A weekend lasting 3 days is rare. You have to seize the opportunity while you can. Our friends from Lille have come, not on their bikes, but with their bikes!The plan is to follow in the footsteps of Van Gogh to (re)discover the Mons region in peace and quiet, a long way away from all the hustle and bustle. Get back in the saddle in Hainaut!
 

Au coeur de paysages verdoyants

There’s plenty to explore with this cycling route. It will take us right to the lush green heart of the Borinage for a few hours, in the footsteps of the famous painter. And yes, Van Gogh stayed in the Mons region for two years. We set off from the Héribus slag heap, in Cuesmes. I can assure you, there are no hairpin bends worthy of the Tour de France on this route. We’re happy to admire what’s left here, some parts of the top are still burning. We’ll come back later to climb to the top and admire the amazing panoramic view of the Borinage. If you like nature in all its wild glory, this bike ride is perfect for you. Next we head to the Malognenature reserve, a former chalk quarry with a surprising landscape and plenty of walks to choose from. The 260km of tunnels are now a haven for the bats who find the peace and humidity they need to hibernate here. Nature doesn’t like empty spaces: that’s the consensus among the group as they contemplate what they have seen so far.
 

A la découverte de l'histoire des charbonnages

Next we head to Pâturages station in Colfontaine. It was here at one of the region’s most beautiful stations that it all began for Vincent in late 1878. He came to Hainaut to complete his training as a pastor, and his career as an artist began when he left the Borinage in 1880. We are a few kilometres from Wasmes. Here we see the bust of Van Gogh by the French sculptor born in Belorussia, Ossip Zadkine. You can only see it when the town hall is open, but there’s a replica in the middle of the Place Saint-Pierre roundabout. We spend a bit of time in Wasmes to see the Maison Denis where Van Gogh had a room, the “Salon du bébé”where he preached to the protestant congregation and the wasteland near the former Marcasse coalmine in Colfontaine. This place is brimming with history. It was here in April 1879 that the painter went down into the mine to understand the awful working conditions that the miners had to cope with. This coalmine, which has been closed since 24 October 1954, leaves us speechless. I had called the owners, Riccardo and Nadine Barberio beforehand. What a lovely surprise, there was going to be a cultural event the very same day. What a wonderful setting! 
 

La nature comme source d'inspiration

Before finishing our ride, we check out the “Cité Van Gogh”, formerly known as Cité 4 des Charbonnages Belges in Boussu.It was here that “Lust for life” was filmed in 1955 by directed by Vincente Minelli and starring Kirk Douglas. Back in Cuesmes, “La maison Van Gogh”finishes off our excursion. Here we see “Les bêcheurs”, or “Two peasants digging”, painted by Vincent in the village in 1880. It symbolically reminds us of the way the nature we have been travelling through for the last few hours has been transformed by man.
 
Practical information: Hainaut Tourisme offers three routes in the footsteps of the painter. Details are available as Topo-guides and can be downloaded to a GPS device from www.tourismegps.be

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