Mechelen. A very pretty part of the country located between Antwerp and Brussels, but will this city have enough to attract and entertain us for a whole weekend? We buy a Weekend Ticket, hop on the train heading for the city on the river Dyle and take up the challenge. Spoiler alert: Mechelen allowed us to experience 2 heavenly days. We felt like we were walking with angels!

The station

The weather is pretty dreary when we arrive at Mechelen station. The building isn't the sexiest but the planned refurbishments promise a better future for it. The works are in fact supposed to start this year and the new station should see the light of day in 2026. We examine the plans for the building works then, make our way on foot to the hotel, which is 1 km from there. The noise of our suitcases on the Mechelen pavements announces our arrival to the locals: the tourists are here.

Sleeping at the beautiful church

I'm going to be honest: sometimes my parents had to give me a push to get me out of my bed and into church on Sunday mornings. But I have never really slept in the house of God… until this night in Mechelen.

The outside facade of the building would lead you to conclude that this is an ordinary church, like any other. Only the banners confirm that this is our destination: Martin's Patershof. This ancient deconsecrated church has be converted into a 4-star hotel, in the heart of Mechelen. The friendly receptionist at check-in shows us the places that are not to be missed in the city. Handy!

We can't believe our eyes upon discovering our room. We could almost hear the angels singing! The atmosphere of the place is evidently something quite special. An amazing colourful stained-glass window adorns the room and the lights create light effects on the ceiling vaulted to a pointed arch. There's no doubt about it, we are definitely in a church! Other hotels provide the Bible but here, its presence is all consuming. Even if we have brought with us our own reading material. Oh, and did I tell you that the bath turns into a Jacuzzi bath? Alleluia!

One more detail that strikes us when we leave: in the corridors of the hotel and the reception area, there is a sweet and pleasant fragrance everywhere. Everything has a heavenly fragrance here, but you wouldn't expect anything else really.

Martin’s Patershof
Address:
Karmelietenstraat 4 

Walking on water

One of the Mechelen experiences that is not be missed is walking on the Dyle Footpath. It leads you from the Haverwerf quayside to the Botanical Gardens and you will discover another side to Mechelen. The waterside walk is pleasant but we are not able to progress further than the Botanical Gardens. So it's an opportunity to go and try one of the highly recommended milkshakes from MLKSHKBAR, but no chance as the doors are shut. Back-up plan: jump ship to Noen's, the lunch bar, which belongs to the same proprietor, offering exactly the same shakes. But first: we're going shopping.

Dijlepad
Address:
Haverwerf 

 

Shopping and shakes 


Mechelen is brimming with shops. Shopaholics will be in their element at Bruul, Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat, Ijzeren Leen,… But one brand particularly attracts our attention: SCOOP Store, it's only small but full of really nice clothes, cards, accessories, … On Line also has quite a lot of lovely things (that really can't be missed).

After leaving Bruul, we peel off and make a beeline for Noen where I can't help but choose an original basil and white-chocolate milkshake. Interesting fact: the ice cream in the milkshakes comes from Eiskreem, which produces ice creams made from regional and seasonal ingredients, without colourings or preservatives. And yes, the shake is tasty. The homemade lemonade is also worth the detour. In short, our assessment of Noen? An absolute definite - not to be missed! (But watch out for the tigers hiding in the toilets).

At the Korenmarkt, we go into Morocco Nuts to buy a portion. It's self-service with a scoop to buy nuts and figs. An absolute must and if you don't believe me, go there, do a tour, taste them for yourself and I will be proven right.

At Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat, we come across another gem: the De Zondvloed bookshop. We intend to stay there for 5 minutes but upon entering, thousands of books demand our attention. 5 minutes turns into 30, and given the myriad of authors on show, I am surprised that I only come out with 2 books. What is more, you can have a coffee there too. Anywhere else?

SCOOP Store 
Address: Bruul 122

On Line
Address: Bruul 102

Noen
Address: Leermarkt 24

De Zondvloed
Address: Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat 70

 

Holy meal 

We can't get away from the theme of the day: fish and wine. After quickly nipping back to the hotel, we find ourselves back in the Veemarkt where we are the first customers to take their places at Akira Sushi. The inside isn't that attractive, but the service is top notch. Suddenly a portion of prawn crackers arrives at our table, which melt in the mouth like wafers. After that, sushi dishes are served and it's absolutely delicious. The loyal customers know they're onto something good and scarcely 1h after our arrival, all the tables are fully occupied and disgruntled people have to be turned away. 2 pieces of advice: book a table and taste their dynamite crusty roll.

We leave and allow other lovers of sushi to take our place and finish our first day in style at Unwined: a friendly wine bar at the foot of Sint-Romboutstoren, near the Grote Markt. Here too, it's full, but we still manage to find a little corner table by a window. On the menu, we discover some intriguing names such as the woensdagwiijn ("Wednesday wine") - also available on other days of the week -  the vriendenwijn ("friends' wine") and the verrassingswijn ("surprise wine"). I opt for the "spectacular", as you never know if this evening will be my last supper. And spectacular it is! The Scottish businessman, who came to sit next to us, persuades me to also try the vriendenwijn plus ("friends' wine plus"). And he doesn't leave a dram of his wine - excuse the pun! Even if the "spectacular", which is more expensive, was logically even more exceptional. A little after this, we have front-row seats to see the sun set over Mechelen. We return to our hotel relaxed. But there will be no lie in as tomorrow a pilgrimage awaits.

