Mons. Until 2015 most people probably hadn’t heard of Mons, a small town to the west of Brussels. Now, however, it is EU culture capital – so the travel magazines and newspapers have written about it, but unfortunately many articles are dry and theoretical and don’t really tell you too much about the feeling and spirit of the town. That’s why we decided to go and check it out ourselves.
We took the train one sunny Saturday morning. (They leave rather regularly from Gare Central.) After having enjoyed a 40 minute ride through the sunny landscapes of Wallonia we arrived. Now here is where we must warn you: Don’t judge Mons by its first impression. Meaning: Don’t judge it by its train station. It is still a building site. The city had commissioned a famous Spanish architect, however, the work of art couldn’t be finished in time.
From the train station it is best to walk into town via the Place Léopold. If you look closely a poetry trail starts here – a kind of “word banner” that runs along houses and walls. From here it is just slightly uphill to the lovely Gothic church “Collégiale St-Waudru” – inside you can admire the beautiful golden chariot that is paraded through town during a procession on Trinity Sunday.
A bit further up the hill is the magnificent Belfry. It has been closed for about 30 years and reopens in 2015. From the foot of the Belfry you have a spectacular view over the town and the region, called the Borinage.
Borinage? This is the name of the industrial region around the town. (There are lots of mines here.) It was this area that inspired the famous painter Vincent Van Gogh to actually become an artist. The town of Mons is hosting a superb exhibition on Van Gogh’s early period in the BAM, the Beaux-Arts Mons.
Before heading there, though, you might want to check out the superb Grand Place. Obviously, as in many other towns, you will find a stunning Hotel de Ville. (On Fridays there is a huge flower market here!) If you are lucky and it is a sunny day, make sure to have a little coffee break in the sun. You might want to browse in some of the brochures on Mons and the area. The tourist office is on the Grand Place too. While you are on the Grand Place don’t forget to rub the little monkey on the Hotel de Ville – it is supposed to bring good luck!
After your break we recommend a bit of shopping in the Rue de la Chaussée, which then becomes the Grand Rue. If you are looking for a light lunch you will probably get lucky in the Rue de la Coupe. The Boule de Bleu apparently has great salads. We were feeling like a warm lunch and went for an all-time classic: Lunch at Le Pain Quotidien (on Rue de l’Havre).
Full and happy we felt like some culture and headed to the BAM. On our way there we discovered the little back yard of the Hotel de Ville. It is a quiet little park and presently there is a special installation: You can enter a typical Borinage-Hut and have dinner with Van Gogh’s “Potatoe Eaters”.
We are huge Van Gogh Fans so we really took our time in the BAM: It is a great museum and visitors are given a brochure with lots of information on the artist and his works. I especially liked the Audio-installation. You can listen to Van Gogh’s letters to his brother. You can read more about the Van Gogh exhibition in our post here.
As we were in the Museum quite a while it was time to head back home. Trains back to Brussels go very regularly (about once an hour). If you are in the mood for it have one last chocolate chaud in the sun before you head back.