By the time it was annexed by France in 1678, Maubeuge had been sacked and pillaged an astounding 20 times. Thus, once the town was under French control, Maubeuge became a fortified frontier town with walls designed by Vauban, Louis XIV’s military engineer.
Most of these walls, ditches, waterways and forts are still here, and they all add a lot of character to Maubeuge. When Maubeuge bore the brunt of the German invasion, old patterns of destruction carried over into World War II. Much of its history was erased in 1940, but the town was brought back to life with André Lurçat’s utopian modernist cityscape.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Maubeuge:
1. Remparts de Vauban
After the Treaty of Maubeuge of Nijmegen fell into French hands in 1678, it placed it on the front line between France and the Habsburg Empire.
Within a few months, the construction of the castle around Maubeuge had begun, and the man who drew up the plan was the extraordinary military engineer Vauban.
Even after the German bombing in 1940, two-thirds of Maubeuge’s outer walls remained.
The rest were voluntarily demolished after the war to allow the town to develop on the right bank of the Sambre.
The walls and fort have always been designed to be low-key and are now a large park with passages, grass ditches and stately stone curtains.
2. Mons Gate
The grandest remnant of the fortifications is this gate on the Place Vauban on the north side of the town.
Like most of Vauban’s work, Porte de Mons has a lot of finesse considering it’s designed for defense.
It is a portal with three portals under a pavilion, with a gable and mansard roof facing the town.
Away from town, the building is less refined, with a guardhouse (now home to the museum), heavy wooden doors and traces of the original drawbridge winch.
The gate of Mons should be the starting point for visiting Maubeuge, because the tourist office is inside.
3. Musée du Corps de Garde
You may need some background when investigating the ramparts of Vauban, provided by the museum’s guardhouse behind Porte de Mons.
The building dates back to 1683 and, in Vauban’s original plan, consisted of a guard house, quarters and powder room.
It remained the property of the army until 1914, and in the 70s it was chosen as the castle’s gallery, filled with antique weapons, uniforms and documents to give a clearer picture of Maubeuge’s military life.
Most important is the relief, a 3D map of the town made in 1825.
4. Maubeuge Zoo
One of the many cool things about this zoo is the way it fits into the walls of Vauban.
These ancient embankments and walls formed a useful barrier and provided an excellent location overlooking the enclosure.
The zoo is relatively small but well structured, with 350 animals from 56 species.
There are white tigers, Sri Lankan panthers, giraffes, elephants, zebras, hippos, capybaras, kangaroos and more.
Check the schedule for feeding times for hippos, gibbons, elephants and wolves.
5. Église Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul
The church at Maubeuge was destroyed in World War II, and its replacement since 1955 has become a lasting symbol of post-war reconstruction.
It is now recognized as a French Historic Monument, and one of the architects who worked on the building was modernist pioneer André Lourcart.
There is a lot of Lurçat personality in the church because he is a communist and believes that all religions come to an end.
He decided to keep the building neutral so that it could be converted into a theatre in the future.
At the entrance, Jean Lurçat, André’s brother, an influential artist, stopped to examine the beautiful mosaics.
6. Historical Religious Buildings
Despite the extensive destruction of Morbogi in World War II, several religious buildings remained unscathed.
Check out the 16th-century Béguinage des Cantuaines on Rue de La Croix, home to a community of beguines nuns who did not take formal religious oaths.
On Avenue Colonel Martin is La Chapelle des Sœurs Noires, a 17th-century Baroque chapel belonging to a now-vanished abbey.
In its era, the chapel was a library, military warehouse and Protestant temple, and is now part of the university.
7. La Ferme du Zoo
Fun and educational for smaller family members, La Ferme du Zoo is located in the open countryside east of town.
Children can make friends with tame farm breeds such as Jersey cows, hairy Highland cows, donkeys, ponies, goats, Texel sheep and rabbits.
There are large lawns for picnics and playgrounds where the kids can burn more energy.
With the help of Avesnois fruit grown in the farm greenhouse orchard, adults will also be satisfied with the space and tranquility here.
There is also a lovely kitchen garden with medicinal and aromatic plants and an apiary.
8. Etangs District
In the southeast of town, on the river dug by Vauban next to Sambre, there is a peaceful green area.
