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On my recent visit to Belgium, I decided to visit Mons, a not so widely known city of Belgium but very charming full of cultural sites. I first heard of Mons in 2015 as it was declared a European Capital of Culture and wanted to visit ever since.
Mons is located in the western part of Belgium, just 21 km from the borders with France and 70 km away from Brussels. It is built on a hill. and on the top of the hill lies the famous Belfry one of the three UNESCO sites in the small town of Mons.
I spent a full day exploring this fascinating town but I wish I had more days as there are so many things to do in and around Mons.
What to do in Mons in a day
The Grand Place
Mons has many narrow cobbled streets that lead to the historical centre and the stunning main square, the Grand Place. Around the square, you will find a number of cafes and restaurants with tables outside for the warm summer days. In the centre of the square, you will see an engraved circle that has the names of the 19 townships that make up the Greater Mons area.
The buildings around the square date from the 15th century to today with the most impressive one being the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). The Town Hall was built between 1458 and 1477 in gothic style, its tower bell was added later on, in 1717-1718. The wooden door of the Town Hall has a very beautiful lock in the form of the castle. To the left of the entrance, you will notice a small bronze statue of a monkey, pet the monkey with your left hand, make a wish and your wish will come true. In the courtyard of the Town Hall, there is a passage that leads to a beautiful garden open to the public, the Mayor’s Garden that has the famous statue of the Ropieur.
Tip: You can access the rooms of the Town Hall by appointment only, apply at the tourist office.
The Belfry was built between 1661 and 1672 to replace the old clock tower. It stands at 87 m high and offers breathtaking views of the area. You can even see up to Brussels on a clear day. Unfortunately, the day I was there it was snowing and you couldn’t even see a meter ahead. It is the only baroque style Belfry in Belgium and is declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The Belfry used to serve as a watchtower and as a clock, now it has a carillon of 49 bells that ring every 15 minutes. Inside the Belfry there is a museum that tells the story of the Belfry and the role it played through history. An elevator will take you to the top and then you can make your way down through the exhibition via the 365 steps.
Collegiate Church of Saint Waudru
During my visit in Mons, I had the chance to learn the interesting story of Saint Waudru and the cannon ladies. Waudru was married to the Count of Hainaut and had four children with him. When he decided to retire to a monastery she took her daughters and created a chapel in Mons. After her death, she was declared a Saint, and her relics were associated with many miracles.
A community of noblewomen known as the Canonesses was created around her. The Canonesses were 30 in number and were members of noble families around Europe. Although these women were part of a religious community they weren’t nuns and enjoyed many freedoms. For example, they could leave the community to travel, get married, or if they wanted to become nuns. They had great power in their hands and were very influential.
In 1449 they decided to build a big church, the Collegiate Church of Saint Waudru that took 200 years to complete. The church was built in Gothic style and its uninterrupted columns make the inside of the church look higher than it really is. Inside the church and above the altar there is a reliquary that contains the relics of the Saint. It actually contains only the body as the head was separated and can be found in a chapel inside the church. Another highlight you shouldn’t miss at the church is the “Chariot of Gold” or “Car d’ Or” on which the reliquary of St Waudru are carried around town for the Doudou Festival (see below).
At the back of the church, there is a small square where you can find a pair of golden wings that symbolise the Angels of Mons. According to the story, during World War I the German forces have encircled the outnumbered British soldiers in Mons. The British forces miraculously escaped by the help of the Angels and of Saint George who was the patron saint of both England and Mons.
The Ducasse de Mons, know as the Doudou is a big festival in Mons that takes places every year on Trinity Day. It is said to date back to 1348-1349 when the city suffered from the plague. The Canonesses decided to take the reliquary of St Waudru, which was the patron of the city, around town. The plague miraculously disappeared and since then the reliquaries are paraded around the city every year to ensure the health and good fortune of the city.
