What’s on: Flanders’ biggest party of the year

Summary

Flanders' annual Community Day takes over the entire region, while a small town in the Westhoek puts unsettling artworks in its cellars and abandoned farms

Vlaanderen Feest!

On 11 July 1302, the French cavalry rode into what is now West Flanders seeking to put down an uprising that had started two months before in Bruges. Instead, a 9,000-strong civic army made up of farmers and craftspeople drove them back, winning what came to be known as the Battle of the Golden Spurs – named after the spurs the Flemish took off their dead enemies’ boots.

The battle has gone done in history as an act of courageous defiance in the face of persecution, and in the 1970s the date was chosen as Flanders’ annual Community Day. Now it’s more about partying than defiance, and almost every municipality gets into the act in one way or another. Check the Vlaanderen Feest (Flanders Celebrates) website for a list. The really big events are in Brussels – the annual Dance Battle, concerts in Grote Markt and this year a mock wedding (commit to the capital!) – and in Antwerp, where a festival just for children takes over Groenplaats and a massive, televised music festival can be found on Grote Markt. Everything is free. 11 July, across Flanders and Brussels

Arts Festival Watou

This biennial is recommended not only for its expertly curated group of international artists who create in situ installations in and around the town but for discovering Watou itself. To say it’s out of the way is an understatement: Buried deep in the Westhoek just this side of France, there is no train station, and even the bus needs to be reserved. But for those with wheels, free parking makes it easy to head out on this 2.5 kilometre art trail, which is made all the more interesting for its remote location. There’s something extra unsettling about rain falling on the inside of a shack or a slumped-over figure in a cellar when you know there’s only one road out of town. To lighten things up, concerts take place all summer long in the garden of the festival centre. Until 2 September, across Watou (West Flanders)

Bjork

There are still tickets left to see one of contemporary pop music’s greatest performers in one of Flanders’ loveliest squares. See the inimitable Bjork in all her quirky glory in Ghent’s Sint-Pietersplein, against the backdrop of an abbey. It’s her first time in Belgium in six years and certainly her only concert here this year. It will be a show, she says, of “charged shh shhs and explosive zing booms”. 11 July, Sint-Pietersplein, Ghent

The Private Papers: Rubens in Life and Death

Gaasbeek Castle gets in on the Rubens craze brought on by Antwerp’s months-long Baroque festival – and in a wholly unique way. It puts two fascinating documents from its own archives on show: Peter Paul Rubens’ marriage contract and his last will and testament. To bring the documents alive, an audio-visual experience has been created with Rubens telling us all about his life – and his death. It’s available in multiple languages, and before or after you can sample the Exhibition Menu at the castle’s brasserie: soup of leeks with chives, pie of chicken with bacon, grapes and cream and still life of vanilla ice cream with a baroque coulis of red fruit. Until 26 August, Gaasbeek Castle, Kasteelstraat 40, Lennik (Flemish Brabant)

Photo courtesy Painting with Light