These are located in woodland, where greenery, soothing water and fragments of old fortifications mix together to make a walk a pleasant one.
It’s hard to imagine now, but this used to be a complex defense system, using water and dams to protect the southeastern access to Maubeuge.
Later, in the 1800s, it was transformed into a canal, linking the coal fields of Belgium with the steel mills in the northern region.
All of these are long gone, replaced by dragonflies, irises, willows, alders and shore-fishing people.
The Maubeuge Tourist Office has a fleet of 22 bikes, and you can rent up to one bike at a time for three days.
There are mountain bikes to race on forest trails and city bikes to glide down country roads and explore sleepy villages like Feignies.
Before you set off, you will be given a map and leaflet for the three loops that disappear from Maubeuge into the Avesnois Natural Regional Park.
You’ll travel through trickling streams, water mills, deciduous forests, orchards, hedges and meadows full of wildflowers in summer.
10. Avesnois Regional Natural Park
As a rule of thumb, the farther you get from the Sambrai Valley and its old industrial communities, the quieter and more idyllic the countryside becomes.
There are thousands of kilometers of tributaries that lead straight to the Sambre, and if you return along these tributaries, you’ll wander through cool oak and beech forests.
The water and woodlands are cleaner than they have been in hundreds of years since heavy industry disappeared from the area in the 20th century.
Where the forest is cleared, meadows and grain farms are separated by rows of felled trees and hedges, creating a “leafy” landscape.
Another feature is local bluestone, a dark compact limestone used in cottages and old churches and chapels.
11. Manège Theatre
Established in 1990, the Maubeuge Theatre is a national stage and thus a regional center for contemporary art.
There is another Manège theatre not far from the Belgian city of Mons, and the duo acts as a cross-border cultural platform, often booking the same artists in the area.
The best time to visit is in the spring: March has the VIA Festival, which curates theatre, dance and digital arts.
Then in June, you will host the Festival des Folies for young audiences, book evening shows, street performers and contemporary circus artists.
12. Maubeuge-Élesmes Airport
Since the airport is only used for light aviation and skydiving, many tourists end up coming to Maubeuge.
People come to the event from both sides of the Belgian border.
“Skydive Maubeuge” offers tandem jumps that don’t require much training or preparation as you are an experienced skydiver.
Likewise, you will jump from 4,000 meters and reach a speed of 200 km/h.
The entire jumping process will also be recorded as a high-definition video for you to download later.
You can also visit the airport and take a one-time flight lesson in a glider or light aircraft.
A pleasant drive in the southern countryside of Avesnois will take you to the town of Sars-Poteries.
The glassware industry at Sars-Poteries flourished until the 1930s.
This disappeared after the war, but the memory was rekindled in the 1960s, when the museum had just moved into a stylish new purpose-built residence.
This is a beautiful thing in itself and is covered in local bluestone.
The rough, well-defined edges should remind you of silica, the main ingredient in glass.
In addition to local old glassware, MusVerre also has the largest public collection of contemporary glass design in France.
550 wonderful works by more than 100 international artists.
14. Bawa Antique Forum
A little over 15 minutes west is the small town of Bavay, which was the regional capital in Roman times.
Bagacum Nerviorum is home to the Nervii Belgic tribe, which came together around the 1st century BC. In 1906, the huge Forum (one of the largest in the northern Alps) and the thermal baths fed by an aqueduct that diverted water for more than 20 kilometers were rediscovered.
You don’t need much imagination to appreciate this scale, but the accompanying museum has a fantastic 3D projection as if it were in the 2nd century BC. Artifacts on display include pottery, a local strength 2,000 years ago.
15. Regional Food
The easternmost part of the northern region has some great delicacies to look for in local markets.
Avesnois is covered with apple orchards, and several factories in the area make French “cider”. Their pressed apple juice is also delicious, and there’s also a small beer industry here: try the cuvée des jonquilles, which are fermented in the bottle with live unfiltered yeast.
Food-wise, the very firm Mariles have AOC status and are sold in rectangular blocks.
Flamiche au mairolles is a pie topped with this cheese and a layer of whipped cream.
Authentic local desserts can be paired with tarte au sucre, decadent creme fraiche and brown sugar-coated vanilla pastry.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Maubeuge, France
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