Sat in the eye of a storm; the clothe-splosion engulfing my living room floor, progressively getting more chaotic as I came to the realisation that the twenty-four hours I had back in the UK was actually a stressfully short amount of time from landing at Stansted, fresh from Croatia to getting back on the road for my next trip.
Suitcase was cast down, open mouthed on the floor; flinging bikinis out and chucking boots in, I was swapping Balkan sand for Belgian cobbles for my second dose of Belgium this year; I was responding to the forever-tempting call of Lambic’s and waffles!
Having the opportunity to visit Mechelen was one I couldn’t pass up. I was actually convinced that next time I was in Flanders it would be a trip to Antwerp (a city which remains on my Belgian bucket list for now), but despite previously not even being able to point to Mechelen on a map I still had utter faith I was going to love love LOVE it, just the same as I loved Bruges and Brussels and Ghent.
It didn’t stop me feeling squirmy as I arrived in the city; I dropped a sheepish apology as I checked into my hotel. “First time here?”, “Uh yes, and um, I hadn’t heard of Mechelen before…” I admitted.
“No problem”; she smoothed a map onto the counter and earnestly began circling the city’s attractions… Did you know this compact city had loads to see?
Get a Beer Education With A Tour & Beer
Tasting At Het Anker Brewery
Just another brewery tour? Not quite. This brewery was born from girl power, nestled on the edge of Mechelen and in the heart of one of Flanders most beautiful Beguines. Single women who rejected the idea of retiring to a convent, created their own self-sustaining communities which included running a brewery, which in those days was more for medicinal purposes. It was a long while later, and not until the Van Breedam family got involved that until the brewery started to become more of the commercial outlet it is today, but by joining a tour you can see that the building has retained all of it’s quirks and charm.
Having been on countless other brewery tours across Europe I thought I couldn’t learn much more from the experience, but soon I was centuries deep in the history of the Van Breedam family and getting the chance understand about all the various additions that go into the brewing process to make Gouden Carolus the stand-out beer it is. It was then that we were taken to another part of the warehouse where the Het Anker brewery had branched out into whiskey production. The afternoon, of course, concluded with a beer tasting of their two most popular brew… Which was a sure way to ensure I went off happy!
Experience The Climb:
St Rumbold’s Cathedral
St Rumbolds Cathedral towers over the whole area, and it’s incredibly difficult to loose sight of it completely; if you get lost, St Rumbolds is essentially your north star!
Climbing the tower is an incredibly unique experience. Yes, you’re guaranteed to burn off your breakfast by hiking over 500 steps, and the architecture is something to be admired, but time your climb right and listen out for the most incredible bell-chime concert as you ascend to the sky-walk at the top. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Atomium in Brussels!
It’s also here, in the 1600’s, where the people of Mechelen raised the alarm of a fire in belfry. After many buckets of water and the hazy glow in the tower not letting up, it was only then they realised the ‘fire’ was the reflection of moonlight on the glass windows. From then, the city’s people have gained the nickname ‘Maneblussers’ or ‘Moon Extinguishers’!
Find The Yellow Man of Mechelen
He’s not difficult to locate, but no-one had warned me this guy was half embedded in the hill to the rear of St Rumbolds Cathedral, so stumbling on this incredibly large and seriously bright yellow structure was a bit of a ‘huh, what the…?’ moment. But this is one of the reasons why I love Belgium. It’s so unashamedly quirky.
When you understand a bit more about who the character is, it gets even more unclear; this cheery looking man is ‘Opsinjoorke’; a perpetual drunk who mistreats his wife, so as punishment they throw him up in the air in a large sheet. Isn’t that just so wonderfully weird?
Treat all Your Senses Around Mechelen
Mechelen knows the way to this girls heart. The Tourist Board really knows how to tease every sense with the Sense-sational Mechelen booklet, that guides you around the city revealing the best sights, smells and tastes. A little win was finding this gorgeous shop, which had a picture perfect window front and offering countless varieties of cheeses. A few doors down, on the same street was a quaint chocolate shop that sold handmade moon shaped chocolates.
