PERHAPS one of the lesser-known cities in Belgium, Mechelen is the perfect place for those looking for a bit of culture and music this summer.
Previously the capital city of the Netherlands under the rule of Margaret of Austria between 1506 and 1530, Mechelen is listed not once but four times on the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage sites. Now the quieter sibling of Brussels and Antwerp, it has just as much to offer. During the summer months, the small city plays host to a variety of festivals, many of which are free and perfect for young couples, individual travellers and even families. So, pack your travel rug and sunhats and head to Belgium for some festival fun.
FOR a taste of something local, give the Dijlefeesten festival a try (www.dijlefeesten.be). The organisers have one rule: no famous bands. This four-day event (28 June-1 July), has a great atmosphere, with most of it being held either by the water, or in a futuristically renovated brewery. Wellington-bred band Orchestra of Spheres are already confirmed to perform.
THERE may no longer be services at the former monastery and church that is Martin’s Patershof hotel www.martins-hotels.com, but you can still have breakfast in the choir, with more stained glass than you should shake a bread stick at,. Rooms from €99 for two. If that’s out of your league, there are numerous hostels. Try www.mechelen-hostel.com.
ONE of the liveliest events of the summer is Maanrock, a two-day music festival held in the city’s central square, the Grote Markt (www.maanrock.be) on 21 and 22 August. City officials were so worried festivities, which are expected to attract 120,000 over the weekend, would damage the historic square (pictured left), they installed springs under the pavements. Expect to bounce.
MECHELEN is just seven miles from the Best Festival in the World 2012, Tomorrowland (www.tomorrowland.be). Taking place 27-29 July, this dance festival started out as a one-day event, and past acts have included Swedish House Mafia, Tiesto, David Guetta and Fedde le Grand. Now taking place over three long days of constant partying, it is unlike any festival you’ve ever been to, with its Dreamville camping area complete with complimentary clothes washing, showers and giant barbecues. This year’s event looks set to be bigger and better with over 400 DJs already confirmed.
BEST FOR FOOD
EVERY year, on the last Sunday of June, the city plays host to the Ottertrotter Festival (www.ottertrotter.mechelen.be), a multicultural celebration of food, music and activities for people of all ages. Aiming to educate visitors about the world and sustainability, with lots of fairtrade food, drink and music thrown in too, there are dozens of local bands performing, plus all sorts of activities including cage football, martial arts and giant water fights in the woods, with kids entertained with a manned arts and crafts station.
BEST FOR MUSICAL HISTORY
MECHELEN is home to the first carillon school in the world – that’s bell ringing to you and me. The Royal Carillon School, housed in the city centre, has a purpose-built museum full of old carillons, books and art that sits alongside the school, where students can take up to six years to qualify.
BEST PLACE TO CHILL
IF YOU plan to visit Mechelen during July and August, take the opportunity to head to the main park on Thursday evenings for easy-listening pop tunes at the Parkpop events (www.parkpop.be). Locals head down after work to meet friends, have a drink and sing along, so why not make like a local, pack a picnic and bop your head to some melodic pop tunes?