Have you ever heard of Cassel? Well, before visiting Musée de Flandre, I hadn’t. But it turns out to be quite a peculiar little town in the North of France, just across the border with Belgium. Built upon a hill, the town does not only offer you great views but also a ton of history and of course the Musée de Flandre or Museum of Flanders.
Why Flanders, isn’t this France? Well yes! But the region of Cassel has been a part of Flanders for several centuries before it was recaptured by France in the 17th century. However, up until now, many older people still speak Flemish. You’ll even see Flemish flags proudly hanging in the town, taverns serving traditional Flemish dishes and all street names being translated into Flemish as well. Quite peculiar!
Hence the interest in everything Flemish, thus also Flemish art. Musée de Flandre has a collection of over 6000 artworks from ancient Flemish artists. A selection of this collection is shown in their museum, located in the historic Hôtel de la Noble-Cour, from where the local nobility governed the surrounding villages hundreds of years ago.
Note: this blog post is sponsored by Musée de Flandre. However, all info in this blog post is based on my own experiences and opinions.
An interesting collection
Although more than 6000 artworks are stored in the museum, only a small selection of them is shown to visitors in the museum. This happens in themed rooms, where paintings and other pieces of art from the 15th till the 19th century are exhibited, providing visitors with a glimpse into the cultural richness and artistic traditions of Flanders. From religious and historical scenes to landscapes, still lives, and portraiture, each artwork offers a unique perspective on the cultural, social, and artistic contexts of the time.
Recently, the museum also started to embed modern art into its collection, linking modern pieces to the specific themes that are being portrayed. So don’t be surprised when you see a Panamarenko or Delvoye artwork!
Luckily, these works of art are accessible to everyone, because an entry ticket only costs you €6. And for young adults under 26 years old, tickets are completely free! An entry ticket gives you access to the permanent collection as well as the temporary exhibition, which I’ll tell you more about below.
A new exhibition: Silence & Résonance
Until September 3rd 2023, there’s an extra reason to visit Musée de Flandre, because up until then, they feature several artworks from Hans Op de Beeck, a renowned Belgian contemporary artist, during their temporary exhibition Silence & Résonance.
Hans Op de Beeck is known for his multidisciplinary approach, encompassing various mediums such as sculpture, installation, video, photography, and drawing. Born in Turnhout, Belgium, in 1969, Op de Beeck has gained international recognition for his evocative and thought-provoking works that explore themes of time, memory, and the human condition.
You can recognize his works because of their grey colors, his monochromatic installations and faceless, anonymous figures. He encourages viewers to reflect on their own experiences and emotions. Through his art, he explores universal themes of loneliness, alienation, and the longing for connection.
And that’s exactly what happens in Musée de Flandre but in a very special way. Hans Op de Beeck constructed artworks that link to the artworks of ancient artists like Jan Fyt and Gijsbrecht Leytens. Some 20 artworks are placed in different rooms of the museum, always with a clear link to the ancient artworks that are present in those rooms.
For example, you’ll take a look at the vanity and still-life paintings of the 17th century. Here, Hans Op de Beeck constructed his own large-scale still life installation where you can see the well-known references from the older artworks coming back in a melancholic grey-tinted color. But this is only one of the artworks that will leave a deep impression!
Did you know carnival is celebrated extensively in Cassel? They have carnival festivities in winter and in summer. The museum even stores the UNESCO-protected carnival figures of Cassel, called Reuze Papa and Reuze Maman (Giant Dad & Giant Mom). In contrast with these lively carnival artworks, Hans Op de Beeck created a sculpture called the ‘Dancer’, a Brazilian lady complete in carnival outfit, quietly sitting in a Chesterfield chair and enjoying a moment of stillness while smoking a cigarette.
And these are just 2 of the artworks portrayed in Musée de Flandre. Of course, I’m not going to spoil the experience for you by revealing them all! What I loved most above all is the serenity & comprehensibility of the artworks. It makes you think, but not in a way that you don’t understand what’s happening. The links are obvious and beyond interesting.
