Mechelen: weekend getaway for hipster epicureans
"Hipster boutiques and a gothic cathedral await in this pretty, cheese-fixated town", the renowned Sunday Times already headlined it at the end of 2018. Second city Mechelen is on the rise and appears in the international press from time to time. Who can say no to trendy boutiques, a beautiful gothic cathedral and cheese right? Mechelen here we come!
Second city travelling - an emerging trend of the last few seasons - seems more relevant than ever after the corona crisis. Lesser-known gems like Mechelen on our wish list, give cities like Bruges, Brussels and Antwerp a little more breathing space and break up the hordes of tourists flocking around. Corona crisis or not, Mechelen should be at the top of that list anyway, especially for its wide range of activities, sights and feel good vibes.
The Burgundian way
Before indulging in some good Belgian food, we are going to stretch our legs first. Let's travel five hundred years back in time, for instance, when Mechelen was the capital of the Netherlands. At that time the Court of Margaret of Austria had its seat in the city and many Burgundian noblemen came to live here.
This heyday is still visible in the streets of Mechelen: Burgundian palaces, historic churches, wooden facades and richly decorated guild houses adorn this route. 'In the footsteps of Margaret' is a handy walking guide that takes you along the Burgundian highlights of Mechelen. You have the choice between 3 loops, so depending on your interest and time, you can choose a short or long walk. You can almost imagine how people used to lived here at that time!
High up in the tower
Is your itinerary limited to a flash visit to Mechelen? Then put the Ascent of St Rumbold's Tower high on your schedule. From all angles, the impressive St Rumbolds, with its 97 metres, towers majestically above the city. So it's quite the challenge to get to the top but in the six tower rooms you can catch your breath and learn more about the function of each room. Once you're on the roof you'll immediately notice something. Where in the world can you find two carillons in one tower? The magnificent view makes the climb to the top more than worth it. On a sunny day you can spot the Brussels Atomium and with a bit of luck even the cathedral of Antwerp.
You deserve a beer!
After such a steep climb you deserve a nice pint of beer. Het Anker Brewery is known for its renowned Golden Carolus. It dates from 1471 and is one of the oldest breweries in Belgium. The building was refurbished in the 1990s, but the three copper kettles in the brewing hall are still a piece of heritage from the Second World War. The award-winning special beers Gouden Carolus Classic and Gouden Carolus Tripel are still brewed here today in the authentic brewing hall with copper kettles. They also sell a fresh fruit beer, the Boscoli, a favourite of yours truly...
Beer in abundance here in Mechelen. But where did the Sunday Times cheese fixation come from? They probably signed up for the surprising voucher booklet full of Sense-sations. An amazing array of typical Mechelen flavours awaits you. The Sense-sations package is the perfect introduction to a handful of local specialities, from beer-based cheese to artisan sweet treats.
Or perhaps the journalist in question stepped into Huis Schockaert, Mechelen's famous cheese shop, which is more than 100 years old and has more than 200 different cheeses.
Relax in the city
Want to enjoy a piece of cheese on a bench in town? No worries! The Dyle Path includes a walk along the water, in the middle of the city centre. The path leads past (and over)the Dyle, between the Haverwerf and the Botanical Garden. This way, you discover Mechelen from a completely different perspective. Pay attention to the back of the old houses and enjoy the water birds. Does the water mean something to you but the walking doesn't? Rederij Malinska organizes tours on the Dijle, the perfect way to discover the city.
By the way, there are other hidden gems in the city: the garden of the Archbishop's Palace, the Carmelite Garden and the Sinte-Mette Garden are just some of the locals' favourite green oases.
Another untouched location here, is the Large Beguinage. This beguinage has a different character compared to other courtyards from other cities. The court was destroyed outside the city walls in 1560 and the beguines moved back to the city centre where the Large Beguinage began to expand. They bought existing buildings there and built new houses.
You can relax in the small, cosy streets. It is actually quite pleasant to stay and live in these houses. Thanks to its typically Flemish character and its unusual architecture, the Large Beguinage has gained a place on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.
Shopping, eating and drinking: the good things in life!
Once you've sniffed up your dose of culture, it's time to dive into the shopping streets. By the way, shopping in Mechelen is much more than just walking along the famous shopping street de Bruul. The trendy boutiques mentioned by The Sunday Times can be found in the Onze-lieve-vrouwestraat. Also the Korenmarkt, Ijzerenleen and the Grote Markt are bustling places.
Mechelen has all the assets to fill a weekend away very diverse. We can now imagine why this city was the capital of the Netherlands 500 years ago. Tasty food, beautiful houses, plenty of booze, a dash of nature, the most beautiful merchandise.
Insider tips - snack and a drink
Bar Popular is definitely a hit in summer time, with its terrace by the water a wonderful place to stay, especially for the cocktails.
Grab life by the Chili Beans is one of those addresses where you can just feel that Friyay feeling with a fresh Margaritas and fresh quesadillas.
Rumours say you can score creamy cheese croquettes at De Vleeshalle at Bubba and savory pastries at Hunter's Out of Ireland.
On the Korenmarkt you can find Kato Gateaux, a coffee bar and bakery.
On Friday evening locals go to Den Stillen Genieter, a real pub.
Just outside the city, but highly recommended for a summer staycation: Zuiderbad. The couple behind this beautiful place has several projects in Mechelen, and everything they do is just right.
Inside tips - shopping
Nice places to sleep
Sleeping on the water can be taken quite literally here. This b&b stands for boat&breakfast and is located a stone's throw away from the centre of Mechelen. In the tastefully decorated cabins you can crawl comfortably under the wool with your bubble of 2 or 4. Peace and quiet is what you sign up for here. Hostess Veerle will bring you a delicious breakfast basket in the morning, so you can take the time to plan your weekend away.
"In situ" is a Latin expression meaning "in place". The B&B consists of a separate building next to the main house and offers two luxurious rooms with a beautiful view of the beautiful Vrijbroekpark. The rooms each have their own character, but always with the same layout. They have a modern and playful design, but at the same time remain timeless and comfortable.