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Music and film feature most prominently in the Brussels calendar of annual festivals , although flower lovers and those who appreciate dance and fine art, will not be disappointed. The more traditional festivals - the medieval-style Ommegang and the Planting of the Meiboom - centre on the Grand-Place, while most of the modern ones like the jazz or film festivals take place in various venues around the city and bring the whole of the capital to life. For information on the dozens of mini-festivals held in Brussels during the year, check The Bulletin or ask at the tourist office. Alternatively, it's well worth catching a train to one of the many festivals held in the towns outside the capital. In particular, the Procession of the Holy Blood, held in Bruges, is famous throughout Belgium for its medieval pageant.

Calendar of events

JANUARY

Brussels Film Festival
Last two weeks (tel 02 227 39 80, www.brusselsfestival.be )
Although not as well known as many European film festivals, this annual event has managed to build up a solid reputation of its own - pulling in actors like Jean-Marc Barr and Jose Garcia along with director Michael Kalesniko at the 2001 event. While you may never have heard of the Crystal Stars and Golden Iris the jury hands out to the best film each year, it's a great occasion to see European or Belgian film premieres. Films are screened at various locations around the city.

FEBRUARY

Antiques Fair
Last two weeks (tel 02 513 48 31)
The meeting point of all dedicated antiquaries, international as well as Belgian, who display their finest wares and choice pieces in the Palais des Beaux Arts. Specialists of Asian, African and South American art also attend and sell everything from antique Indian jewellery to scarred wood fetishes.

Animation and Cartoon Festival
End of February to beginning of March (tel 02 534 41 25, info@folioscope.be )
A little-known animation fest which screens as many as 120 new and old cartoons from around the world over the course of the event. Held at Auditorium du Passage 44, boulevard du Jardin Botanique.

MARCH

Ars Musica
Mid-March to end of April (tel 02 219 26 60, www.arsmusica.be )
This contemporary classical music festival regularly features internationally renowned composers, such as Argentina's Mauricio Kagel and France's Pascal Dusapin. The festival organizers are keen to promote interaction between the audience and the musicians and often it's possible to meet the artists before the concert. The festival has built up an impressive reputation for itself on not only a European, but a world-wide scale. Performances are usually held in the Palais des Beaux Arts or La Monnaie.

Festival of Fantasy Film, Science Fiction and Thrillers
Last two weeks (tel 02 201 17 13, www.biff.org )
This well-established festival has achieved an almost cult-like status with cult-film lovers, and is the place to see all those entertainingly dreadful B-movies, as well as more modern sci-fi classics, thrillers and fantasy epics. It's held at Auditorium du Passage 44, boulevard du Jardin Botanique.

APRIL

Ghent - Gentse Floralien
End of April (tel 09 222 73 36)
Held every five years in the Flanders Expo building, Maaltekouter 1, Sint Denijs Westrem, this is one of the world's biggest flower festivals. The one-and-a-half kilometre "inside garden", which is home to a wide range of flowers from around the globe, is also the setting of the main event - the international flower competition. The next festival is scheduled for 2005.

The Royal Glasshouses - Laeken Palace
Ten days from the end of April to beginning of May (tel 02 513 89 40)
For ten days of the year the Royal Glasshouses (Serres Royales) at Laeken are open to the public. The exquisite glass and iron glasshouses shelter numerous palm trees and tropical plants. It draws thousands each year and you can expect long queues at the entrance.

MAY

Jazz Marathon
Three days in May (tel 02 456 04 75, www.brusselsjazzmarathon.be )
Sometimes regarded as the poor relation of the Jazz Festival, the Jazz Marathon is a blast nonetheless. Hip jazz cats can listen to non-stop groove around the city for three cool days, and although most of the sixty-plus bands are little known, the quality of the vibe is usually very high. Entrance fees vary depending on the venue, but you can buy a three-day pass from Fnac or the tourist office for a bargain ?13.39. Alternatively head for one of the free jazz concerts on the Grand-Place.

Concours Musical International Reine Elisabeth de Belgique
Beginning of May to late May (tel 02 513 00 99, www.concours-reine-elisabeth.be )
A world-famous classical music competition founded fifty years ago by Belgium's violin-playing Queen Elisabeth. The categories change annually, rotating piano, voice and violin and the winners perform live in the Grand-Place in July. Tickets for the competition can be difficult to get hold of and can cost as much as ?50, but the venues do include the splendid Palais des Beaux Arts and the Conservatoire Royal de Musique.

JUNE

Couleur Café Festival
End of June (tel 02 672 12 91)
A trendy three-day live music festival held in a big tent on the site of the Tour & Taxi night-club. Expect a fair share of African rhythms, acid-jazz and world music, as well as ragga and hip-hop.

Bruges - The Procession of the Holy Blood
Ascension Day (tel 05 044 86 86)
This historic Roman Catholic procession was first mentioned in a statute dating back to 1291, and has been held in Bruges on Ascension Day every year since 1970. Colourfully dressed in biblical and medieval-inspired costumes, the marchers bring to life scenes from both the New and Old Testament, including the legend of how knight and crusader Diederik van den Elzas helped bring back the "relic of the holy blood" (a piece of cloth, said to be stained with the blood of Christ) to Bruges from Jerusalem. The relic itself is displayed in the Chapel of the Holy Blood on place Burg, and can be viewed every Friday. Ascension Day falls on May 9 in 2002 and May 29 in 2003.

