Contributed by guest author Kristin Henning of Travel Past 50
Welcome back to our series on European Capitals of Culture! If you missed our first post on Riga, Latvia, we invite you to give it a read. The European Capitals of Culture program supports urban development and cultural heritage in cities across the continent, and it puts fine destinations on the radar of new travelers from around the globe. This week we are discussing Mons, Belgium.
Mons, Belgium is the 2015 Capital of Culture, and the city certainly earned the title. Imagine the charm of Flemish towns like Bruges or Ghent, Belgium, with the small-town vibe of the Flanders countryside. Mons is known for its iconic bell tower (recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999) and for being the spot where some of the first and last British casualties took place during World War I. Now, as a Capital of Culture, Mons is replacing that sleepy image with contemporary architecture, major exhibitions, and a host of special events.
Mons and its surrounds were home to Vincent Van Gogh at the start of his artistic career. The 1956 movie based on the artist, “Lust for Life,” was even filmed here. A temporary exhibit of Van Gogh’s early work was on display at the Beaux Arts Mons museum in 2015, and Van Gogh’s cottage home is newly renovated and open to the public on a permanent basis. Look for the launch of a new app in 2015, “Through Van Gogh’s Eyes,” that will guide hikers and bikers around Van Gogh’s countryside.
Not far from Van Gogh’s house, visitors can enjoy the Neolithic Flint Mines of Spiennes, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of Mons’ five new museums, Silex, is located here and offers interpretive details on the technology and archeology of mining through the ages. This is the largest and earliest mine group in Europe.
Other new museums opened in honor of Mons’ ECOC 2015 status include the Artothèque (art history library), the Mons Memorial Museum (World Wars I and II) and the Doudou Museum (folklore). Beyond these cultural institutions, there are plenty of free events, public art displays, festivals, and workshops covering food, film, music, and fashion to keep you busy and returning for more. Check out Mons2015 for an exhaustive calendar.
Our exclusive travel tidbit? Allow time to sit in the old city square, Grand Place, and soak up the scene. On a rainy day last summer, we took a table in La Petit Provence, a restaurant in the corner of the square, and savored the inviting environment along with local sausages and French fries.
Come back next week to read the final chapter of our series on European Capitals of Culture. We will be exploring Wroclaw, Poland!
Kristin Henning and Tom Bartel are the former owners and publishers of City Pages, Minnesota Parent Magazine, and The Rake Magazine in Minneapolis/St. Paul. They have been on the road more or less non-stop since 2010. So far, they’ve been to over 50 countries and visited more than 25 European Capitals of Culture. They blog about their travels, and you can find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest at @travelpast50.