Mechelen and Leuven offer the traveler a certain respite away from other more acclaimed populations and without losing an iota of its abbeys, historic buildings, towers, gardens, breweries and excellent cuisine of exquisite Belgian taste
Mechelen, a hidden flamenco treasure 30 km from Brussels
I walk along the Avenida del Hierro where ships used to sail towards the port of Mechelen, the same one that linked with Bruges itself until the prominence of Antwerp made it lose importance and had to close it. It has been a long time since then and not even the reconstruction to which the city was subjected after World War I could with that Innate flamenco pride to preserve the values of its history, with baroque details or the Renaissance past.
Walking or taking the bike invites you to pause in front of facades and historic buildings at every step but also to enjoy each and every one of your experiences, routes beyond history itself.
1. Stroll through the Grote Mark de Mechelen and its 3 "city halls"
A main square, a town hall and a bell tower (incomplete in this case) usually go hand in hand in all Flemish towns but in Mechelen they also go to the old fabric market, the Grand Council Palace and Dozens of facades and buildings from different eras and styles from the 16th century (Renaissance) to the 18th century (Rococo).
2. Enjoy a unique atmosphere that stops time
If there is a population in Flanders that stands out for that feeling of relaxation and quality of life, that is Mechelen. Here, its locals move leisurely by bicycle through the streets of the city, the same where to find a good terrace where you can have a beer between great beauty and colorful stained glass windows of some of its monuments most prominent.
3. Ascend the Tower of San Rumoldo
In the city of bells, A tower is observable from wherever you are, even the furthest. Although it should have reached 160 m, its almost 100 give it unbeatable views from the heights while the carillon sounds touched by trainees.
4. Walk parallel to the Dijle river channel
Crossed by some ten bridges and with a lively riverside, is the Dijle river channel that divides the historic center of the city. There are still small piers, more tourist boats, reminiscent of the importance of a port almost forgotten.
5. Stop time in the Great and Little Beguinage
Apart from its historic center, the narrow and cozy streets of the beaterios breathe peace and tranquility. It is currently a residential area of wealthy people, far from what it once was, but they maintain numerous protected monuments.
6. Hypnotize yourself before the magic of Winter Garden
From the beginning of S.XX and surviving two great wars, the Winter Garden was designed to impress the most notable visitors of a Ursuline Institute and today, you arrive by bike like me or by other means, it will leave youhypnotized by the magical play of lights and colors of its impressive dome.
Leuven, the university city par excellence
Leuven, perhaps best known on some itineraries, breathes a younger and more modern spirit where the whole city looks like a university campus in which to get lost between Renaissance classrooms or interior courtyards while drawing faculties integrated into historic buildings such as Arenberg Castle or the Great Beguinage.
7. I will be amazed at the "prettiest town hall in the world"
The City Council of Leuven, of late Gothic style and the Church of San Pedro, just in front, they are considered as one of the most beautiful architectural complexes. The town hall draws attention for its overloaded facade with 236 statues and just seeing it leaves anyone speechless.
8. Let yourself be lost in the Great Beguinage of Leuven
Its cobbled streets, its squares, its parks, its reddish facades ... Since the beginning of the 13th century it exists in Leuven a neighborhood within the city in a state of eternal rest where formerly beguines lived, a group of single women who dedicated their lives to the help of the poor and sick while maintaining vows of chastity, obedience and prayer. Your set is today one of the most special places of this trip for its great state of conservation
9. Enter the historic library of the University of Leuven
Founded in 1426, burned down with numerous losses (more than 230,000 books including 750 medieval manuscripts) in World War I, rebuilt in the postwar period and once again destroyed by the Nazis in 1940, today breathes a completely university environment and still keep some literary treasures inside.
10. Breathe the history of Arenberg Castle
With that historical air of environment in which it is located, with a beautiful garden where you can sit and watch it, the castle belonging to the Arenberg family is today the Faculty of Engineering owned by the Catholic University of Leuven, like so many colleges and schools throughout the city . A bike route should include one of the most striking buildings in the surroundings
11. Relax by the oldest Botanical Garden in Belgium
Inaugurated in 1738, enter a greenhouse of tropical species perfectly adapted in temperature and conditions in full Belgium is surprising. There are more than 800 species from all over the world and there is no lack of ponds, large green spaces and many places to relax
12. Visit the Old Market and the "largest bar in the world"
I enjoy a beer alone in the huge terraces of the Oude Markt or Old Market. It is the party corner par excellence for university students, a large rectangular square surrounded by bars and restaurants that give rise to that huge terrace called “the biggest bar in the world”.
Bonus track: Beer and Chocolate
12 + 1. A century-old beer tradition
Leuven proudly claims to be the Belgian beer capital and its tradition reaches the Middle Ages, where its homemade production was already an organized trade. Currently, far from the famous Pilsener or Lager beers that base their production on 4 basic ingredients, All kinds of special and experimental craft beers make this region a paradise to make a beer route that I discover in "The 12 best Belgian beers (and another 1,200 to try)"
12 + 2. A unique chocolate tradition
It is said that Belgium has the best chocolate masters in the world And the truth is that even today they continue to respect that artisanal elaboration based on a 100% pure cocoa product, far from introducing other vegetable fats, which make it famous you find in the city that you are in the country.
But all this is nothing more than an introduction of what my Tourism getaway to Mechelen and Leuven, 2 most unknown Flanders jewels, has given me. The beautiful cities easily accessible by train from the capital in less than 20 minutes have many stories to tell. Have I managed to get your attention?
Isaac, from 2 jewels of the most unknown Flanders (Belgium)