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Day out: The Bulletin’s guide to Mons
With the Hainaut capital basking in the glow of its prestigious title, there’s never been a better time to visit the city. Until the end of the year, Mons 2015 offers a packed cultural programme and entertainment for all ages. See for yourself how Mons has undergone large-scale urban regeneration, renovating numerous heritage buildings and opening a cluster of new museums.
As the name suggests, and as an explanation for its former military prowess, Mons is built on a hill. Cobblestoned streets lead to the medieval Grand-Place and gothic town hall which are adjacent to the tourist office. From here, alleys wind up to the focal point, the Unesco-recognised belfry, offering a bird’s-eye view of the city, its gothic collegiate church of Sainte-Waudru and surrounding countryside. Cranes are a familiar sight as work continues on the new Santiago Calatrava-designed train station to be unveiled in 2017.
Flagship exhibitions are showing at the fantastic art space BAM, near the Grand-Place. Until 24 January it stages an exhibition on French poet Paul Verlaine who spent two years in the city’s prison after firing two shots at his lover Arthur Rimbaud. It also covers his relationship with Belgium’s literary and artistic world, including almost 200 documents, many on show for the first time.
From nearby Rue du Nimy you can access the cultural kilometre, combining museums and other venues including Mundaneum, an archive and data centre dedicated to world culture. In partnership with Mons 2015 and Google it presents the interactive exhibition Mapping Knowledge. Head downhill to discover other must-visit sites: Anciens abbatoirs, Maison du Design, Mons Memorial Museum, dedicated to World War One and remembrance, Artothèque and the Musée du Doudou, devoted to the St George and the dragon ritual.
The Mons 2015 arts programme has entered its autumn season with a Renaissance theme and a celebration of the city’s Golden Age when Mons-born polyphony composer Orlando di Lasso and architect and sculptor Jacques Du Broeucq were stars of the period. A popular and colourful series throughout the year has been Home & Away which wraps up its season with Pilsen, the Czech Republic city that shares the honour of European Capital of Culture this year (12 to 15 November; pictured). The Mons 2015 closing party on December 12 is likely to be one giant fiesta.
Eat & Sleep
The culture capital foundation provides a list of restaurants promoting gastronomy in the region. Take advantage of a loyalty card for a free aperitif in many. Options in Mons include Vilaine fille, mauvais garçon in Rue du Nimy and Le Bistro de Jean-Phi in Rue des Fripiers, which along with Rue du Coupe is an excellent reference for boutiques and eateries. Join artists and Mons 2015 staff in the canteen in the foyer of Théâtre Le Manège, also open for evening shows. City hotels are all conveniently situated for exploring. Combining period charm and contemporary fittings are the central four-star Dream Hotel, a conversion of a neo-gothic former church, and three-star Hotel St James, an 18th-century contemporary-styled hotel on the edge of the city centre.
Photo: AEF_Pilsen_People in Pilsen
This article was first published in the Bulletin’s Best of Belgium 2015