Mons (or Bergen in Dutch) is situated in the French-speaking region of Wallonia close to the French border. The city with around 100.000 inhabitants was European Capital of Culture in 2015 so that means there are many art projects throughout the whole city waiting for you to discover.
In this blog I will share my itinerary to help you make the most out of 48 hours in Mons from a cultural and culinary point of view.
My highlights were:
Sights: Le Grand-Hornu
The first day
09:30 Start your day with a walk through the historical centre and enjoy street art in many forms like modern statues, installations and graffiti.
Every day from 09:30-17:30.
At the facade of the Town Hall you will find this cute little monkey. Legend has it that if you pet his head it will bring you luck... His head has become very shiny over the past 177 years (at least) so hopefully he helped lots of dreams come true :)
Walk underneath the arches of the Town Hall and visit the Mayor's Garden for a moment of some peace and quiet in the middle of the city centre.
10:30 on Saturday / 10:00 on Sunday: Sweets and coffee at Matouroux pâtisserie fine.
Thomas and Mélissa are two passionate pastry chefs who make the most beautiful and mouthwatering creations. Thomas was a pastry chef for 6 years at a two Michelin starred restaurant and knows how to make quality pastry with seasonal produce.
Wednesday to Friday 11:30-17:30, Saturday 11:30-16:30, Sunday 10:00-12:00, closed on Monday and Tuesday.
The little winding street between Rue d'Enghien and Rue des Gades is one of the cutest I have seen in Mons. And here you understand where the city has got its name from, as Mons means 'mountains' in French...
La petite fille aux papillons (The little girl with butterflies) by French artist David Mesguich is a sculpture of a little girl surrounded by butterflies who breaks a pair of scissors so that their wings never can be cut.
Here I share a small selection of my favourite murals, but there are of course a lot more to discover. The city of Mons is determined to put Mons more profound on the streetart-map so they are planning new graffiti artworks next September and October and keep working on a more colourful and artistic looking city.
This impressive wooden sculpture made by Belgian sculptor and painter Arne Quinze is 85 meters long and 16 meters high and is called 'The Passenger'. It will be disassembled around the end of 2020, so be quick if you want to see it with your own eyes before it's too late!
13:00 Lunch at Green Witches
This vegan friendly lunch spot serves organic sandwiches, salads, soups, fresh juices and some Belgian craft beers.
Nice to know: the picture frames at the wall contain articles from famous witches like the French Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) and the Caribbean Tituba for example.
Monday to Friday 06:00-17:00, Saturday 0900-15:00, closed on Sunday.
14:00 Visit the Museum of Fine Art BAM (Beaux-Arts-Mons).
For me this museum was for sure one of the highlights of Mons. It first opened its doors in 1913 and since then has been transformed to this very bright and modern building with 3 floors and 2.000 m² of exhibition space. It is filled with more than 15.000 contemporary artworks and installations. Besides the permanent collection there are 2 temporary exhibitions annually.
Tuesday to Sunday 10:00-18:00, closed on Monday.
16:00 Visit the Belfry
At the cities highest point lies the 87 metres high belfry which dates back from the late 1660s. From here you have a wide view over the city and the surrounding area.
In over 40 years Yann has traveled to more than 120 countries and captured our beautiful planet from a bird's eye view.
The exhibition is called 'LEGACY, The legacy we leave to our children'.
The impressive photos confront us with the human footprint and the importance of cherishing our beautiful world.
(Until Sunday the 25th of October 2020)
19:30 Dinner at Masu
French modern cuisine with flavours from Asia to South America, the Middle East and back. The enthusiastic and creative owners have travelled a lot and took all their experiences and flavours back to Mons, where this restaurant is one of a kind. The monthly changing menu is accompanied with natural wines and they even have their own craft beer 'Masu Vice'!
Home made appetizers consisting of kimchi, baba ganoush, garlic butter and pastrami with pickled radish.
Thursday to Saturday 18:00-21:00, closed from Sunday to Wednesday.
The first course were Mexican Tacos 'al pastor' with jalapeño's and kidney beans.
Vegetarian main course with grilled eggplant lacquered with Doenjang (Korean miso), kimchi and Pa Jun (Korean scallion omelet).
For dessert we had a delicious chocolate cake with cocoa crumble, red fruits and vanilla whipped cream.
23:30 Spend the night at Martin's Dream Hotel ****
The hotel is situated in the city centre, so all sights are easy to reach within walking distance. Our room was spacious with high ceilings, had lots of daylight and was very clean. And best of all, it had the most beautiful window I've ever had in a hotel room!
