Up to 1963 this city in Hainaut was part of West Flanders, but switched to Wallonia because of its large francophone population.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Mouscron is at a crossroads, as close as can be to the French border and Belgium’s own internal boundary.
The city’s main square, a stage for the Spring Fair in March, has been reworked into a modern esplanade, while the 15th-century Château des Comtes holds a museum for the famous locally-born illustrator Marcel Marlier.
Mouscron’s location on a frontier has given it a new commercial park and Famiflora, a kind of garden centre on steroids.
The French cities of Tourcoing and Roubaix are at your fingertips, for first-class cultural attractions like Villa Cavrois and La Piscine Museum.
1. Château des Comtes
The only secular building in Mouscron predating the 1800s is this 15th-century moated castle home to the lords and counts of Mouscron for generations.
This fine Renaissance building has five bays and two storeys, with limestone quarried in Tournai for its window dressings and quoins.
From the same period, there’s a little tower with a conical roof to the north, and a kitchen and well on the south-east side.
At the time of writing in early 2020 the castle’s keep was closed to the public, but there was a labelled didactic walk around the moat.
2. Centre Marcel Marlier
In the outbuildings for the Château des Comtes there’s an interpretation centre for the popular artist and illustrator Marcel Marlier (1930-2011), who was born close by in Herseaux.
Marlier is best known for illustrating the children’s series Martine, beginning in 1954 and written by Gilbert Delahaye.
You’ll get to meet Martine at this attraction and learn all about Marlier, his talent, creative process and personality through sketches, films, animation and a trove of rare unpublished documents.
The exhibition is participatory, letting you play, touch and make the most of multimedia displays.
Especially interesting on the ground floor are the videos going into depth on Marlier’s illustration technique, while upstairs you’ll encounter Martine along themes dear to the artist, like nature, animals, home life and leisure activities.
From 2018 to 2019 Mouscron’s main square came through a couple of phases of reconstruction to make it more convivial, more pedestrian friendly and to boost the businesses on its margins.
Now instead of cobblestones and a giant car park there’s a smooth esplanade, with outdoor seating for the contingent of restaurants and bars.
At the south-west end is the neo-Gothic Hôtel de Ville (1888) by Bruges architect René Buyck and inspired by traditional Flemish design.
You can take a tour using an audioguide published by the local tourist office.
Grand-Place is the scene for Mouscron’s Christmas market, as well as the Spring Fair (Foire du Printemps) for 10 days in the second half of March.
4. Église Saint-Barthélémy
The neo-Gothic tower of the Église Saint-Barthélémy rise on the north-east edge of Grand-Place.
And although that tower is relatively new, dating to only 1837, the remainder of the mostly Gothic building dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries.
There’s plenty to hold your interest inside.
On the right side of the entrance there’s an inscription explaining the difficulties suffered by the church in 1794 during the French Revolution when its clergy refused to take the obligatory oath required by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the building was ransacked.
The church would be shuttered from 1797 to 1802. There are 15th and 16th-century funerary monuments to the counts and lords of Mouscron, an 18th-century organ and precious liturgical items from the 17th and 18th centuries, including a monstrance and chalices.
5. Parc Communal de Mouscron
Mouscron’s main green space in the south-west of the city is spacious, well-tended, and full of facilities.
At the centre is a pair of meandering ponds with specimen trees, shrubs, flowerbeds and a bandstand on their banks.
The remainder of the Parc Communal is mostly open grass with accessible paved paths on the west side of Rue du Roi Chevalier, or sports facilities and a children’s playground with sandpit on the east side.
There’s also a little cafe and terrace, Central Parc, among the foliage by the ponds.
Mouscron’s Belgian National Day festivities take place in the park on 21 July, with a concert and fireworks.
The largest garden centre in Belgium is in Mouscron’s orbit, just off junction 2 of the E403. The sheer magnitude of Famiflora is hard to convey, and as well as plants, garden tools, garden furniture and decorations for outside there’s interior decoration, cut flowers, candles, everything you need for arts and crafts, Christmas decorations, as well as an entire department for pets.
On top of all that there are local-style shops like a grocery, bakery, confectioners, butcher and tobacconist.
Familflora is laid out on an Ikea-style one-way system so you’ll need to allow a good couple of hours to get through everything.
Children are sure to enjoy the pet department, with its rabbits, birds, fish, chickens, reptiles and hamsters.
By the entrance there’s also a large self-service restaurant, which may be welcome after navigating this giant store.
7. Maison Picarde
In 1892 the worker cooperative “La Freternelle” was established in Mouscron, and within a few years needed a larger premises as it continued to grow even through the First World War.
The Maison du Peuple and the Boulangerie de la Coopérative were built at the current site of La Fraternelle on Rue de Tourcoing, followed in the 1920s by the Palais des fêtes, a performance hall and cinema Mouscron’s working class.
The Palais des Fêtes is the only reminder from this time and now known as Maison Picarde.
This building is lauded for the marvellous faience murals adorning the hall on the first floor.
These depict idealised construction scenes, espousing socialist ideals like work, knowledge, family and emancipation, completed by a workshop of pupils of Jules Pierre van Bisbroeck.
You can see the interior via a guided tour through Mouscron tourism office.
8. Musée de Folklore Mouscron
At the crossroads of Belgium and France, and Flanders and Wallonia, but also with a Picard accent, Mouscron has a social history well worth investigating.
