Travel: Belgium gets ready for festivals galore

The Parc du Cinquantenaire or Jubelpark in Brussels
The Parc du Cinquantenaire or Jubelpark in Brussels
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On May 26-28, Belgium's capital city will come alive with the sound of jazz. The annual Brussels Jazz Marathon sees live performances taking place at Grand Place, Sablon Square, Saint-Catherine Square, Ferdinand Cock Square and Luxembourg Square as well as in various indoor clubs and bars in the city centre. Genres including jazz, blues, funk and world are covered with free entry for visitors.

And this coming Sunday (May 21) in Mechelen Grote Markt, there is a huge festival known as the Handswijk Procession. The history of the origins of this particular procession go back to 1272 when the city of Mechelen was beset by plague.

The Grand Place in Brussels

The Grand Place in Brussels

It is believed that locals held the statue of Virgin Mary towards the city and as a result, their problems stopped and their prayers were answered. In homage to the Virgin Mary, its citizens staged the first Handswijk parade the following year and the tradition continues to this day over 700 years later.

Every 25 years, the parade hosts a jubilee parade, the Hanswijk Cavalcade but if you missed the last one in 2013, you’ll just have to wait until 2038 for the next one! www.hanswijkprocessie.be/en/content/home

And over in Bruges, the Procession of the Holy Blood takes place on May 25 when a procession has taken place every year on Ascension Day since 1303.

Although there have been many changes over the centuries, the heart of the event is the re-enactment of the passion and resurrection of Christ.

The Grand Place in Brussels is a tourist magnet

The Grand Place in Brussels is a tourist magnet

Legend has it that in 1150, after the second Crusade, Thierry d’Alsace, Count of Flanders, brought the relic of the Holy Blood of Jesus back from Jerusalem, to be placed in the Basilica on the Burg. The Procession of the Holy Blood was added to the representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity (2009). www.holyblood.com

In June and July, there are numerous events commemmorating events in Flanders 100 years ago for the Centenaries of First World War battles of Messines and Passchendaele. There are some interesting personal stories of English, Scottish and Welsh soldiers directly affected by the battles.

You can read about Noel Chavasse from Liverpool, the only double VC winner of the Great War while other stories about football legend Jimmy Speirs, a volunteer soldier killed in Passchendaele as well as Hydd Wyn, the Welsh poet, both of which are buried at cemeteries in the Passchendaele region.

Between June 29 and July 2, Rock Werchter is the biggest festival of rock music in the whole of Belgium. Over the last few years, the festival in the town of Werchter near Leuven, has grown to three stages and it hosts around 145.000 visitors during the four day duration.

Belgium has a vast choice of beers with over 800 different bottled brews alone.

Belgium has a vast choice of beers with over 800 different bottled brews alone.

The festival attracts several high profile performers every year. This year some of the acts performing include: Foo Fighters, Radiohead, Kings of Leon and Linking Park. See www.rockwerchter.be/en

On July 5-7 Brussels' Grote Markt and Zavel are transformed for the evening performances of Ommegang. Stacked seats stand in front of the spired Hôtel de Ville and a red-draped medieval gallery will be been erected in front of the Maison du Roi.

Visitors will be crowding out of guild house windows enjoying the atmosphere. The stage will be set for the Ommegang – Flemish for ‘walk around’ – a spectacular religious procession featuring over 1,400 performers that’s been played out on these famous cobblestones for nearly 500 years. See www.ommegang.be

In September the country celebrates the life of Magritte, 50 years after the great Belgian surreal artist died. This new exhibition will attempt to show how his influences are still very much present today.

His influence can be seen in the work of many contemporary artists, including John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Gavin Turk, George Condo, Sean Landers, Raymond Pettibon, and Robert Longo.