on the day and it was a bit too far without regular bus connectivity. Buses to Aulne Abbey from Charleroi are called ABBA (yes, I'm serious! Bus doesn't have a number, but has the word ABBA). They operate only in summers. Unfortunately this summer, thanks to Covid, that too didn't operate in June/July. Then came the idea, (and the thought of why was I so stupid to have not gotten this idea earlier) - Biking! I hired an electric bike at Charleroi Railway station's Velo Point and got to include Aulne Abbey too in my one day itinerary on this day-trip from Brussels to Charleroi.

There are 4 historic coal mines in Belgium that are listed together under UNESCO as Major Mining Sites of Wallonia. The other 3 are Grand Hornu, Blegny Mine, Bois du Luc. The 4 mines were selected to play a particular role - Grand Hornu for its architecture, Blegny Mine for its know-how, Bois du Luc for its social life, and this Bois du Cazier for its Memory...
  
UNESCO Bois du Cazier Coal Mine

Industry Museum in Bois du Cazier Charleroi

Lanterns of Miners - Bois du Cazier

Bois du Cazier Charleroi - Recreated houses of miners
  
This site has been functioning as a coal mining site since early 1800s. Like every other coal mine in the region, this too was one of the primary employment generating industries with people from Italy, Algeria, Hungary, Russia & more. On 8th Aug 1956, as usual, 275 men descended the mines. However unfortunately, electric cables ruptured which caused fire inside the mines, which also released smoke & carbon monoxide. While the main shaft was in fire, the other shaft was pretty much useless and rescuers tried to dig another shaft to reach the trapped miners. Despite the efforts to rescue them from the surface, nothing really helped. 262 of the 275 were killed of whom, 136 were Italians!!! This is the most depressing, disastrous tragedy in the history of Belgian mining. Today the mines are left as they are for us to understand the work environment including their lanterns, badges, uniforms, shower-rooms etc and majorly as a memorial for the lives lost. Very many Italians visit Bois du Cazier till date to pay their homage. 

Apart from the Museum of the Bois du Cazier coal mine & its memorial Espace 8 Août 1956, there are 2 other museums in this premises - the Industry museum and the Glass museum. Industry museum deals with the history of industry in Wallonia region since ages ago till now. There's also a small movie that reels from ancient history through coal mining to modern STEM industry in Wallonia, Belgium! 
After visiting Bois du Cazier, I headed off to Aulne Abbey along the Sombre river.  This path is a part of the biking/horse riding paths all over Wallonia called the Ravel. Entire Wallonia has several way-marked paths and this path here is a part of EuroVelo3. This entire distance is 21km beginning at Charleroi Sud till Thuin village. The Aulne Abbey is located 8km before the Thuin village. 
  
What to do in Charleroi - Walking tour of Graffiti

Charleroi Industrial Heritage - Power Plant IM

Ravel network Wallonia River Sambre

Smallest Cable Stayed Bridge Charleroi
   
This path is unique! Its something that I've never experienced before. There's the innate beauty of the river Sambre and the harsh industrial structures jutting out in all directions! Its a weird combination. At a very short distance, after I got into the Ravel path, the graffiti began. Now it was all the more weird with impeccable graffiti, beautiful nature and old & harsh industrial structures!!! 
The 700m long wall graffiti here were made in 2002 as a part of the Urban Dream Festival to convert this area as an open-air street-art museum! Further ahead, very close to the Marchienne-au-Pont metro station is a mirco-mini cable-stayed bridge. Very close to this is the steel railway bridge. Then ahead is the Pardon Monument which symbolizes navy, water shipping and recreational sailing together. Further ahead is a tiny bridge on which the Ravel path continues. 
Further ahead is the face of  Charleroi's Industrial Heritage - Power Plant IM! When this was built in 1921, it was the largest coal burning power plant in the whole of Belgium. It was shut-down in 2007 and today it is a strong reminder of the industrial heritage of the country! It is even possible to go inside the tower as a part of some local walking tours. I, however, didn't venture inside this!
  
What to do in Charleroi - Thuin Abbey

Abbey in ruins near Brussels

How to reach Thuin Abbey from Brussels
  
After the Power Plant IM, there was a diversion in the Ravel path and I had to go through the regular roads and finally I reach the Aulne Abbey. Almost close the abbey, I was back in the Ravel and the views here was just exquisite. It was so peaceful. There were quite a few locals, fishing along the banks. That looks like such a peaceful life!
Finally I was at Aulne Abbey! It was founded in 637 CE by St.Landelin. By 9th C CE, it became a part of the Bishop of Liege. The current structure was built in early 13th C CE under the abbots Gilles of Beaumont and Baudouin of Chatelet. Unfortunately, during the French revolution under Napoleon Bonaparte the abbey was pillaged and torched! 
Today the abbey is completely in ruins, but very picturesque. As soon as you enter, there's the huge courtyard and to the right is the cloister. A path to the left, through a well-preserved facade, led to the most picturesque area - the ruins of the Chapter house, Sacristy and dormitories. Unlike Viller's Abbey, here it is not allowed to go inside the ruins, but only till a point where there are barricades to protect both the architecture & us!
  

