Mechelen is often eclipsed by Antwerp and Brussels, but a series of new initiatives has seen the charming city, best known for its carillon school, rise above the din of its famous neighbours. Mechelen’s fortunes first rose in the 15th century, under the Dukes of Burgundy. A hub of Northern Renaissance art and the cloth trade, it went on to become the capital of the Low Countries. Fast-forward to today and it’s in the spotlight again – labelled one of ten small cities of the future by the Financial Times.
Fittingly, given its furniture-manufacturing past, Mechelen’s newest art haunt occupies ex-furniture shop ARTENOVA – now a ‘talent factory’ for artists and designers. It’s hosting a show on photographer Jos Verhooghen all March, plus works by art students from Sint-Lukas Brussel (9-17 March). Part of ongoing justice-themed city festival OP.RECHT.MECHELEN, moving images biennial the Contour Biennale kicks off on 11 March. One of its bases, the Cultuurcentrum Mechelen, has two openings on 25 March: the installation art-oriented ‘BRIGHT’, and ‘COPY CONSTRUCT’, with work by Guy Rombouts and Jan Op de Beeck.
For luxurious bags, hats and scarves with a surrealist touch head to Awardt, run by mother-and-daughter team Wies Dehert and Els Van den Berghen. Nearby, overlooking the river Dijl, Helga Kordt’s eponymous showroom offers pricey but beautiful handcrafted jewellery. Hit Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat for cool new hangouts and eco-design store Supergoods, and Royal Manufacturers De Wit – the world’s top antique tapestry restorer – for tours and majestic old tapestries.
WINE & DINE
Mechelen is an oenophile’s dream: the punningly titled wine-bar-meets-cellar Unwined also has a great line in tapas. In the same vein, new arrival Pintxos has caused a stir with its artistic tapas and industrial-chic setting. A cosier, more casual choice is Bokes & Co, a café yearling offering soups, salads and sandwiches (the retro décor is also for sale). De Gouden Vis is a classic, creaky brown bar with a waterside terrace, while veteran brewery/distillery Het Anker offers tours and a brasserie: try their refined single malt whisky Gouden Carolus.
Neo-Gothic Franciscan church on the outside, and seamlessly modern luxury hotel on the inside, Martin’s Patershof (doubles from €94) is a real one-off. Musician Stromae recently got married at the four-star venue, whose breakfast room features a 19th century altarpiece. On the B&B front, historic mansion De Lachende Engel (doubles from €130) has two immaculate period rooms – one with Belle Époque decor, a roof terrace and magnificent marble bathroom.
The City of Mechelen, CC Mechelen and Martin’s Patershof are official partners of Fine Art Eurantica 2017.
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