MONS CITY GUIDE
The stunning Belgian town of Mons is as breathtaking today as when it first captured the attention of the likes of Victor Hugo and Vincent Van Gogh. Labelled "a very strange town" with "fantastical buildings" by Hugo, Mons is perhaps most famous for being the first place the British Army saw major conflict during World War I. But the town's historical centre held strong throughout the conflict and its beautiful streets are still home to some incredible examples of baroque and gothic architecture – the very same that made an impression on the visiting Hugo back in 1837. An old-time town with a modern heart, the title of European Capital of the Year 2015 cemented its status as muse to the creative. Be inspired by this beautiful town with these wonderful things to do in Mons.
Explore the City Hall and main square
The best way to explore the town is on foot, but be prepared for some steep slopes in Mons (a derivative of "mont" – the French word for mountain). The narrow, winding streets lead visitors past cosy boulangeries and unique boutiques to the buzzing historic centre. The city hall has stood in the main square since the 14th century, accumulating a whole host of additions in a variety of architectural styles over the following centuries. The main entrance is guarded by a small iron statue of a monkey, le Singe du Grand Garde, and touching its head with your left hand is said to bring good luck.
Historical beauty -The Mons Bell Tower
There's no need to worry about getting lost on your rambles, as the town's towering belfry will always guide you safely back to the centre. The 17th century World Heritage site, once described by Victor Hugo as "a coffeepot flanked by four smaller teapots", is the only baroque-style belfry in Belgium. Time your trip to coincide with Trinity Weekend (eight weeks after Easter) and continue to immerse yourself in history with the raucous celebrations of Ducasse de Mons – affectionately known as "Doudou" by locals. With its origins dating back to the Middle Ages, the highlight of this festival in the main square is a vibrant tribute to St George and the dragon.
Of Mons' many museums, one of the most revered is the Decorative Arts Museum, home to unusual rare objects from around the world, including a collection of exotic clocks. Another is the Collegiate Church of Sainte-Waudru, a fantastic gothic feat from the 15th century adorned with remarkable statues by famed Mons architect Jacques du Broecq, and which hosts an incredible collection of gold and silverware. Journey just 10 minutes south-west by car and you'll be in Cuesmes, where Van Gogh's house pays an impactful tribute to one of the world's most famous artists with sumptuous reproductions and an immersive audio-visual experience.
Catch a breath of fresh air at the Chateau de Beloiel
Take a break from the town with a half hour drive north to Pairi Daiza. Once the grounds of an ancient abbey, this beautiful park is now home to an award-winning zoo specialising in the conservation of many endangered species. Over 4000 animals roam the majestic greenery, including white tigers, giant pandas, orangutans and elephants. Continue west for a further 25 minutes to find Beloeil Castle, which has been home to the Princess de Ligne for six centuries. The castle houses a beautiful collection of art and a library containing over 20,000 books and manuscripts. The surrounding gardens are some of the most immaculate in Europe, hosting an annual flower show in the spring.