What to do in Charleroi when you have.....
Few hours (before you board your flight) Option 1: Visit Bois du Cazier coal mine
Few hours - Option 2: Indoor Skydiving Charleroi
Few hours - Option 3: Walking tour of the Industrial Heritage of Charleroi
Half day itinerary: Visit Bois du Cazier coal mine + indoor skydiving (or) Charleroi Belfry & BPS22 art museum.
One day itinerary with bicycle: Visit Bois du Cazier coal mine, walk/cycle along the Sombre river on the Ravel path, see graffiti & Power plant IM, visit Aulne Abbey 
One day itinerary with car: One day itinerary with bicycle as above + see Thuin Belfry and walk through the Hanging Gardens of Thuin

From Brussels to Charleroi on road: 63km
SNCB-NMBS Train to Charleroi Sud from Brussels Central/Midi/Noord runs regularly and the journey time is 1:15 hours.
 
Charleroi has a Metro line as well as buses & tram and it is possible to reach all these places easily by public transport, except Aulne Abbey. 

HOW TO REACH AULNE ABBEY
Aulne Abbey is located almost at the midpoint between Landelies and Hourpes metro stations and the abbey is about 2.5 to 4km from either stations! The seasonal ABBA bus that I mentioned above is a good way to reach there, if its functioning (it mostly functions only in the weekends of summer holidays every year - check timings in the website of TEC). If not, the best way to head there is either completely by cycle or by carrying the cycle in metro till Landelies and then biking along river Sambre. The path that connects Charleroi to Thuin along the river Sambre can be found in the website of Ravel network

HOW TO REACH CRL AIRPORT FROM CHARLEROI SUD
Charleroi Sud Railway station to Charleroi Brussels South Airport - TEC buses are available every half-an-hour from 4:30AM to 11:00PM. Taxis are also available. The distance is about 14km and journey time is about 20 minutes.
  
Industrial heritage Charleroi

Glass Museum Bois du Cazier Charleroi

Day-trip to Charleroi from Brussels Pinterest What to do in Charleroi Pinterest
  
Bois du Cazier tickets: €8 (included in Museumpassmusees)
Bois du Cazier hours: 9:30AM to 11:30AM and 1:30PM to 4:30PM
Aulne Abbey tickets: €4
Aulne Abbey hours: 10:00AM to 5:00PM
Hanging gardens of Thuin: Free; 24x7

Hotels near Charleroi airport: Aero 44, Ibis budget, Park Hotel Charleroi
Hotels in Charleroi city centre (near Charleroi Sud railway station): Ibis Charleroi Centre Gare, Novotel Charleroi Centre, Auberge de Jeunesse (Youth Hostel)
Luxury Hotels away from Charleroi city: Villa Geva, Le chateau des eglantines, L'Auberge de L'Abbaye (located beside Aulne Abbey)

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

13 comments:

  1. I have spent only one day in Brussels several years ago and really enjoyed the city. I have always intended to return. I had not heard of Charleroi. Checking the differences in the lanterns at the old coal mine would be interesting. I think the Aulne Abbey would be my favorite stop. The ruins look well preserved and the façade would be fun to photograph. It sounds like this could be done as a day trip with an early start, thank you for the idea

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  2. Loved the place, Amazing pics.
    Stay Safe.

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  3. I have always wanted to go to Belgium, and this guide is gonna be so useful when I do. thank you also for the pronunciation guide, that’s quite helpful. all of the ancient architecture looks so storybook perfect. I can’t wait to see it all.

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  4. Charleroi has been on my list for a long time. I'd like to see this charming city. Your post convinces me to visit Belgium finally. The Bois du Cazier coal mine - a UNESCO World Heritage Site is such an exciting place. But most of all I would love to photograph Aulne Abbey with all this greenery on the walls.

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  5. So good that you finally got to t visit the city after using it as a flight base so many times. I love that the city has electric bikes for rent. Gives you so much more range to explore! How great that you got to explore the Aulne Abbey along the Sombre river on your visit as well. I always find abbey ruins like this with just walls standing to be amazing. A sure testament to the building skills for sure.

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  6. So, my guess, the coal mine is under UNESCO because of the tragedy? But what caught my attention was the number of coal miners from Italy since at some old coal mine I visited in the U.S., most of the miners were also Italian. The Aulne Abbey is beautiful, or picturesque like you said, even though it's just the ruins now that visitors can see. We can imagine its beauty from centuries ago. I think a visit to King Charles is worth it.

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    1. Hi Umiko,
      Well, there are 4 mines listed together under UNESCO each for one different reason and yes, this one is because of the tragedy!

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  7. Haven't been to Brussels yet, so found this article quite interesting. The things that i found the most helpful were your suggestions for things to do in Charleroi, in a certain period of time. As this is where the cheap flights fly from, i'm going to make it a point to have a stopover in such a way, that gives me time to explore the city at my own pace.

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  8. You always bringing us to many beautiful places, and I like it! This old abbey is very interesting and so much story to tell. Stay safe always but of course enjoy short trips!

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  9. You always showcase some unique and hidden treasures of Europe which I have never heard before. Though you have visited Charleroi so many times, but for me it is the first time, I am hearing this city and also loved reading about it through your blog. This town looks little industrial and also have some old ruins. I have never seen coal mine before and it is good that this city has 4 historic coal mines. I would atleast try to visit Bois du Cazier coal mine. Also this city has beautiful and huge wall art.

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  10. Charleroi seems to be a hidden gem with so much to explore, Aulne Abbey seems to be definitely
    Worth a visit even though in ruins, your description of it so impactful. I have only been to Brussels for a short trip, would like to explore nearby towns on my next visit for sure. The Bois du Cazier coal mine makes for a compelling history although has a tragic past to it.

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  11. Charleroi definitely looks interesting! I would love to explore the industry museum and look into the history of industry in Brussels. Another place that caught my interest is Aulne Abbey. I can see myself biking around this quaint area. Thanks for sharing the post.

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