Fall In Love With The
Atmosphere Of The Weekend Market
A side effect of a trip to Belgium is that even the most fussy of eaters blossom into food fanatics. Belgians know good food. So when the market is in town on Saturday morning the streets evolve into a hungry girls’ nirvana.
Grote Markt becomes saturated with the smells and sounds of market sellers, fresh fish, homemade jams, cheeses, waffles, moules, salamis and chocolates; starting to wish my purse was bigger and my stomach was deeper.
Get Lost In The Narrow Streets Of
I couldn’t find one corner of Mechelen that wasn’t fit for Instagramming, but there is an area of Mechelen which will take some beating to be crowned the ‘quaintest’ place in the city. But the Beguines aren’t just cute window planters, lush backdrops and charming house fronts (though if you visit just for that you won’t be left disappointed), they also have a lengthy history which essentially presents us a real-life story of original ‘girl-power’. Single women (who were doing it for themselves), built an alternative lifestyle when the only other option was to join a convent. They set up a community (the Beguinage) of their own; women living among other women, a mini-town within a town, complete with bakeries, shops and their own brewery. They were completely stable and self-sufficient. Today, these former communities are protected sites, but are now regular, but intensely adorable residential areas.
Window Shop The
Citys Beautiful Boutiques
Luckily for us our short break crossed over with the ‘Warm Welcome Weekend‘ shopping event being held in the city. All the shops, cafes and boutiques were pulling out all the stops, tempting us in with unique discounts and free fizz and nibbles. Considering that Mechelen is relatively compact, there was no shortage of shopping options, and although I spent most of my time dipping in and out of the bakeries and cheese shops (because carbs and dairy are life), I loved window shopping the uber fashionable Scandi-style boutiques lining Lange Schipstraat in the South of the city.
Bar Hop in the Uber Cool VisMarkt
Right across from our hotel; Novotel Mechelen Centrum, was the Vismarkt. Set along the canal, this corner of the city was just too cool; a lot more ‘local’, a teeny bit hipster and a gorgeous sun trap crammed with a hotch potch of outdoor terraces. Brunch-time coffees at Sister Bean, evening date nights at De Cirque or accidentally spending countless hours outside ‘brown cafe’ Bar Popular, slowly checking our way through the excellent beer menu and be-friending other bar-goers; the unexpected sunshine mixed with many beers gave us the warm-fuzzies!
People Watch in Grote Markt:
Mechelen’s Main Square
If there were awards In ‘Europe’s most beautiful old town square’ Flanders would need to be upgrading their trophy cabinet. If there’s one thing to place a wager on when visiting Belgium is finding stunning views like these. Of course there’s one way to improve your perspective which is from an outdoor terrace behind a chalice of Lambic or from a bench tucking into your third portion of frites. Obviously. When in Belgium. Visiting in mid-October and benefiting from the very last of the summer rays, all the cafes and bars were still offering al-fresco dining.
Spend A Lazy Sunday Morning
Seeing Mechelen From A New Perspective
Hands down, there’s no better way to spend a sunny Sunday morning. After watching the boats come and go all weekend from our seat outside Bar Popular we booked in for the first voyage of the day and set sail on a Boat Trip down the River Dyle. With views of the old historical city centre, and the cute gardens set alongside the waterside, all the way to the Botanical Gardens, the whole experience was just so zen.
in the Botanical Garden
Uniquely, it’s possible to walk on water in Mechelen, sort of. Part way down the river that runs through the centre of the city, floats a wooden walkway linking the VisMarkt with the Botanical Garden and all the stylish boutiques, watering holes and restaurants in between. It was the Botanical Garden though, where we found ourselves on Sunday afternoon, wrapping up our weekend with a wander under the yellowing boughs. For a city park that lies just off the main shopping street, it was a lush pocket of calm and the perfect finale to our Mechelen adventure.
*Disclosure: We visited Mechelen as a guest of Visit Flanders. This trip was in return for an honest review of the city and the attractions. I loved my visiting Mechelen and all opinions here and across my blog, are as always, totally honest and completely my own.