A Belgium travel guide – pristine medieval cities, Old Master paintings and chocolate overload
Holidays in Belgium live up to all the expectations of chocolate-box medieval cities, cold Lambic beers and Art Nouveau architecture. Book a break in Belgium to discover a country passionate about food, art and back-to-nature encounters.
Get your bearings
Belgium has something of a split personality. In the flat, Flemish-speaking north, coastal resorts like Ostend hug the North Sea. Pastures and canals lead to well-preserved medieval cities like Ghent and Bruges, and diamond capital Antwerp. Green and hilly, the French-speaking south reveals Roman Namur and lively Liège, home to a burgeoning art scene. Grazing the French border, the Ardennes’ crags and caves invite outdoor pursuits. Find chocolate, art and fine dining in piggy- in-the-middle Brussels.
Surrealist fantasies at the Magritte Museum and Old Masters at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts draw art fans to Brussels on breaks in Belgium. Be moved by Michelangelo’s Carrara marble Madonna and Child sculpture in the Church of Our Lady and the Groeninge Museum’s Flemish primitives in Bruges. Antwerp is the birthplace of baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens – explore his life and work in the palatial Rubenshuis. Liège’s Modern Art Museum presents a fine Picasso and Monet collection. Dress up for opera and classical concerts at La Monnaie in Brussels or the avant-garde Concertgebouw in Bruges.
The breezy, dune-dotted Flemish coast in the north is where Belgians go to surf North Sea waves and relax on sandy beaches. In summer, head to Namur province to pick juicy strawberries in Wépion. Cool off in the Caves of Han, labyrinthine caverns twinkling with stalactites sculpted over millennia. Roam the high fens and moors of Hautes Fagnes National Park in the east before soaking your aches in the hot springs of aptly named Spa. Wooded heights, deep gorges and ochre-hued hilltop villages invite exploration in the back-to-nature Ardennes.
Go north to the Flemish coast for a seafood smorgasbord of fresh lobster, grey shrimp and onion-stuffed rollmops. Culinary rivals Bruges and Brussels dish up beer-laced carbonnade flamande (beef casserole) and generous portions of moules-frites (mussels with fries) in wood-panelled estaminets. The sweet-toothed save room for cream-topped waffles and handmade Belgian pralines. Each region has its own speciality on holidays in Belgium – from Liège’s boudin sausage to smooth Ardennes pâté and Ghent’s creamy waterzooi stews. Beer is Belgium’s pride and joy: raise a toast with a wheaty Lambic or cherry-flavoured Kriek.
Relive the Middle Ages gazing up to step- gabled guild houses framing Brussels’ Grand’Place. Bruges’ UNESCO-listed Old Town has medieval flair, laced with cobbled lanes and narrow canals. Scale the chiming Belfort (belfry) to see the city spread out beneath you. The fortified 12th-century Castle of the Counts looms above gothic buildings in Ghent, once the centre of the European cloth trade. In Roman-rooted Namur, trace 2,000 years of history at the precipitous Namur Citadel, riddled with underground passageways nicknamed the “termite nest”. The Flanders battlefields stand in silent testimony to the loss of life during the First World War.
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