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Summer city trips in Belgium #14: Mons
Since Mons’s turn as European Capital of Culture in 2015, there’s no shortage of sights and attractions to enjoy in the city. See how the former medieval bastion and coalmining capital 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 contains the tourist office. From here, alleys wind up to the city’s focal point, the Unesco-recognised belfry, offering a bird’s-eye view of the city, the gothic collegiate church of Sainte-Waudru and surrounding countryside. Spot the cranes working on the new Santiago Calatrava-designed train station, which is due to open at the end of 2018. While the city’s 12th-century ramparts were largely dismantled for a ring road in the 1970s, stone and brick buildings dominate the centre, giving it a bygone charm, while 19th-century barracks, mess halls and riding rings are further testament to its former military might. Many of these buildings, along with empty industrial, religious and academic sites, have been transformed into cultural centres.
Off the main square, don’t miss the BAM art space, which stages major exhibitions. From nearby Rue du Nimy you can access the cultural kilometre, combining museums and other venues such as Mundaneum, an archive and data centre dedicated to world culture. Head downhill to discover other new sites: among them the Maison du Design, the Mons Memorial Museum, dedicated to World War One and remembrance, and the Musée du Doudou, devoted to the annual folklore ritual based on the legend of Saint George and the dragon. Further afield are the Unesco-recognised Neolithic flint mines of Spiennes, complete with a brand new visitor centre, while the outstanding 19th-century model industrial village Grand-Hornu houses two museums focusing on international art and design.
Eat, drink & sleep
Dining options in Mons include new Michelin-starred tapas place Le Comptoir de Marie, 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. Ô Bar’ Hik is a wine bar offering platters of charcuterie and local artisan cheese. City hotels are all conveniently situated for exploring. 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, both combine period charm and contemporary fittings. Mons Youth Hostel is a modern structure, conveniently sited beneath the ancient belfry.