JULY

Sundays in Bois de la Cambre
July, August and October
A free open-air classical music or jazz concert is held every Sunday in Bois de la Cambre, 11am-1pm. Popular with Belgian families.

Ommegang
First Tuesday and Thursday (tel 02 513 89 40)
One of the capital's best-known annual events, the Ommegang is a procession from Grand Sablon to the Grand-Place that began in the fourteenth century as a religious event, celebrating the arrival of a statue of the Virgin from Antwerp. Nowadays the Ommegang has people in period costumes and the descendants of nobles playing the roles of their ancestors. It all finishes up with a traditional dance on the Grand-Place and is so popular it is now held twice in the same week. If you want a ticket for a seat on the Grand-Place for the finale, you'll need to reserve at the tourist office there at least six months ahead.

Brosella Folk and Jazz Festival
Second weekend (tel 02 269 69 56)
A small, long-established jazz and folk festival held at Théâtre de Verdure, Parc d'Osseghem near Métro Heysel. The surrounding chaos (things rarely start on time) somehow adds to the attraction and the bands, mostly Belgian, but occasionally international, offer good entertainment.

Bruges - The Cactus Festival
Second week (tel 05 033 20 14)
This open-air live music festival is held in the beautiful Minnewater Park in central Bruges. The Cactus Festival is a cosy, low-key affair, and you get to hear up-and-upcoming pop, rock and indie acts from Belgium and abroad, as well as blues, reggae and Irish folk. One-day tickets cost ?13.63 (?11.15 in advance), whereas a two-day ticket will set you back ?24.79 (?19.83 in advance); they can be purchased from the Fnac store in Brussels at the City 2 complex (Métro: Rogier).

Ghent - Gentse Feesten
Mid- to late July (tel 09 239 42 67)
For ten days every July, Ghent loses its conservative feel and embraces the youth-oriented street festival known as the Gentse Feesten. Local bands perform free outdoor gigs throughout the town, and the place seems to become a haven for every type of street performer in the country, buskers, comedians, actors or puppeteers. There's also an outdoor market, selling everything from jenever, a gin-like traditional Ghent liquor, to handmade crafts.

Torhout and Werchter - Torhout-Werchter Festival
First weekend (tel 01 660 04 06)
Belgium's premier rock and pop festival and one of the largest open-air music festivals in Europe. In recent years the all-star line-up has included Massive Attack, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Pulp, Björk, as well as the Beastie Boys, Garbage, Sonic Youth and Tricky. Bands first play at Torhout in West Flanders (Fri-Sat), before moving on to Werchter in Brabant (Sat-Sun). To get to Torhout, take the train from Gare du Midi or Gare Centrale to Bruges (40min), and then the train from Bruges to Torhout (10min). Special buses will take you from Torhout train station to the festival site for free. To reach Werchter, take the train to Leuven (25min), after which a special festival bus will take you to the site for a cost of ?3.71.

AUGUST-SEPTEMBER

Planting of the Meiboom
August 9
An annual event in which a meiboom (maypole) is planted at the corner of rue des Sables and rue du Marais and involving a procession accompanied by much boozing, food and general partying. The story goes that in 1213 a wedding party was celebrating outside the city's gates when it was attacked by a street gang from Leuven. They were beaten off (with the help of a group of archers who happened to be passing by), and, in thanks, the duke gave them permission to plant a maypole on the eve of their patron saint's feastday.

Tapis des Fleurs
Mid-Aug weekend
If you like flowers and floral designs, head down to the Grand-Place in mid-August. Every two years (2000 was last) its historic cobblestones are covered with a lovely floral carpet made up of over 700,000 begonias from Ghent.

Ghent/Brussels - Festival van Vlaanderen
September to November (tel 02 548 95 95, www.festival-van-vlaanderen.be )
One of the high points of the Flemish cultural calendar, the internationally renowned Festival of Flanders comprises more than 120 classical music concerts and operas held throughout sixty Flemish towns. Most of the festival's international symphony orchestras can be seen in Brussels - in the past these have included the London Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic to name but a few. However, it's also worth heading out of the capital, particularly to the Flanders Festival-Ghent, which presents a different theme every year.

OCTOBER

Audi Jazz Festival
Mid-October to November
A month-long jazz extravaganza, featuring a wide range of local and international acts which in the past have included Courtney Pine, Andy Shepherd and Ray Charles. Like the Jazz Marathon, concerts are held in many live music venues around the city. Contact the tourist office for further information.

Europalia
Mid-October to mid-January (tel 02 507 85 50)
The Europalia festival focuses on a different person or country each year and comprises paintings and exhibitions, as well as theatre, dance and live music. Although the Palais des Beaux Arts is at the centre of the festival, a number of venues are used throughout the city.

DECEMBER

Le Marché de Noël
Mid-December (tel 02 513 89 40)
The capital's traditional Christmas market and fair, held on the Grand-Place for three days every December and featuring food, booze and various wares from EU countries. Admittedly, the piped Christmas tunes are a bit tacky, but it gets even the most cynical humbugs in the Christmas spirit. After the market is over the Christmas tree is put up and a large skating rink is installed.


 

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