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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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Art Design & Seven Restaurants To Enjoy Antwerp

A far cry from the great business centre that is Brussels, or the slightly mock tinge we picked up in picturesque Bruges, Antwerp is a modern, cosmopolitan city with an upbeat cultural scene, particularly in the fields of fashion, art and design. It is well worth a trip on its own although, if you’re pressed for time and based in Brussels, you should devote at least a whole day trip to the city.

Their culinary offerings are endless, commensurate with a city brimming with affluence. Who said Belgium cooking is uninteresting? In Antwerp, the fantastic local cuisine rubs shoulders with a host of restaurants featuring international cuisine.

Heavenly Pizza
Weather permitting, a good option is to have a pizza on the terrace at Heavenly Pizza with its contemporary pitch. There we found original, bold creations and views of the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) building, a museum that sets out to explore Belgium’s relationship to the rest of the world where we were pleasantly surprised by the interesting exhibitions.

While lunch saw us sharing a pizza and an organically sourced salad at Heavenly Pizza, night time is ideal for booking a table at the restaurant, Ras, literally suspended over a river which is unquestionably the centrepiece of life in Antwerp. This sophisticated locale, where cocktails vie for pride of place with local cuisine with a contemporary twist, is a magnet for the city’s beautiful people. Their food is noteworthy, characterised by a conspicuous offering of fresh fish and vegetables.

The Món restaurant is located in the premises of a little old house with many of its original fittings intact. A sophisticated yet cosy venue, ideal for group dinners, featuring meats that are all the rage in Antwerp thanks to their use of the Josper oven, which is Catalan in origin. Hence the name, Món, meaning “world” in Catalan.

is the perfect place for brunch. On Sundays, the light-filled, glass-fronted building draws families with children, as well as groups of friends, eager to start the day with a good shot of organic cuisine in the form of salads, soups, cheeses, cured meats, delicious breads and other locally-sourced organic products. Apart from being an economical, casual-looking restaurant, the store also sells delicatessen and you can end the day window shopping in the surrounding area.

Coworking venues have a life of their own in Antwerp and numerous freelance professionals engaged in culture – particularly art, fashion and design – have opted to set up in the city on account of the wealth of coworking options available. While open to the public, CoffeeLabs is actually a bustling restaurant based in a coworking venue where you can order multi-coloured salads, toast, homemade cakes, juices and other casual offerings to eat at any time of day. “Of day” is the operative word, as it is closed at night.

Bar Paniek
One of our favourite spots in Antwerp is the unusual Bar Paniek, located in an industrial warehouse with beautiful views over the river. Their terrace is always crowded, even when temperatures makes it an awkward place to be. It is peopled by a multifarious crowd, from families with children (the neighbouring children’s park is a big draw) to young Erasmus students having their first drink of the night, to artists, and both local and outside professionals. Clearly, they come here because of its charm, the perfect balance between a hangout which is rundown and yet cool, with its reasonable prices and intense cultural activity.

Graanmarkt 13
Graanmarkt 13
is a venue which accurately reflects the spirit of Antwerp, with art, design, interior design and cuisine concentrated within a single building. This XXL concept store (a type of store which is widespread in the city) sells clothing, furniture and accessories, with a ground-floor restaurant headed by prestigious chef Seppe Nobels, who commits to seasonal cuisine based on local recipes and a healthy vocation. This refined, elegant yet essentially casual venue is ideal for dining after going on a shopping spree – beware, the prices are prohibitive.

The Chocolate Line
You can’t sit down to a meal but, equally, you can’t visit Antwerp without dropping in on The Chocolate Line, a stunning place where we tasted the most delicious chocolates we can recall. It is located in the Paleis op de Meir, a pretty building near the Rubens House – who, it turns out, was quite a character, and his house is a must-see. We splashed out like there was no tomorrow in this shop, which sells just chocolates, and discovered products which would change our lives forever. In this case it was chocolate for sniffing.

Book your Vueling to Brussels, a mere half-an-hour’s train ride from Antwerp, and get ready to discover the culinary facet of this beautiful city.

Text and photos by Laura Conde of Gastronomistas.com



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