Monika shares what to see, do, eat, and where to stay in Ronse, a hidden gem in Belgium’s Flemish Ardennes.
Having lived in Belgium for seven years, I thought I had seen the usual tourist attractions and the not-so-usual ones too. But Belgium has this ability to throw surprises your way. Last month, I was invited to tour Ronse, and it turned out to be a hidden gem!
Ronse is located in the hilly southern part of East Flanders, also known as the Flemish Ardennes. It is encircled by green hills and has a rich textile heritage as the city prospered economically between the First and Second World War. As the textile industry flourished, the city became a showcase for Art Deco design popularised during the era.
What to See and Do in Ronse
There is plenty to do in Ronse. From Roman crypts to Art Deco churches and houses, textile walks, parks, and even hiking tours, there is something for everyone. We started our tour from the tourist information office in Ronse with our enthusiastic guide, Isabelle, who is a Ronse native and is very informative. Alternatively, you can also do a guided walk at your own pace with the My Tours app, available in English, Dutch, and French.
One of the main attractions in Ronse is the Romanesque crypt of Saint Hermes. The crypt houses the relics of Saint Hermes dating back to the medieval times. Pilgrims used to visit the relics as they believed Saint Hermes had magical powers to heal the mentally ill. The crypt is located beneath Saint Hermes church and is composed of majestic, awe-inspiring pillars in different styles under vaulted ceilings. The crypt is one of a kind in Belgium and is a must-visit.
I love walking around a town and just gazing at the houses, doors, and passageways admiring the different architectural styles. Though the predominant style in Ronse is Art Deco, I had a great time admiring the houses and their beautiful doors and gates, each reflecting the owner’s personal taste and status. There is also an Art Nouveau house, built by Victor Horta, which, unfortunately, I could not visit. I walked past the Gothic St Martin’s church where a wedding was taking place. The entire atmosphere was magical as the beautiful bride and the groom walked down the nave after exchanging their vows surrounded by stained glass windows in high ceilings of ribbed vaults.
Another prominent landmark in Ronse is the neo-classical railway station from the 1870s. The beautiful large square with the town hall, cafes and restaurants, and the proud obelisk standing in the centre bearing the double-headed eagle, a symbol of Ronse signifying its glorious past, is delightful. The obelisk was designed by the architect Buels Ghent in 1812 and was the first public fountain in the city. The grand square leads to the shopping street, where you can enjoy some high street shopping. The town has its green spaces and parks, and the textile museum with its weaving machines, chronicling the textile past of the city is worth a visit as well.
Where to Eat in Ronse
You can choose from a variety of restaurants in Ronse. At the top of the list is Maison-D, for fine dining, nestled on a street lined with Art Deco and Neoclassical houses. There are Italian restaurants like Il Pinel’lo or Il Passagio offering Italian specialities. We had lunch at Il Pinel’lo which is located on the grand square and has outdoor seating. The service was quick. However, the food was just decent. I loved the antipasti and the selection of food items at Il Passagio, which is an Italian shop, where you can buy food to eat there or take it away.
You can enjoy a local beer at the cafes and bars on the grand square. (I loved the atmosphere at La Brasserie.) Or sample some local cheese served with gherkins and dips at the Artisanne, a quaint little shop and eatery all rolled in one, with warm hospitality and artisanal delicacies from the Flemish Ardennes. Highly recommended!
Where to Stay in Ronse
The choice of hotels in Ronse is somewhat limited if you want to stay overnight. However, there are plenty of bed and breakfasts around town that also give you a real chance to experience and discover the Flemish Ardennes. We stayed at Hoevehotel Ronse and had an incredible farm experience replete with feeding animals, home-cooked cuisine, and great hospitality. The hotel is situated 2.5km from the centre of the city and is perfect for a family stay if you are planning to visit Ronse.
The Flemish Ardennes are more than just the cycle races seen during the Tour of Flanders. The rolling hills and the rambling rivers provide you with splendid views, whereas the cobblestone streets and different architectural styles in the cities will gratify the ‘art explorer’ in you.
And that’s not all. For the epicurean, there are plenty of local breweries and farms with regional specialities like ham, cheese, rice puddings, etc. Ronse forms the perfect base for exploring the Flemish Ardennes. Explore the Flemish Ardennes, explore Ronse!
We’d like to extend our thanks to Tourism Ronse for inviting Monika and her family to discover Ronse. As always, all opinions are those of our writers.