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Summer city trips in Belgium #13: Mechelen
Mechelen is the perfect destination for a day out, combining the rich architectural heritage and compact dimensions of a city like Bruges with the relaxed energy of a city like Ghent.
The hamburger place Il Cardinale pays homage to the rich religious heritage of the city. From the religious iconography in its interior decoration to burgers with names such as Baby Jesus and Mary Had A Little Lamb, everything here is a cheeky wink to Mechelen’s religious preoccupations, with the dining experience meant to mimic that of going to church. Who knew the gospel could taste so good?
Kafee Zapoi on Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat is the perfect place to sample the highlights of Mechelen’s beer culture, such as Maneblusser, Anker Pils or the Gouden Carolus Tripel. The cafe’s limited but affordable menu, with main dishes at around €13, tends to draw a lot of young locals. But make no mistake, this is undeniably a ‘bruine kroeg’, the no-frills, sober neighbourhood bar that’s a staple of Flemish communal life, albeit one with a modern twist.
For those in a more romantic mood, the wine bar Unwined offers a magnificent view of Mechelen’s Grote Markt and the city’s greatest architectural pride, the Sint-Rombouts tower. And then there’s the wine. The bar offers a superbly curated selection of wines that’s updated weekly and can be enjoyed paired with cold bites such as cheeses, cold meats and tapas, and warm snacks such as empanadas or bruschetta.
Shoppers tired of high street brands will find sweet relief at the city’s Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat, which is populated by a motley collection of small, independent stores whose racks and shelves are often filled with local brands and designs. From the funky children’s store Goldfish and the cutesy Lily clothing boutique to the fair and sustainable fashion of Supergoods, a stroll through this street offers guaranteed surprises and delectable window-shopping.
Insider tip - Shamisa Debroey, Mechelen-based illustrator
"No visit to Mechelen is complete without a walk on the city’s very own version of New York City’s highline – the Dijlepad. Suspended over the river’s left bank, the trail offers the impression of walking on water, with splendid views of the both the river and the historic houses that line the canal. Stops along the route include the former Lamot brewery as well as Kruidtuin, Mechelen’s biggest public park."