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Three Pretty Lasses of Flanders

In addition to Brussels, any decent trip to Belgium should take in these three pretty cities, each with its own unique features and endearing charm.

Antwerp – the City of Diamonds, Rubens Permitting

Antwerp (Antwerpen, in Flemish) is the largest city in Flanders. It lies on the river Scheldt, which has played a key role in the city’s development, and boasts one of the largest harbours in Europe, with a dockside that stretches for around fifty kilometres.

Another major factor in the economic development of Antwerp is the presence of one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities, who were instrumental in setting up one of the most important diamond industries in the world, handling up to 85% of the raw diamonds used in the production process. Not for nothing is it sometimes referred to as the “world diamond capital”. Well worth visiting are the numerous stores and workshops engaged in this activity, clustered mainly around the Central Station. Those wishing to learn more about this precious mineral should visit the Antwerp Diamond Museum.

But Antwerp also features other “precious stones” worth visiting. One essential destination is the Grote Markt (Main Square), flanked by impressive Renaissance-style guild buildings, of which the City Hall takes pride of place. Prominent above the fountain in the middle of the square is the statue of Silvius Brabo, a hero who founded the city after slaying the tyrant, Antigone, according to local legend. Another must-see is the Cathedral which has several works by Rubens on display. The artist is himself a major figure in the city as he lived here for many years. Other paintings of his can be admired in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts and the Rubens House.

Other interesting sights include the Plantin-Moretus Museum, which features old printing presses listed as World Heritage, and Steen Castle, one of the oldest buildings in Antwerp.

Ghent – Adventures of the Mystic Lamb

Ghent (Gent, in Flemish) is situated at the confluence of the rivers Scheldt and Leie whose waters dominate the city, criss-crossed as it is by a large network of canals, well worth touring by barge. Remember to visit the dockside in the old port, the Graslei (herb quay) and the Korenlei (wheat quay) with their beautiful rows of houses in different styles and from different periods.

Prominent among local landmarks is the Gravensteen or Castle of the Counts of Flanders. Built in the 13th century, it stands in the historic centre. Adjacent lies the Patershol quarter, one of the oldest in the city, which preserves much of its original charm and features numerous restaurants where you can enjoy a culinary treat. Other landmarks include the City Hall, the Belfry of Ghent and the Korenmarkt.

One essential visit is to St Bavo’s Cathedral, which houses one of the leading magnets of Ghent, the polyptych, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, painted by Jan Van Eyck in 1432. In addition to being a masterpiece studded with symbolism, it is one of the artworks which, in the course of history, has been stolen most often, as well as having travelled through many countries and been sectioned, censored, sold and forged. The fact we can still view it today is something of a miracle.

Bruges – the Venice of the North

Bruges (Brugge, in Flemish) is the smallest of the three cities, but undoubtedly the most beautiful and popular among tourists. The medieval essence of its historic centre, listed as a World Heritage site, has been preserved mainly intact and is the city’s leading attraction. Prominent landmarks are the Grote Markt (Main Square), the spectacular Belfry or Belfort, affording magnificent views over the city, the Basilica of the Holy Blood and the Church of Our Lady.

Not be missed is the city’s large network of canals, which has earned Bruges the sobriquet of “Venice of the North”. It is well worth sailing along these canals and soaking up the urban perspectives provided from the vessel.

If you want to take a breather, you could head for the strange sounding Friet Museum or “Museum of Potato Fries” where you can discover the history of one of the country’s culinary specialities.

Ready to be seduced by those three Flemish beauties? Check out our flights here.

 

Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación

Images by Alan Stanton, Mikel Santamaria, Carlos Andrés Reyes, ADTeasdale , Jiuguang Wang, Ed Webster

 

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