Breda, 20km west of Tilburg, is one of the prettier towns of Noord-Brabant, a pleasant, easy-going place to while away a night or two. A magnificent Gothic cathedral looms above the three-storey buildings that front its stone-paved main square, which is crammed with stallholders and shoppers on market days. There’s a range of well-priced accommodation here too, plus inexpensive restaurants and lively bars, though ultimately it’s less appealing than Den Bosch as a base for exploring central Noord-Brabant.
Breda also has an excellent carnival, which is celebrated with vim and gusto, and a top-notch, four-day annual jazz festival (w bredajazzfestival.nl), when some twenty stages are scattered around the centre; it usually starts on Ascension Day.
The Grote Kerk
The Grote Kerk
The main attraction on the Grote Markt is the Gothic Grote Kerk, whose stunningly beautiful bell tower reaches high into the sky. Inside, the main nave, with its richly carved capitals, leads to a high and mighty central crossing. Like the majority of Dutch churches, the Grote Kerk had its decorations either removed or obscured after the Reformation, but a few murals have been uncovered and they reveal just how colourful the church once was. The Grote Kerk’s most remarkable feature is the Mausoleum of Count Engelbrecht II, a one-time Stadholder and captain-general of the Netherlands who died in 1504 of tuberculosis – vividly apparent in the drawn features of his intensely realistic face. Four kneeling figures (Caesar, Regulus, Hannibal and Philip of Macedonia) support a canopy that carries his armour, so skilfully sculpted that their shoulders seem to sag slightly under the weight. It’s believed that the mausoleum was the work of Tomaso Vincidor of Bologna, but whoever created it imbued the mausoleum with grandeur without resorting to flamboyance; the result is both eerily realistic and oddly moving. During the French occupation the choir was used as a stable, but fortunately the sixteenth-century misericords, showing rustic scenes of everyday life, survived. A couple of the carvings are modern replacements – as you’ll see from their subject matter.