Not necessarily the first country one would consider visiting when planning a holiday in Europe, Belgium actually contains almost all of its best qualities. Multicultural and multilingual, it has Flanders in the north, with its flat landscapes criss-crossed by canals and its cities proud of their artistic and cultural heritage: Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent are here. The southern region is Wallonia where the flatness gives way to the rolling hills of the beautiful Ardennes, and you will discover castles, monasteries and the cities of Liege, Namur and Tournai. Whilst visiting these medieval cities and quaint towns might provide a full programme for daytime sight-seeing, the evenings should be spent at leisure, in the company of some of the best beer in the world, perhaps, and certainly with ample opportunity to sample some of the fantastic gourmet food that makes even the French envious. Think along the lines of mussels, turbot, sole and the North Sea shrimp as well as great sausages, game and incredible chocolate-laced desserts. You will not be disappointed.
The capital city, Brussels, is the seat of the European Parliament and has endless places of interest. The Grand Place is one of Europe’s most beautiful squares, built as a merchants’ market in the 13 th century and a rare feast for the senses whether visiting for the Christmas Market or during the summer season when it holds a daily flower market. Other landmarks include the Galeries St Hubert, the cultural quarters of the Mont des Arts, the Royal Palace and the impressive Palace of Justice. On a smaller scale, but architecturally an absolute gem, is the Museum Horta, the former home of Art Nouveau’s famous architect Victor Horta.
For more of the highlights of Flanders, visit the Rubenshuis and Diamond District in funky Antwerp, the stunning UNESCO-listed medieval town of Bruges, the Gravensteen Castle and Groot Vleeshuis of studenty town Ghent, and the 13 th century stone bequinage of Leuven. The town of Ypres (leper in Flemish) is best known as the site of three major battles of the First World War, and has many memorials and cemeteries of the fallen in and around the town which are open to visitors. The Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 contains a fascinating reconstructed dug-out which allows the visitor to experience what life under Flanders Fields must have been like at the time.
A journey to the south of Belgium will take you to Wallonia, with its bucolic rolling hills, streams, waterfalls and lakes making it a paradise for walking and hiking as well as kayaking, golfing and hot-air ballooning. Here too are many historic buildings and battlefields as well as colourful local events to enjoy. Namur on the languid River Meuse, is its charming capital, has a quiet and peaceful aspect which belies its turbulent history, being the scene of fierce battles between the French and William of Orange in the 17 th century. This was when the great defensive citadel, which dominates the city, was completed. It is the site of the Treasury of the Priory of Oignies, holding many important fine objects crafted by one of the greatest goldsmiths of the middle ages. Liege meanwhile is a gastronomic highlight on the map, offering legendary cuisine as well as superb shopping and lively nightlife on the Outre Meuse, an island in the centre of the river. Beyond these major cities, Wallonia is dotted with abbeys, castles, parks and gardens. There are countless opportunities to stop off at outdoor markets, museums and restaurants which serve regional specialities such as country ham and Trappist beer brewed locally.
Tourist Information Office