Brunch & Culture • Ursuline Winter Garden
It is no secret I have a thing for Art Nouveau, as I mentioned in a previous article dedicated to a part of Brussels. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I discovered there was a genuine Art Nouveau jewel hidden somewhere outside of Mechelen. The convent complex of the Ursuline nuns has many hallways and rooms to be discovered, but the masterpiece is without a doubt its Winter Garden with colorful canopy! I'm happy to walk you through it, but first, let's have some brunch!
Noen is a breakfast and lunch spot that is located in a quiet street parallel to the popular shopping street of Mechelen (at Leermarkt 24). The food is homemade and the interior is on point, with lots of plants, wood and pastel colors. On Sunday they serve a breakfast buffet from 09:00 to 14:00, meaning that for €17,50 per person you have unlimited access to bread, spreads, eggs, pancakes and other goodies. Plus a hot and a cold drink!
The food is really good and I wanted to try all of their spreads on their various types of bread. The place gets crowded at certain times but that didn't affect my experience. At some moments the buffet might look a little empty, but the staff makes it up with their smile and kindness. And you should look at it from the bright side: it ensures you eat at a slow pace. It is too bad they don't take reservations, but from what I saw 12:30 is a good time to arrive, as it marks the end of the first round of visitors.
After one too many trips to Noen's buffet, head to the Winter Garden of the Ursuline nuns to be there at 14:15 sharp, when the doors open, as the guided tour starts at 14:30. That is one thing you should know about this place: It can only be visited with a guide. Also, it is open every Sunday from April to October, but outside of that there's only one visit possible on the third Sunday of the month. The visit lasts for 2 hours and it will cost you €10,00. Tickets are limited so you better make a reservation (at firstname.lastname@example.org). One last thing: You'll probably be surrounded by seniors. But that doesn't matter, they're a good crowd.
Enough about the practical stuff, let's move to the essential: the Winter Garden on itself. The Ursuline nuns were dedicated to the education of girls. And in order to attract the daughters of wealthy people from all over the world, they needed to make a statement with their reception hall. That is how, in the early 1900s, the Winter Garden came to be with its impressive Art Nouveau architecture. The funny thing is nobody knows who built it, but it's fairly certain it wasn't Victor Horta or one of his colleagues as they were no big fans of religion. Meant to bring warmth and light indoor, this particular Winter Garden was revolutionary at the time by its innovative use of steel and glass. And today still the structure is a mesmerizing sight that will surely take your breath away!
But that's not all. Besides the Winter Garden, you'll discover many more parts of the listed complex, such as the convent church, the cinematographic Piano Gallery and a surprising collection of stuffed animals. The only downside of the visit is that you have to stick together with the guide and the group, but that shouldn't stop you from discovering this magnificent monument of Flanders!
How to get there:
The easiest way to enjoy this Sunday trip is by car, as you'll have to move from the center of Mechelen to Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Waver where the Winter Garden is located. Before brunch, you can park for free in the street (Leermarkt, Hanswijkstraat or Melaan). The Winter Garden is located at approximately 15min from the center of Mechelen and there is free parking next to the complex. Enter the following address in your navigation system: Bosstraat 22, Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Waver.