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
Why is it better to travel in autumn? 6 reasons to get away
Golden leaves on the trees, sunsets, chestnuts... many things come to mind when we hear the word "autumn". Summer is long gone and it seems like all that is left to do now is stay at home and wrap up warm. Hold on a minute! Stay at home, you say? Not necessarily! Travelling in autumn has become the best option for many reasons. Not convinced? Here are a few of them:more info
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.
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.
LocalStore 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.
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 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
Brussels is the heart of Europe, the birthplace of Art Nouveau, the comic capital of the world and the headquarters for numerous EU institutions. A stroll around Brussels will enable us to discover its marvellous architecture, enchanting nooks and crannies and the typical gastronomical delights from the city, such as the chocolate, the beer or the mussels.
The centre of Brussels is home to two charming taverns that can be found on side streets off the busy Rue du Marché aux Herbes. The first is À l’image de Notre Dame, a place with traditional décor and a cosy ‘popular beer bar’ atmosphere that will transport you back in time.
Another of the taverns to be found near the Marché aux Herbes is the Toone Marionette Theater, a place full of history and owned by a popular puppet master dynasty. It comprises a typical tavern, a puppet museum and a small theatre with shows that are as popular with the locals as with the tourists.
The Saint Hubert Galleries link the area around the Monnaie Theatre with the Grand Place. They are a passageway between two worlds, linking a more modern Brussels to the most historical Brussels. The place is home to luxurious boutiques, traditional sweet shops, magnificent bookshops, avant-garde galleries and cafés.
Right next to the exit from the Galeries Royales, we will find the À La Mort Subite restaurant – a place with hundreds of years of history where one can enjoy the namesake beer as well as many others. The name comes from a 19th Century game of dice that the employees used to play during their break. This is one of the most traditional places in the city with long wooden benches, high ceilings and a collection of old mirrors. The thing to do here is try the Cherry or Kirk beers with a bit of cheese or one of their toasted snacks.
Steering clear of the bars around the edge of the Grand Place (which are mainly focused on tourist hunting and where the waiters try to catch you on the fly so you sit down to enjoy their typical and expensive mussels with chips), you will soon arrive at the Impasse de la Fidélité – the side street where you’ll findDelirium Tremens, one of the most famous places in Brussels and a paradise for all beer lovers. It is an enormous underground basement that is decorated in a very rustic fashion with barrels and flags on the ceilings. They serve hundreds and hundreds of different brands, which come in all different colours, aromas and flavours, each one served in a different glass that is especially designed to enhance the beer in question.
When leaving, don’t forget to visit the Jeanneke Pis fountain (Peeing Girl) at the end of the street. This is the female equivalent of the Manneken Pis, the most representative symbol of the city.
The time has come to visit the Grand Place, the main square in Brussels and considered one of the most beautiful in the world. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 and houses a large number of historic buildings, such as the Town Hall (Gothic in style and situated in the middle), the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula and the Royal Castle of Laeken (with its large greenhouses). Around the square, it is possible to see traces of the old city and an architectural style known locally as the ‘Spanish style’ due to the fact that the main historic buildings in the Flemish style date back to a time when what is now Belgium (then Flanders) was one of the provinces controlled by the empire ruled by Carlos V.
Moving on, we come to Le Roi des Belges, a modern café at 34 Rue Jules Van Praet where having a quick breakfast or lunch becomes a delightful experience. Pleasant music at the right volume, meticulous service and a selection of delicious and healthy dishes, such as salads, quiches and lasagne, make it the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat.
However, one of the most popular and central places in Brussels for enjoying small fish dishes is Mer du Nord. A few tall tables where you can stand up to eat in the square, just behind the Saint Catherine Church, mean you can stop and try the typical baby prawn croquettes, the delicious fish soup or the typical mussels. Did you know that the best mussels are eaten during those months that contain the letter ‘R’, such as December, January, February and March?
Surrounded by the exclusive shellfish restaurants of the Santa Catherine district a delicious gourmet hamburger restaurant called Ellis Gourmet Burger can be found.
These shellfish restaurants fill up with both locals and tourists at dinner time for a meal of exquisite quality. But if your budget won’t stretch to a table on one of their terraces, one of these enormous hamburgers will fill you up for between € 8 and € 10. You also have the option to order a trio of mini-hamburgers for € 13 in order to try the various specialities all in one sitting.
If you keep walking through the Place Sainte Catherine, you’ll find the Micro Market Marché culture centre and a bar-restaurant inside called Via Via Café where they serve international food and organic drinks. This centre organises parties, DJ sessions, concerts, screenings and seasonal exhibitions. It is a meeting place for young creators and lovers of more alternative art.
And if you prefer somewhere with more of a rock music atmosphere and American-style meat dishes, Le Corbeau is the place for you. Located on Rue Saint-Michel, it can be found in what was once one of the oldest breweries in Brussels.
One of the greatest attractions in Brussels are the journeys to be had along the side streets full of comic wall art. Brussels is the comic capital of the world and is the birthplace of such legendary characters as Tintin, Lucky Luke, Spirou and the Smurfs. One of the more fun activities to be enjoyed in Belgium is to discover the large-scale reproductions of elements and pages from comics that you can find on any street corner. The idea began in 1991 as a way to renovate old buildings but has now become an identifying symbol of the city.
We took it as a bit of fun and took photographs of the ones we encountered on our visit but there is an entire route to be followed that should not be missed by any lover of Art Nouveau.
Finally, we recommend you take the train to Gantes for a day trip. Gantes is the Flemish city with the largest number of historic buildings, a strong cultural vibe and a privileged location between Bruges and Brussels – 50 km from each. The city has five abbeys, three convents and eighteen museums, as well as numerous other attractions that are all concentrated in the central district.
Makes you want to go, right? Do it! Check out our prices here!