Belgium (Mons)

Mons, in the French-speaking part of western Belgium, is a small, historic city of immense charm. Cobbled streets rise on a twisty medieval grid to its beautiful central square, and then on up to a crescendo at the 17th-century Belfry that rings out carillon chimes from the top of the hill that gives the city its name.

Really, Mons should be more widely recognised as a perfect short-stay destination as it ticks all the boxes – a walkable city, with attractive places to stay, good restaurants, lots of cafés and bars, and a rich variety of things to see and do.

But, for a pocket-sized city, Mons also punches way above its weight. In 2015 it will celebrate a year as a European Capital of Culture, no less, for which it is undertaking numerous construction and cultural projects, including eye-catching new buildings by top-ranking international architects Daniel Libeskind and Santiago Calatrava.

Meanwhile Mons, a university town, is attracting international investment to its ‘Digital Innovation Valley’ and elsewhere from Microsoft, IBM, Alcatel, Cisco and Google. Close by lies SHAPE, the European headquarters of NATO. In August 2014 Mons hit the news as a focal point in the opening salvo of the World War I centenary commemorations – for this is where (for British and Commonwealth troops) the war began and ended.

A brand new Memorial Museum explores this place in world history. Its year as European Capital of Culture in 2015 will be a turning point, catapulting the city onto the world stage, after which the charms and dynamism of Mons will be deservedly far better known.

Antony Mason

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