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Mons demands a closer look

It is now a 2015 European City of Culture

If all you know about Mons is that it was a World War I battlefield, then the sum of your knowledge is soon to be increased. From now on there will be a vigorous effort to give Mons another connotation, because Mons has been declared a European City of Culture for 2015.
It is possibly one of the smallest cities to get this accolade. It has a population of only 80,000. But Corentin Marechal is currently based at the Brussels-Wallonia tourist promotion office in London expressly with the brief to get Mons better known as a business tourism destination. He comes from Mons and he has the title of ‘MICE Co-Ordinator’.

‘Mons may be small, but it packs a punch’ sums up the theme put forward by Corentin at our discussion at The Meetings Show in London. ‘Event organisers should come and see for themselves’.

‘Mons is the capital of the Belgian county of Hainaut’, Corentin tells me, ‘and just a 50-minute train journey from Brussels. There are three direct line connections per hour with the Belgian capital and also a link with the international airport. Once in Mons, life can be more relaxed.

A favourite activity for groups is a leisurely canal cruise on boats that can hold up to 80 passengers. Our region boasts the world’s two highest boat lifts. Both situated on the Canal du Centre and now World Heritage sites, they were built in 1888 and 1917 and each raises boats a height of 16.93 metres (55.5 ft).’

Corentin is also keen to add that the area has a total of 17 designated UNESCO Heritage Sites and is a great place for leisure programmes of cultural and historical interest. Every year, for example, during a week-long festival called the DouDou there is a re-enactment of the battle between St George and the Dragon. It takes place on the Grand Place in the centre of Mons, close to the famous 17thC Belfry, another UNESCO monument.

Symbolic of more recent history, each year see the largest gathering of World War II tanks to commemorate the liberation of Belgium by the Third US Armoured Division.

MICE facilities are also a medley of old and new. ‘There are former coal mines’, says Corentin, ‘that are now used as venues for dinners with ambience. Then there is the Pass interactive science museum which has event spaces available.’

And’, he adds, ‘in 2017 we will have the fantastic extra facility of a brand new Conference Centre designed by world-famous architect Daniel Liebeskind. It will seat 500 in the main auditorium.’

With all these attractions, will there be enough hotel beds? Continuing the theme of old and new, he says that The 4-star Dream Hotel has opened in the town centre. It has 57 rooms, was previously an ancient church and still boasts stained glass windows.

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