Belgium’s tidy farmland resembles that of middle England, with a few more colourful windmills scattered across. Its ordered hedgerows are matched with outstanding natural beauty, like that of the deep forests of Ardenne or the valleys of Burdinale. The fields of Flanders confirm this mix of nature and agriculture, as each creep over into the territory of the other. To those who invest time here, rather than to use it as a half way stop to Amsterdam, it reveals itself as a country of astounding beauty, distinct vibrancy in its culture, and the dark horse of Western Europe.
Bruges, or the Venice of the north as it is often referred to, is one of the smaller cities in Belgium. Its city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it is easy to see why. Calling it picturesque would not be doing it justice; medieval market squares, cobbled alleyways and dream like canals all make up this historic playground. Ghent is Belgium’s second largest city, and the medieval jeu d’esprit continues here. Ghent is one of Europe’s most highly cherished cities with its grand square, Kouter, or Limburgstaat, where its history comes to life in churches, town halls and cathedrals.
Floreffe in the south of Belgium, situated on the river Sambre in the region of Namur, is home to a 12th century abbey. The abbey is one of the most elegant buildings in Belgium, and its fine exterior is matched with a rich history. Built by the founder of the Premonstratensian, a Roman Catholic religious order, meaning its architecture, location and secrets are telling of the early history of this province. Today it stands, dominating over the valley, containing baroque stalls, a superb courtyard, and a museum. Visitors that come here can experience this abbey through all of the different senses, tasting the old brewery’s beer and cheese, being brewed there since 1250.
The abbey in its more recent history has been host to the yearly family music festival, Esperanzah! The festival is a wild few days of world music with hundreds of artists performing on the open air stages. The musicians that are invited to play are up and coming, as the programme is made up of lesser known artists buzzing to perform. The festival is divided into two sections, with the first called the ‘garden side’, with artists offering musical projects that combine rhythms and melodies that cross over their diverse roots and backgrounds. The other section is the ‘courtyard’, which is a more urban and contemporary scene featuring beat box and rap.
Alongside the music, the festival offers visitors independent cinema screenings, visual art creations, lectures, and activities for children. While artisans and restaurants offer up glorious cocktails and food. To keep things exciting and fresh the festival’s projects are all based upon a single vision for that year, this year’s campaign is “les alternatives ne connaissent pas la crise”, awareness of the current political and economic environment and the alternatives in 2014. Examples of previous year’s campaigns include the ‘Cancellation of Third World Debt’ in 2004 and ‘Goals of the United Nations’ in 2005. The aim of the campaigns is for visitors to participate in the activities and take something valuable away, for themselves and the local community. Esperanzah also has a keen eye for sustainable development both during and after the four days the festival takes place on.
This festival then is a little different to the usual music festival; its organisers believe that development, education and awareness should go hand in hand with culture. Esperanzah is moving into a new realm of exciting cultural festivals, forming into political movements with a voice and that year on year continues to make a difference. The festival’s philosophy and motto is ‘tolerance, respect, equality and discovery’, and this is driving forward the friendly, colourful and festive high where everyone feels at home.
In what way has learning about Esperanzah inspired you?