HASSELT, the capital of the province of Limburg, is a busy, modern town that acts as the administrative centre for the surrounding industrial region. A pleasant but unremarkable place, the roughly circular city centre fans out from a series of small interlocking squares, with surprisingly few old buildings as evidence of its medieval foundation. To compensate for this lack of obvious appeal, the local authority has spent millions of euros on lavish and imaginative prestige projects, from an excellent range of indoor and outdoor sports facilities to a cultural complex that aims to attract some of the world’s finest performers. The best time to visit is in late August, when Hasselt hosts one of Belgium’s biggest rock festivals, the three-day Pukkelpop (wwww.pukkelpop.be), which has something to suit just about everyone, from house and heavy metal to R&B.
There’s nothing special to look at in Hasselt itself, though the Gerechtshof (Court of Justice) on Havermarkt, in between the train station and the Grote Markt, is housed in the town’s one surprise – a handsome Art Deco building, whose elegant exterior is topped off by a delightful elliptical tower-cum-turret. In addition, Hasselt possesses no fewer than six museums, though ordinary mortals should settle – at most – for the best two. The most interesting is the Nationaal Jenevermuseum, at Witte Nonnenstraat 19 (wwww.jenevermuseum.be). Sited in a restored nineteenth-century distillery, it shows how jenever – a type of gin – is made and details the history of local production, with a free drink thrown in. To get here, head north from the Grote Markt down Hoogstraat/Demerstraat and watch for the turning on the right just before you reach the inner ring road. A left turn off Demerstraat opposite Witte Nonnenstraat brings you instead to the Stedelijk Modemuseum, Gasthuisstraat 11 (wwww.modemuseumhasselt.be), with displays on the history of fashion from 1830 to the present.