The Ronquières Incline Plane
While France is famous for its spider web of interwoven canals, this network often extends into adjacent Belgium. There, the beauty and innovation of these linear features continues. If canals and engineering feats are your thing, Ronquières is a site that must be on your itinerary. Don’t believe me? Just imagine a moving tank of water holding one million gallons of water moving one or many boats one mile up 222 feet. This marvel is a relatively modern creation however – one that was completed in 1968 to replace fourteen locks over the same distance. Instead, two caissons transport boats along the canal on rails using cables and counterweights. The Ronquières Incline Plane is a small but essential link along the Brussels-Charleroi Canal. This thirty-mile canal had its origins in the mid-1500s but expanded significantly to fuel the Wallonian Industrial Revolution transporting coal in the early 1800s. Of course, this canal connects with other canals, making the destinations almost limitless. About halfway between Brussels and Charleroi, the Ronquières Incline Plane sits alongside route N534 and makes for a surreal visual with its up slope concrete spire often the only marking of the incline until it finally appears above grade for the final hundred feet. The movement of shipping along the incline is an amazing process to witness, so be sure to visit the incline for an interactive tour and panoramic overlook. For an all-around experience, get tickets to the incredibly popular Ronquières Music Festival, which takes place every August under the shadow of the incline and its southern tower. With 40,000 attendees and the movement of the caisson set to the best music that Belgium has to offer, it’s a two-for-one that’s hard to beat.
Just two hundred years ago, the small town of Waterloo, Belgium became instantly famous as Napoleon’s final defeat at the hands of England’s Duke of Wellington. It was a circus of sorts, the final act of one of Europe’s and the world’s notorious yet influential leaders. On a field several kilometers south of the town of Waterloo on the road to Charleroi, a European collation defeated Napoleon Bonaparte once and for all on June 18, 1815. Of course, Napoleon was one of the greatest political and military minds to ever live, literally rising through the ranks from Lieutenant to Emperor. During his ten-year reign, France’s boundary expanded to include most of Europe. Following the fall of Paris, Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to the island of Elba, where he retained the title of “Emperor.” Yet only domination could satisfy Napoleon’s appetite for power and he made a triumphant and dramatic return to France in March 1815. It was at Waterloo where the armies of Europe addressed Napoleon. The battlefield is one of the most famous in European history and while the visual center of the landscaped exhibits is the Lion’s Mound, the more authentic focal points lie in the extant buildings and fields where some 200,000 troops clashed for the future of Europe. The 141-foot hill, while constructed in 1825 to commemorate where the Prince of Orange was wounded, it does off an excellent panoramic view of the battlefield and the surrounding areas. To the north and south, see if you can pinpoint the headquarters of Wellington and Napoleon, respectively. Other nineteenth century farm buildings remain as well. This is one of those places that you have heard about in history books and lore, but it’s also alive for you experience firsthand.
Where to Watch
I hesitate to say stay in Brussels for another day, but with a start and finish less than 5 km. away, this is a rare place to see both the start and finish.
Already set on a slight uphill, watching alongside the Incline Plane allows fans to catch the peloton coming up a straightaway next to an iconic and amazing work of engineering.
There may be fewer iconic locations along the 2019 TDF than the Waterloo Battlefield, and a few sharp turns means that a slowing peloton make this an ideal place to see the race and capture an iconic landmark in the background.