Mechelen? Now where exactly is that? Was my first response.

Ok, I knew it was a city in Belgium but apart from its football team it's not a place which had been picked up on my radar ... until now.

As I discovered on a weekend city break, this city in the heart of Flanders, has much to offer both culturally, historically and gastronomically.

And of course being in Belgium the beer was top-notch too.

We flew to Brussels from Bristol Airport with BMI.

The one hour 15 minute flight went very smoothly.

The seats were very comfy for a budget airline, with plenty of leg room and the staff friendly and efficient.

The complimentary snack and drink was very welcome too.

After a 20 minute train from Brussels Airport, we hailed a taxi to our hotel for the weekend - the four start Mercure Mechelen Ve. (

The former smokehouse and cigar factory lies in a pretty street in a charming riverside location where locals and visitors were dining alfresco on a warm summer's evening.

I tucked into some local flat fish, chips and beer at De Cirque ( a stone's throw from our hotel.

There was a laid back vibe as couples and young families made the most of the warm weather - a great start to proceedings.

After sleeping well in my cosy room and a hearty breakfast, comprising a fine array of hot and cold food, it was time to start our city tour.

Mechelen, which is a similar size to Worcester, is easily explored on foot.

The locals are very proud of its Burgundian heritage. The city was the captial of the Burgundian Netherlands in the 15th and 16th Centuries and the palace of Mechelen was the epicentre of the Habsburg court.

Our guide Ann brought to life such characters as Margaret of Austria and Margaret of York as we explored the narrow streets, historic churches and palaces.

There is some stunning architecture to behold, not least its trio of brightly coloured bridge-side buildings.

Amid the Burgundian splendour was a statue of a young Ludwig Van Beethoven, who was born in the city. There was quite a buzz among culture vultures as we toured the city's new museum the Hof van Busleyden, ( which is housed in a city palace, the day before its official opening.

The museum team has done a marvellous job on the restoration and beside the masterpieces by the likes of Rembrandt and Rubens, there were state-of-the-art virtual encounters which gave the new building its "wow" factor for both children and adults to enjoy.

A highlight of the tour were the lavish "Enclosed Gardens" altarpieces, which have been painstakingly restored from the 16th Century originals - exquisite craftmanship which is a must-see.

We had certainly built up a thirst on our walk so it was apt our next stop was Mechelen's only surviving brewery - the 600-year-old Het Anker. (

Our guide Joris was friendly and informative as he took us through the beer-making process. We, of course enjoyed a tipple of the famous Golden Carolus brew, not to mention the whisky made on the premises.

We also enjoyed a hearty lunch in its restaurant, whose cuisine included beer-inspired creations.

After lunch it was time to unwind and a few of us chose the perfect option - a boat trip on the Inner Digle river.

With a cool beer in hand and in the company of several nationalities, it was a wonderful way to while away an hour and see the city from a different vantage point.

Dinner was a taste sensation at Cosma, surely one of the city's finest restaurants. (

The Mediterranean-style tapas dishes were a delight: fresh, tasty food, ample portions and not too hard on the wallet.

My gambas were some of the best I'd tasted and as we sat under the in the courtyard under the clear, evening sky, we could easily have been on the shores of the Med.

Our second day started with a leisurely breakfast in the hotel, whose young staff were pleasant and professional throughout our trip.

For the more energetic, there is a wellness suite, including swimming pool and gym but I had other athletic pursuits in mind.

We certainly blew away the cobwebs as we climbed all 538 steps of St Rumbold's Tower - the symbol of Mechelen.

The tower, a UNESCO World Heritage site, dominates the city and its panoramic views from the top were worth the ascent.

Not only were there stunning views of the city but in the distance you could even spot the world-famous Atomium structure in Brussels.

The carillion in the cathedral was certainly in fine form as it chimed every 15 minutes during our visit.

After a tasty lunch at Savas tapas restaurant, ( which combined a fine medley of hot and cold snacks, out afternoon was a more sombre affair.

A visit to Holocaust memorial museum the Kazern Dossin, is not for the faint-hearted. (

During the Holocaust, some 25,000 Jews and gipsies were crammed into barracks in Mechelen before being transported to the concentration camps.

The museum combines the themes of the Holocaust with human rights and is well worth a visit.

The history of the Holocaust in Flanders is expertly explained on storyboards and there are screens showing interviews with survivors and also interactive screens.

Its tastefully presented, well laid out and housed in a space where there is room to reflect on this dark period in history.

So, from Burgundian splendour to beer and bells, there is much to enjoy in this gem of a city.

It's a city you can easily navigate in a weekend and the locals are laid back, friendly and curteous.

No I know where it is and what delights it has to offer, I look forward to returning.


bmi flies from Bristol to Brussels three times a day with fares from just £99 one way.

All fares are inclusive of 23kg hold luggage, allocated seating and complimentary in-flight drinks and snacks.

Hotel Mercure Mechelen Vé

Four star hotel

Address: Vismarkt 14, 2800 Mechelen, Belgium

Phone: +32 15 70 07 00