On Saturday evening before Trinity Day, the reliquary of St Waudru is lowered from the altar of the Collegiate Church of St Waudru that are kept and are given to the mayor. Many people touch the reliquary of St Waudru with a scarf so that they are blessed for the rest of the year.
On Sunday morning the reliquary is placed on the Chariot of Gold and six horses pull it out of the church and parade it around town. On top of the Chariot, there is also a priest and choristers that accompany the reliquary. Around 60 groups of people all dressed in medieval customs that represent the Canonesses and other historic guilds take part in the parade.
When the chariot returns at the Collegiate Church a large crowd is gathered behind it to push it up the hill. It must reach the church in one push so that the good fortune remains in the city.
Then at the Grand Place takes place the battle between St George on horseback and the dragon. This battle is called Lumeçon. During the battle, the tail of the dragon is circled above the crowd as it is considered luck to pull a hair from its tail. The battle lasts about half an hour where St George attacks the dragon first with a lance then with a sword and finally with a pistol.
The Ducasse festival has been declared by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Behind the Town Hall, there is an interesting museum dedicated to the Doudou festival and the battle of St George.
For more information: http://en.museedudoudou.mons.be/
A museum housed in a former chapel that once belonged to the Ursuline nuns now presents in an innovative way the art and cultural collections of the city.
For more information: http://en.artotheque.mons.be/
Another interesting place that I saw during my visit was the Old Slaughterhouse of the city, a big impressive building that hosts various exhibitions.
Things to see near Mons
Van Gogh’s House
At the age of 25, Van Gogh was trained to be a priest and took a temporary post as a preacher at the Wasmes village outside of Mons but he was soon dismissed by the Church. He then rented a room at the village of Cuesmes where he spent his time reading and sketching. This house was preserved and is open to the public. There is only one original drawing left in the house called “Le Bêcheurs”.
For more information: http://en.maisonvangogh.mons.be/
Neolithic Flint Mines of Spiennes
The Neolithic flint mines of Spiennes are the earliest and largest concentration of ancient flint mines in Europe and was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. A visit to the mines must be arranged beforehand and is limited to 5.500 people per year.
For more information: http://en.silexs.mons.be/
Where to eat in Mons
During my visit in Mons, we had a great lunch in Brasserie Oscar, located in Rue de Nimy 14, very close to the Grand Place. The restaurant had a great ambience and very polite and helpful staff. I had a Belgian steak accompanied by salad and Belgian fries. My steak was cooked to my liking and was really tender and tasty. Although I was full after the main course I tried the dessert menu as well. I had a chocolate souffle with ice cream which was amazing. If you are in Mons I totally recommend that you eat at the Brasserie Oscar.
Where to stay in Mons
I had the pleasure of staying at Dream Hotel, a 4-star superior hotel that is housed in a neogothic style building that used to be a chapel. The hotel is located in the centre of Mons, 5 minutes away on foot from Grand Place. I stayed in a spacious room with a separate toilet and a separate bathroom. Although it used to be a chapel the hotel has been renovated and offers all the modern amenities you would expect from a 4-star hotel.
The staff at the reception were very helpful and polite and I loved the small box of chocolates and complimentary water found in my room. The breakfast buffet had a great variety of fresh and cooked food. I especially enjoyed the freshly quizzed orange juice and the pancakes. I totally recommend that you stay in such a unique hotel as Dream is when you visit Mons.
For more information: http://www.dream-mons.be/en/
Mons is an impressive and interesting city full of cultural sights. Visit Mons offers a greeters program, where a local can show the city to groups of up to 6 people. Guided tours and excursions are also offered from the tourist office.
During my visit in Mons. I had the pleasure of having Ms. Mirella Di Renzo a greeter and guide of Visit Mons with me. She is so knowledgeable and told me a lot of interesting things about the city that made my visit there unique. She also answered all my questions about Mons and Belgium in general and I can really say that it was the highlight of my visit.
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