Akira Sushi
Address: Veemarkt 20

Unwined
Address: Steenweg 22

Mechelen's Garden of Eden

Good morning! After a good night's sleep (in peace), we are full of beans. So we put on our running shoes and head to Vrijbroekpark, an area covering more than 50 hectares of green space at teh entrance to the city. We are virtually alone, the sun is breaking through the morning mist and makes the whole park shine. It really is quite breath-taking.

We run along the small lake, across the rose garden, the Ecotooptuin, … And then we discover that it is possible to engage in a number of other sports in the park: from tennis to pétanque not forgetting hockey and cricket. Then another discovery: there is a hollow tree where you can take one book and leave another in exchange. Say, Mechelen, would you mind if we take this park home and swap it for another one?

Vrijbroekpark
Address: Ridder Dessainlaan 65

 

Take this and eat it, all of you

Back to the hotel, we jump in the shower and get ready for breakfast. It exceeds all our (already quite high) expectations. To start with, the location: we are seated in the chancel of the church and it is clearly quite a special experience. We forget morning prayers and head straight for the buffet, there is more or less everything that you can imagine: 5 sorts of fresh fruit juice, croissants, pastries, rolls, bread, ham, eggs, sausages, cereals, muesli, flax and sunflower seeds, nuts, yogurt, fresh fruit  and more. In fact, it's the first hotel at which I am also offered a glass of Cava for breakfast, and no, I don't just stay at youth hostels (a little bit too much social interaction, if you know what I mean).

Coffee and beguines 

We feel on form today, so we proceed to the bicycle and coffee shop Peloton de Paris. It's not cheap, but I manage to exercise restraint and not buy a new running outfit to take away with me. Then we take advantage of the coffee and admire the cute bicycle that's hanging on the wall.

We're not (yet) hungry, so we set off for a stroll to the Small and Great Beguinage, where right next to typical, charming streets you will find another unmissable Mechelen attraction, Het Anker brewery. As we have visited this brewery before, we're not going there this weekend. But if you like history, beer and eating well, it's definitely worth visiting.

Peloton de Paris
Address: Hoogstraat 49
Het Anker Brewery
Address: Guido Gezellelaan 49

 

Burgers with the cardinal 

We leave the beguines and return to the Sint-Rombout cathedral for an audience with the cardinal. Well, not THE cardinal, but Il Cardinale, a burger bar in a quirky, religious setting. We immediately realise this upon sitting down at a table facing a wall full of miniature statues of Mary. I try the Maneblusser, a beer from the Het Anker brewery. We opt for the Classic Cheese with fries and Chicken Stoy. We finish off our heavenly meal with a refreshing home-made lemonade and ice tea.

It's funny to see that they've extended the design concept all the way into the toilets: when you go down the stairs to, oh my… the holy place, you can hear Gregorian chants. They have an eye for detail, and this only enhances my appreciation of the place.

Il Cardinale 
Address: Sint-Romboutskerkhof 1 

Heavenwards

Our weekend pilgrimage is drawing to an end, and so we do something in line with this theme: a stairway to heaven. More exactly, climbing the 538 steps of the Sint-Rombout tower. After a few breaks, in particular in the clock room, the ancient and the new carillon room, we reach the top of the tower. We have no words, short of breath from the climb, but mainly because of the amazing view before us. From the viewing platform, we are able to put the whole weekend into perspective: our hotel, the river Dyle, the Botanical Gardens, the Vrijbroekpark, the Beguinages, … On a clear day, you can see as far as the Atomium, but today the weather isn't clement enough. After fully taking in the view, we go back down, which is definitely a lot quicker. All we need do is collect our luggage from the hotel then make our way back to the station. And yes, the tourists do have to go home… 

Sint-Romboutskathedraal
Address Onder den Toren

We had already been to Mechelen but had never spent the night there. This short weekend allowed us to explore the city from the inside, like real "residents of Mechelen". And yes, now we can really see the city on the Dyle with a fresh outlook. Mechelen offers a mix of culture and comfort, some lovely shops, original bars and its setting. This city is alive. Look no further for your next city trip. Mechelen is a city, which is definitely worth your weekend. Amen to that.

*Discount only applied to the non-fixed part of the Standard fare. In 2nd class, the fixed amount is € 1.1649 per single journey. In 1st class, it is € 1.5144 (less than 37km) or € 1.6309 (37km - 51km) or € 1.7939 (52km and more) per single journey. The minimum price per single journey is € 2.50 in 2nd and € 3.20 in 1st class.

Thou shalt not lie 

One other thing that I do have to confess: our stay at Martin's Patershof was sponsored by Martin's Hotels. We do however swear that we would still recommend the hotel without any sponsorship.

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