Saturday, November 25th 2017.

Destinations

Jonathan Ramael
Lovely Limburg
A trip into Belgium’s MICE Mine

 

By Jonathan Ramael

 

Some would describe Limburg as “the forgotten province”. Others would ask themselves what it still has to offer since the collapse of its prosperous mining industry in the eighties. ‘Well, actually quite a lot!’ would be the only appropriate answer, because Belgium’s most hospitable province comes with varied, green landscapes, nice panoramas and an interesting mix of lively cities and picturesque little villages. It also offers a MICE industry on the rise, combining a broad selection of original meeting locations and partners for every group or activity. An excellent collection of traditional and design hotels is waiting to be discovered, while the local gastronomy is one of the highest standards and is always accompanied by the inherent Limburgian charm. An even more interesting surprise is that several of the old mining sites found a new life in the meeting and tourism industry, while other – brand new – venues honor the region’s industrial history in their design. On Wednesday, 22 March, BBT Online was invited for a daytrip of discovery, gastronomy and shopping, leading to some of Limburg’s most exciting venues and locations.

 

Bokrijk – Set up your future events in the past


Bokrijk Bokrijk Bokrijk

 

Our first stop of the day was good old Bokrijk: a big open air museum in the middle of a green domain ideal for walking or cycling. To foreigners it might not sound familiar, but to me and to everyone with a past in a Belgian primary school it should ring some serious bells. Yes, this cozy museum is one of the most popular school excursion venues in the whole country! But what is it? Well, it’s a lot of things. It started with the reconstruction of several old buildings filled with actors and craftsmen, giving visitors a good idea of how a small rural community in Flanders looked like roughly 100 years ago. Farmers farm here, old schoolteacher teach, millers uhm... mill? You get the idea. Later, the old town was added, reconstructed from stately 17th century buildings originally built in Antwerp. And this year, they’ll use this old town square to venture into a less distant, more familiar past: the swinging sixties! Are you still melancholic about your lost childhood and do you want to capture just one more little glimpse of it? Or are you more interested in how your parents lived when they were young (or how your children lived, if you’re really, crazy old)? Well, there’s only one place to go then: travel back to simpler, happier, more Beatles-filled times and visit a classic supermarket, a sixties hairdresser or an old-fashioned family home!

 

Hangar 58 Hangar 58

 

What a lot of people don’t know is that Bokrijk’s old town square is a very popular and very special location for events. The entire “town” can be privatized and comes with a big, modern, multifunctional event hall called Hangar 58. It looks great and its enormous windows give out on the town square. It can be used for all sorts of events and can accommodate up to 2,000 people for a reception and 1,200 for a seated dinner. For really large events, the square outside can take about 10,000. Hangar 58 is a unique location in its own right and definitely a valuable option to consider for your bigger events. Of course it has ample parking space, but it’s even easier to reach by public transport since Bokrijk has its own train station on the line Genk-Brussels. Add a touch of the sixties to your next event and celebrate in style! For more info, go to www.bokrijk.be.

 

C-Mine – We need to go deeper!

Next on our Limburg-list was C-Mine on the outskirts of Genk. This big, multifunctional venue was built in and on the foundations of the old Winterslag coalmine. Most of the structures are still intact: a successful symbiosis between industrial heritage and contemporary creativity. When we say multifunctional, we’re not exaggerating: you can do A LOT here. Take a guided tour through the old industrial buildings. Venture into the underground tunnels while you listen to old miner stories told by famous Belgians, or make your own mining sounds that can be heard above ground. Climb the gigantic tower outside for a magnificent view, attend a concert in the cultural centre or watch a movie in the Euroscoop (ten brand new cinema rooms for 100 to 345 viewers). There’s even a college campus built on the grounds.

 

C-Mine C-Mine

 

Interesting for MICE people are the various meeting & event halls available on site: ten in total (excluding the movie theaters). The Barenhall might be the most beautiful one. This industrial hall full of old electrical equipment looks a bit like the lab of a comic book professor. It can be rented for events of up to 800 people, guaranteeing a very special atmosphere. For those more into design: the porcelain atelier of famous Belgian artist Pieter Stockmans can also be found in C-Mine. You’ll see beautifully handcrafted dishes, pots and cups thin as a hair but hard as a rock. The atelier’s upper floor can be used as an event location for up to 300 people. For more info, check: www.c-mine.be or www.pietstockmans.com.

 

Carbon Design Hotel – Making coal cool


Carbon Carbon Carbon

 

Our next appointment took us to Genk’s city centre, for a visit of the 4-star Carbon Design Hotel right on the new city square.  This wonderfully designed hotel is a member of the Different Hotels Group and was inspired by the black gold of the coal mining industry: contrasts between black, gold (obviously) and fiery red colors give the interior an earthy, underground atmosphere. The hotel is not just easy on the eyes, it offers all possible facilities for successful meetings: sixty luxurious rooms, a trendy wine bar where you can order 15 different wines by the glass, a first class restaurant where we had a very tasty lunch, 4 meeting rooms (the biggest one capable of seating 60 people), a spacious garden on the roof (also available for events) and a modern wellness centre with a lovely sun terrace.

 

Carbon Carbon

 

If you add all of this together, you get a great hotel offering a daring combination of originality, luxury and beauty. It won several national and international for its design and the quality of the food. A small example of the “unconventional” interior: some of the rooms have large bathtubs. Not in the bathroom, but in the middle of the hotel room, attached to a gigantic working desk! Perfect for those “special” business talks. Call us crazy, but we think it’s an absolutely brilliant idea! For more info, go to www.carbonhotel.be.

 

Maasmechelen Village – The Luxury shopping experience


Maasmechelen Maasmechelen

 

Our last visit – and the one the female members of our group were strangely waiting for all day – was the Maasmechelen Village: one of only 9 purpose built Chic Outlet Shopping Villages in Europe.  It’s like a luxury shopping mall but in the fresh open air. In its pedestrian streets you’ll walk from one fancy boutique to the next. More than 100 shops are open for business here, all offering nothing but the top brands. Since they sell last year’s collection (that’s what outlet means) prices are about 30-60% cheaper than in regular stores. Hugo Boss, Desigual, Escada, Guess, Karen Millen... they’re all here and open every day of the week (including Sundays). If your feet or wallet are getting sore from all this walking and shopping, stop to enjoy a drink or a snack on one of the many terraces, or have dinner in one of five available restaurants. As far as MICE possibilities are concerned, styling workshops for up to 50 people can be arranged and rooms can be booked for up to 60 people in theatre style.  You can also order VIP Daypasses to go on a shopping spree, offering you 10% additional discount in 9 boutiques of your choice. Every formula can be booked with a breakfast or lunch included. There is a big parking lot available, but you can also take a direct shuttle from the centre of Brussels. If interested, surf to: www.maasmechelenvillage.com

 

Maasmechelen

 

Conclusion

At the end of an interesting, surprising but most of all pleasant day, we can say Limburg is a destination definitely worth a closer look. It’s nearby, it’s peaceful and it’s diverse. It might not have the grandeur or international fame MICE destinations like Brussels or Bruges have, but it has all the necessary facilities to make sure your next event will be well remembered. The region took a big hit with the loss of its mining industry in the last century, but it’s rising like a phoenix from the flames by embracing its industrial heritage and transforming that heritage into tourism and business venues built to last. We’ve seen a couple of unique locations, but there are many more to be discovered.

 

 

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