A unique location
Not only the permanent collection and exhibition of the museum are interesting, also the location is very unique! Musée de Flandre is situated in a distinctive 17th-century Flemish-style building known as the Hôtel de la Noble-Cour. This architectural gem was constructed between 1640 and 1644 for Philippe François de Rubempré, a nobleman from Cassel. The Hôtel de la Noble-Cour served as a private residence for several generations of the de Rubempré family.
The building’s architectural style is a blend of influences, combining elements of Flemish Renaissance and French Classicism. Its facade features intricate brickwork, large windows, and ornamental details that showcase the wealth and status of the original inhabitants. The interior of the Hôtel de la Noble-Cour boasts spacious rooms adorned with decorative ceilings, elegant woodwork, and grand staircases.
So you can imagine it’s the perfect setting for an art exhibition! Not to mention the view you get from the courtyard behind the house. Since Cassel is located on a hill, you get an amazing view of the surrounding fields!
Tip: go outside to admire the Panamarenko artwork and view you’ll find in the courtyard!
What else to do in Cassel?
Have lunch or dinner at Estaminet La Taverne Flamande
This cute, historic tavern serves the most delicious Flemish dishes. You’ll get bread with smout as an appetizer (smout is the fat of a pig, but it is more delicious than it sounds), and you can choose from a wide range of traditional (mostly meat-rich) dishes from Flanders. It made me think of what my grandparents used to eat when they were younger. 🙂
Definitely worth a try! If not for the food, you should enter for the cozy furniture and the view from the terrace! Regarding the food, definitely try potjevleesch (a terrine of various types of meat) or the carbonnade flamande and have a Flemish beer with it.
Visit the church Collégiale Notre-Dame-de-la-Crypte
The Collégiale Notre-Dame-de-la-Crypte, is a historic collegiate church known for its blend of architectural styles, including Romanesque and Gothic elements. Its crypt, dating back to the 12th century, adds an air of mystery, while its ornate interior features stunning stained glass and religious artworks. The church serves as a spiritual center and showcases the rich heritage of Cassel.
You can just walk in to join any of their services or pay a visit to the church. Don’t forget to light a candle for your loved ones!
Attend the carnivals of Cassel
If you happen to visit Cassel in February or April, don’t miss the Cassel carnivals. These lively events feature colorful parades, traditional costumes, music, and dancing, offering a festive atmosphere. The eyecatchers of these festivities are the giants ‘Reuze Papa’ and ‘Reuze Maman’, which are stored in Musée de Flandre during the year, behind a red curtain because they can only be seen during the carnivals.
Go hiking around Cassel Hill
The region of Cassel is part of a hiking network with nodes, where you can determine your own hiking route based on those nodes. On the website nodemap.com you can assemble your own route and print it ready to hike! Another option is to enter the tourist office of Cassel and ask for the most beautiful hikes in the region. Here you can also get a map.
What to expect from a hike around Cassel? You’ll be treated to breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes, verdant meadows, lush forests, and open fields, allowing you to appreciate the changing scenery at every turn. But it also presents a chance to discover the authentic charm of the local villages. As you pass through these quaint settlements, you’ll witness traditional architecture, narrow winding streets, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of locals going about their daily lives.
The best way to arrive in Cassel is by car. At least, this is the easiest option. You can park your car on the Grand Place, which is right in front of the museum, or behind the church. If you want to visit by public transport, you have regular busses stopping right in front of Musée de Flandre.
An entry ticket to the museum costs €6 and is free under 26 years old!
Even if you’re visually impaired, the museum has something for you! In several rooms, you can find mini-scales of the artworks to touch and discover that way. Children will also love the suitcases that can be found in each room, with little quests to solve!
How long should your visit to Cassel take? Count a few hours for your museum visit and depending on your other activities and how far you’ve traveled, you can spend either an afternoon or a full day in Cassel. If you love hiking, you can of course also make a fun weekend out of it!
Totally convinced? Plan your visit to Musée de Flandre through www.museedeflandre.fr!