The capital of taste
Ever since last year's immensely popular television series De Smaak van de Keyser, which followed the lives of three generations of women in a jenever distillery in Hasselt, this little, bubbly city has been re-discovered by the Flemish.
This summer, Hasselt has a lot more on offer than a nip of jenever
Dubbed the Capital of Taste by city officials, Hasselt is known for its sophisticated flavours: in addition to many good restaurants and the infamously delicious jenever, it's a fashion capital (the home of designer Stijn Helsen) and has quaint little shops, picturesque squares and numerous museums.
Seeing as most cities are going all out to lure in the crowds this summer, Hasselt could not just stand by without putting up some competition. It has, with little fanfare, put together an intricately planned programme to keep you entertained even on the rainier summer days.
Every Monday evening, carillons from the Sint-Quintinus Cathedral will chime above while you sip cold beer (or hot coffee) at one of the cosy cafés on the Grote Markt. If that sounds like taking things too easy, you can always join the roller-skating parade, which leaves the Kolonel Dusartplein at 19.00, whisking you across the city on eight wheels.
The Grote Markt really is the place to be in Hasselt this summer. It's also the spot for the über-charming Hasselt Danst every Tuesday night. After a 30-minute lesson by a local dance group, you'll be ready to take centre stage and boogie the night away. A different dance is taught every week, making you an all-around expert by summer's end.
On Wednesdays nights, meanwhile, local orchestra Toeternietoe, aided by several guest musicians, lighten the mood with upbeat melodies on the Molenpoortplein. More free music awaits, this time in Kamermolenpark, with free concerts every Thursday as part of the Parkfeesten series taking place across Flanders. Upcoming shows include Yamundo, a Flemish-Dutch trio delivering sultry, jazzy beats, and Antwerp-based light pop group Mama's Jasje.
Saturdays in Hasselt are dedicated to antiques, with a wonderful little antique market on the Kolonel Dusartplein in the morning, followed by an art fair on the Groenplein (next to the tourist office) in the afternoons. Paintings, sculptures, jewellery, you name it.
Aside from glorious food and drink, Limburg province in general excels in pop and rock music, spitting out one great little garage band after another. We end our week, then, with the Muziekterras, live music on the Leopoldplein with an after-party at C.Bar.
But what about Friday? you may be wondering. Well, that's up to you, really - choose from the scads of other ongoing activities in Hasselt this summer. Visit, for example, the surprisingly interesting fairytale exhibit Zeg Roodkapje, waar ga je heen? (Say, Little Red Riding Hood, Where Are You Going? - the first line of a children's song) in the oft-overlooked literary museum.
Also bypassed in favour of its competition in Antwerp, Hasselt's fashion museum houses the exhibition In Her Shoes, which follows the evolution in women's shoe design from 1900 to the present, illustrated by way of famous creations by well-known (Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik) and lesser-known designers.
What started in Ghent has now moved to Hasselt: Sunday through Thursday from 27 July to 30 August, television celebrity Marcel Vanthilt hosts his new show Villa Vanthilt from the "mobile villa" built on the Kolonel Dusartplein. Sit back and relax in the garden of his "estate" and take in the show starting at 22.00 (live on één).
And let's not forget about Rimpelrock (Wrinkle Rock) on 15 August. Clouseau, Billy Ocean, Lee Towers, Dana Winner and many more head to the Kiewit in Hasselt to show that summer music festivals are not just for the young. Thousands of 60-plussers turn out for this annual event, waving their arms in the air and hooting at the stage. It's one of Flanders' more surreal summer experiences, and that's saying a lot.
Last but not least, everyone is encouraged to take part in Hasselt's photo competition. If you've had a great time at one of the above-mentioned venues, and you've got the pictures to prove it, send them in via the city's website. Every week a winner will be awarded a gift certificate. Non-winners need not despair - by the end of the summer, all entries will be posted on Hasselt's new website.
While in Hasselt, head over to the old begijnhof, where the Z33 contemporary art centre hosts Work Now, a look at the meaning (or lack thereof) of work in the modern world