But I think I need to explain the mural above the bed :)
Mons is famous for the annual Doudou festival. It is a ritual dating back from the 14th century in which hundreds of inhabitants participate, viewed by thousands of locals and tourists. During this ritual they reconstruct the combat of Saint George and a 10 metres long dragon.
The hotel is situated in a former chapel of more than 200 years old, so your room might look like this too!
The second day
10:00 Start the day at Maison Losseau.
This house is also known as a 'Gem of Art Nouveau'. It was owned by lawyer Léon Losseau and it was the first house in Mons with electricity and an elevator.
The interior is drenched with 20th century elegance, created with a distinct eye for detail and filled with top notch craftsmanship everywhere you look, so in my opinion definitely worth a visit.
Wednesday to Friday 10:00-18:00, Saturday 13:00-18:00, Sunday 10:00-17:00, closed on Monday and Tuesday.
11:30 Hop on a rental bike from Visit Mons to discover a bit of nature and/or cycle to Le Grand-Hornu for example (distance about 12 km, 7,5 mi). Vhello has got a very well signposted 880-km node network in the province of Hainaut.
12:30 Have lunch at Rizom
Eating at Rizom was a great experience not only because of the well balanced flavours but also because of the sturdy and contemporary interior.
The restaurant is the sixth project of two Michelinstar chef Sang Soon Degeimbre, known from L'air du temps in Liernu.
Tuesday to Sunday 11:30-15:00, closed on Monday.
Appetizer with freshly baked crunchy bread and toast with cream cheese and cucumber.
The first course was a tomato quiche/tartelette made of puff pastry and some pecorino ice cream on the side. This pecorino ice cream was a true culinary discovery! Especially during summer time this dish is very suitable as it combines a very savoury taste and a refreshing sensation in one.
The main course was crispy roasted hake with eggplant, miso and butter.
All kinds of pickled/fermented vegetables and herbs to give dishes that extra kick.
The french toast with blackberry sorbet and barley caramel was a perfect closure of a delicious lunch.
14:00 Visit Le Grand-Hornu
Le Grand-Hornu is a UNESCO historical site transformed into a site with an amazing restaurant and two art/design museums. This is in my opinion a must visit (!) for every art lover who visits Mons, because it has a wonderful combination of old meets new and you can easily spend a couple of hours here.
The first artwork you will encounter after the entrance is the '64 squares' fountain by the Belgian sculptor Pol Bury. Water flows through each square until it comes at a point that it overflows and tips over. The movement of the squares is totally random and therefore always different.
Tuesday to Sunday 10:00-18:00, closed on Monday.
The monumental complex is one of the finest examples of neoclassical industrial heritage in Europe. It was built in the beginning of the 19th century by French entrepreneur Henri Degorge to start a coal mine which operated until the 1950s. After that the site was neglected and fell into decay until it was bought in 1971 by architect Henri Guchez who transformed the complex into a cultural and art loving tourist destination.
Don't forget to take a close look at the artworks which are hidden in the heavy metal doors. It tells the story about the tough and dangerous circumstances miners had to work in.
MAC's stands for Musée des Arts Contemporains (Museum of Contemporary Art) and is situated next to above-mentioned restaurant Rizom.
At the time we've visited MAC's there was a solo exhibition of American artist Matt Mullican. Walking through the exposition made me feel like I was part of the artwork! It is quite impressive to see his work meters high from floor to ceiling.
Keep an eye on their agenda to see what's currently running and what's next.
16:30 Cycle back to Mons to be in time to drop off your bicycle.
17:30 Visit Mundaneum
If you have some time left you might be able to squeeze in a quick visit to 'The paper Google'. In the 20th century two Belgian lawyers decided to index all the knowledge in the world (!) They invented an (for that time) ingenious system to file all sorts of documents which is still used unto today in libraries in 130 countries.
Wednesday-Friday 13:00-17:00, Saturday and Sunday 11:00-18:00, closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Mons is in my opinion a bit rough around the edges at some places, which can make a visit very interesting if you like to look further than well known polished destinations.
Because on a cultural level there is really a lot to see for a city of this size, and food wise there are some true gems to discover.
I think the city is in the middle of a shift from traditional to more artsy, driven by several young entrepreneurs who are opening new businesses and a new policy to attract international artists to give the city a more unique and distinctive look.
I am very curious what Mons will have in store the upcoming years!
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Please note: I was invited to experience 48 hours in Mons by Visit Mons.