The historic town of Mechelen is the unusual suspect amongst Belgium’s favourite cities. Together with Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges and Ghent it completes the city-top-5-short-list.
Mechelen is located in the heart of Flanders, midway between Antwerp and Brussels. I spend last weekend in Mechelen by invitation of the Art Contour Biennale 8, but what I got was so much more. Historical and easy-going are two words that pop up immediately when describing Mechelen. Easy going can also be taken literally since everything is within walking distance.
Mechelen, don’t forget to look up
Ànd don’t forget your sneakers. The streets are paved with cobblestones, no need to pack those 14 inch Loubies.
While wandering the narrow streets you will see the St. Rumbold’s Tower from every corner. This is your orientation point, so if you get lost walk back to the tower and start from the Grote Markt again.
To call Mechelen eclectic is an understatement. Gothic or baroque, Rubens or Van Dyck, modern architecture or countryside style, it’s all there. Check out the wonderful facades, not one is the same.
St. Rumbold’s tower
The first must do is climb the 97 m high St. Rumbold’s Tower. Not only because you will then have 28 floors climbed notification on Apple Health, but most and fore all because of the panoramic views from the Skywalk deck. The bird’s eye view from the top gives an overview of the city. I even saw the Atomium in Brussels.
Spoiler: there are six floors for a stop-over to catch your breath. Make sure to be around the carillon on the hour or half hour.
Contour Biennale 8
Every two years Contour Mechelen organises the Biennial of Moving Image. Better known as ‘Contour’. The Contour Biennial 8 forms a platform to curators and artists working with different forms of moving images.
From film and video to installation art. The latter is not exactly entry-level art but against the backdrop of historical Mechelen well worth the visit.
This year’s theme is Polyphonic Worlds: Justice as Medium. In the present day, the limits of justice unravel in a volatile crisis of ethics. Is what we see and hear – #fakenews – the truth?
Until May, 21 2017
My tip: book a guide. This way you not only learn about the artist and his work but also about historical Mechelen. This tour will take 2 hours and costs 60 €. Worth it!
Where to sleep in Mechelen?
The question is not whether to stay in a modern or classic hotel. Add historical to the choice of palette and opt for a church. St. Martins Patershof hotel dates all the way back to 1231 (!) when it was a Franciscan order cloister church. From a house of worship now converted into a 4* hotel.
My – spacious – room type was an Exceptional jr. Suite, meaning that authentic religious details are incorporated in the room which is situated in the old church. Neo-Gothic gallery and windows all around. Flatscreen tv and espresso machine can be classified as modern details.
Where to eat in Mechelen?
Where not, I would say. Belgium is known for its culinary culture, from Burgundian dishes to veggies only. As soon as the sun tends to shine, the many terraces around Mechelen are filled immediately. With The Vismarkt als local hang out to enjoy a coffee or cocktail while people-watching.
For food ànd flowers ànd interior inspiration stop by at De Borght. Too bad I traveled by train. Or maybe it was a good thing because I would definitely succumbed to temptation of bringing an item home.
Breakfast at Foom
Climbing 500 steps on an empty stomach is not a good idea, so breakfast first at the foot of St. Rumbold’s Tower at Foom. Cute little corner place with views of the cathedral on the first floor. Farmers yoghurt with homemade granola, pancakes or oatmeal with pear and cinnamon. Or anything egg.
Lunch at Sister Bean
The young team of sisters (and an occasional mister) have their own little restaurant where the weekend brunch is famous. Enjoy the many dishes on the buffet on the first floor to create your personal brunch. All homemade, lot’s of veggies and healthy stuff. It’s not a shame to get up for a second round. Leave some space for the daily guilt free cake by Madam Bakster, though.
Drinks at De Kuub
Cultural café De Kuub is a modern, minimalistic golden building with a secluded terrace at the Cultuurplein. Opposite the Rumbold’s tower. Besides comedy nights, jam sessions or chest matches the place to be for a ginger tea or sparkling wine in the sunshine.
Dinner at Cosma Foodhouse
This former bakery is now a mix of deli, catering and bistro. With Londonish looks and a great food. Choose a fish or meat main dish and add a few of the many delicious sides. In my case: Ceviche with avocado and a side of roasted pumpkin with chili yoghurt and veggie fries.
Yes, all that walking is the perfect excuse for all that delicious eating.
Mechelen is easy to reach by train (Brussels Airport only 11 min. and Antwerp Central Station 18 min.), not as crowded as other cities and – I almost forgot – also city of beer and breweries. With Het Anker as one of the oldest in the country. Just follow the mellow whiff of hops in the air.
My stay in Mechelen was by invitation Mechelen Tourism on behalf of Chapter Fifty. I only accept items or collaborations that answer positive to the question: “does it match my lifestyle?”. I will not promote anything that I would not wear, eat, sleep or see myself. Authenticity is very important to me. Words, photos and opinions are my own.