At the Musée de Folklore there’s a collection of artefacts assembled between 1850 and 1950, all displayed in a series of carefully laid out rooms.
These evoke all aspects of life across this 100-year window, from shop and tavern interiors to farming, games, festival traditions and tradesmen’s workshops for weaving or clog-making.
More nefarious activities covered by the exhibition include tobacco and alcohol bootlegging.
9. Brouwerij Omer Vander Ghinste
A short trip to Bellegem will bring you to a family-run brewery making beers according to traditional recipes but using modern techniques.
Omer Vander Ghinste was set up in 1892 and is now in its fifth generation, producing around 42,000 hectolitres a year.
The flagship is Omer (traditional blond), as the name Omer has been passed down from father to son through every generation.
The brewery is also known for VanderGhinste Roodbruin, a bruin beer blended with lambic aged at least 18 months in oak barrels, and the complex dark beer, LeFort.
The 2hr30m tour represents great value for money, taking you deep into the Vander Ghinste history and guiding you step-by-step through brewing.
You’ll get to sample the brewery’s range and will be given a gift bag to take home.
In little more than ten minutes you can cross the border and be in the French city of Tourcoing, which has a few things to catch your eye around its pedestrian-friendly centre.
Chiefly there’s the Église Saint-Christophe, which can be traced back to the 11th century but has a 19th-century neo-Gothic appearance.
Inside, check out the intricately carved confessionals from the 1730s and large organ, first installed in 1751. The palatial Hôtel de Ville was built between 1866 and 1885 to an Eclectic design in fashion during the reign of Napoleon III.
MUba Eugène-Leroy, the fine arts museum has pieces by Jan Brueghel the Elder, Frans Francken the Younger and the namesake Tourcoing-born 20th-century painter Eugène Leroy.
The museum’s print, etching and drawing collection is impressive, and has works by Rembrandt, Goya, Canaletto and Dürer.
For a stroll the city’s municipal botanical garden is more than a century old and has greenhouses, a formal French garden, a rambling English garden, a North American-themed garden and a stately cherry tree alley.
11. La Piscine Museum
Continue your cross-border jaunt at this sensational museum in an Art Deco former swimming pool from 1932. The pool closed in 1985 because of structural problems with its barrel vault, and after a long period of inactivity was remodelled as a museum, opening in 2000. The museum’s collections has its roots in the 1830s with a library of fabric samples from the many local textile factories.
Over the years this branched out into applied arts, science, industrial design, fashion, literature and fine-arts.
The collection was displayed by the National High School of Arts and Textile Industry (ENSAIT), but when their museum closed at the dawn of WWII it had no permanent home until La Piscine Museum opened.
The fine arts collection can be encountered on chronological and thematic trails, through the pool’s various wings.
The main hall, lit by a gorgeous rising sun stained glass window, boasts the applied arts inventory, with former shower stalls becoming display cases.
After a brief closure, the museum reopened in 2018 with a new wing for contemporary sculpture, art from Roubaix, a timeline of the city’s history and temporary exhibitions.
12. Villa Cavrois
The last in a trio of French must-sees within easy reach of Mouscron is a Modernist mansion commissioned by textile industrialist Paul Cavrois and designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens.
With its clean lines and use of modern conveniences like electricity, a radio loudspeaker, an internal phone system and softened water, Villa Cavrois (1932) was like nothing seen before in this part of France.
Emphasising light, hygiene and comfort, Mallet-Stevens had complete control to carry out a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), designing the furniture and fittings, choosing all materials and even landscaping the garden.
After Paul’s daughter-in-law Lucie passed away in 1985 Villa Cavrois was left to decay and became a squat for a time until it was listed as an historic monument in 1990 and bought by the French state in 2001. After a long-term restoration, recreating the building’s 1930s heyday, this architectural wonder opened to the public for the first time in 2015.
13. Cinema For&ver
Cinephiles have a place to go in the heart of Mouscron at this compact cinema on Rue de la Marlièr.
The first thing to say about Cinema For&ver is how affordable it is, with an adult ticket costing €8.25, reduced to €6 all day Monday and for matinees any day of the week.
On top of that Cinema For&ver is a family business, with seven newly renovated auditoriums, all furnished with soft leather seats.
Come on weekend evenings and a stylish little bar will be open before or after the session.
If there’s a downside for less experienced French speakers it’s that movies tend to be dubbed for Walloon audiences.
14. Piscine “Les Dauphins”
A swimming pool of a more conventional kind is on hand in the east of Mouscron by the large Parc Commercial les Dauphins, which we’ll talk about next.
Where this pool stands out is for its size: The main pool at Piscine “Les Dauphins” is 50 metres (Olympic Size) and is accompanied indoors by a learning pool and a paddling pool for babies and toddlers heated to 34°C.
And what puts the complex on the radar of visitors is the 25-metre outdoor pool surrounded by sun loungers and fed by two slides.
In July and August there will also be a bar, food kiosk, a sandpit and all sorts of family fun, while the main cafeteria inside is open all year.
15. Parc Commercial les Dauphins
The commercial park next door arrived in 2013, and has dozens of stores and restaurants housed in galleries around a central car park.
A few mainstays of European malls and shopping streets include HEMA, Yves Rocher, H&M and Hunkemöller, as well as a Delhaize supermarket.
Food-wise there’s a smattering of options like Pizza Hut, Le Petit Monde (international) and Au Bonne App’ (sandwiches and salads).