When in Belgium, make sure to try not only the famous chocolates, but also the hot chocolate! During a tour of Bruges, we became so enchanted with the medieval city that we decided to sneak away from our tour group and explore on our own—and I'm so glad we did! The streets are lined with shops selling quintessential Belgian wares, and there seems to be a chocolate shop on every corner. The April chill was beginning to get to us, so we sought shelter at De Proeverie Tea Room just down the street from the entrance to the Church of Our Lady. This place had such character! It was very relaxed and the locals seemed to enjoy helping me with my French. We ended up ordering hot chocolate and the "assortment of chocolates" from the menu. Hot chocolate in Belgium is very different than what I'm used to. You are served hot, steamed milk with chocolate, sugar, and whipped cream on the side. You then melt the chocolate in the milk, sit back, and enjoy. Breaking away from our group ended in the most memorable experience of my trip!
AFAR sent Ambassador Sivan Askayo to Flanders to indulge in the rich culture of the region and to enjoy the Flemish way of life. Explore the Guide to Flanders. http://www.visitflanders.us
Some locals call cuberdons “priest hats” and others refer to them as “little noses.” Hard on the outside and gooey on the inside, the conical, raspberry-flavored treats slow-cook for five days in a 131°F room. Stock up at Temmerman, Ghent’s oldest sweets shop, which has been in the same family of confectioners for eight generations. Kraanlei 79, 32/(0) 9-224-00-41. Photo by Andreea Gulacsi. This appeared in the September/October 2010 issue.
Traveling by train can be a wonderful way to explore Belgium. A few of the country's train stations are destinations in and of themselves. Antwerp's Centraal (or Central) Station is one of the prettiest. Renovations and expansion have restored the station to its former glory and made it accessible to international trains. The main hall, pictured here, is often home to impromptu performances, concerts and flash mobs. When I took this photo, a tango competition was taking place.
I'll be the first to admit, a museum of printing didn't sound terribly exciting to me, at first. Antwerp Belgium's Plantin-Moretus Museum certainly changed my mind. This is the only museum on the UNESCO World Heritage list and the recognition is well deserved. The museum is housed in the 16th century home of Antwerp's first printing company. The house itself is stunning, and the ancient printing presses (some are the oldest still in working order) are fascinating. The star of the museum's collection, however, is the family's personal collection of books and archives. The library includes an early Gutenberg Bible, the first Dutch dictionary, one of the world's first atlases, and many other treasures. If you are a book lover, interested in social history, art, design or architecture, don’t pass up the Plantin-Moretus museum. More Info: http://cheeseweb.eu/2011/05/plantinmoretus-printing-museum-antwerp/
You could easily walk right by the entrance to the International Rose Garden of Coloma, without a hint to the beauty that waits inside. The small town of Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, not far from Brussels, is home to one of Europe's largest rose gardens, with more than 30,000 bushes and 3000 varieties of roses. Tucked behind a stately castle, this vast garden has over 200,000 roses in bloom throughout the season, organised by country of origin. On weekends, there are often bridal parties competing for photos under one of the many rose draped trellises. Bring sunscreen, as there isn't much shade, a macro lens for your camera, and a picnic to eat on the castle grounds.
Jeu de Balles is a quintessential flea market set in the heart of the Marolles District of Brussels that runs daily through the morning. My favorite time to go is on Sunday when the square is filled with the most vendors who sell anything from bric-a-brac to antique furniture. Since it is one of the city's most well-known markets, it's not always easy to find steals, but you can still manage to haggle a decent bargain. One of my favorite finds was a dealer who specialized in vintage, ceramic figurines full of quirk and character.
The Delirium Café was my first stop after a long day of walking through Brussels, Belgium. Don't miss this incredible selection of beers (over 500 just on tap!) with barrel tables, high wooden seats, warm lighting, great atmosphere. The ceiling is covered in all types of beer trays and the walls are covered with beer ads spanning different decades. It truly is a sight to see. Be sure to ask the waiters their opinion, they are incredible beer connoisseurs and will not disappoint in giving you the best choices to satisfy your taste buds. I had the best beer of my life here, and I am picky with my beers. Delirium Café is a must when visiting Brussels, Belgium. If you win the CATCH! Contest, you know where to go now!
My favourite building in Brussels is the Old England on Mont des Arts, just around the corner from Place Royal. It’s a striking concoction of steel and glass in the Art Nouveau style Brussels is so famous for. But what’s on the inside is just as good as the beautiful exterior. Once a department store, the Old England building now houses the Musical Instrument Museum, or MIM. This fascinating collection of more than 8000 instruments is internationally renowned. Rather than just looking at the exhibits, you actually get to experience them. An audio-guide is included in the cost of admission, but this is no stuffy commentary. As you approach particular exhibits in the MIM, your guide begins to play the music of the instrument you are looking at. It’s a wonderfully interactive approach to learning. I have one more reason to love the Old England building and that is the cafe on the top floor. The food is good, but the selling point of this particular restaurant is the view – one of the best in the city centre. In nice weather, you can even dine on the roof terrace. You don’t have to visit the museum to enjoy the restaurant (although you should). Just tell the door attendant you want to go to the cafe and he’ll load you into the period glass and steel elevator and take you to the top floor.
In 1146 a dozen monks and some lay brothers, with the blessings of St Bernard (not the dog!) headed to what is now Belgium and founded the abbey. It had been neglected and then revitalized during its second golden age in the 1800s where some of the buildings were modernized. Now in ruins (but pretty ruins!), you can walk through over 800 years of history by visiting the abbey and its grounds and some "still standing" buildings for a few euros.
Said to be the most beautiful square in the world, the Brussels Grand Place or Grote Markt (since it is in a Flemish city) is a 223 by 360 ft square located in "the heart of Europe". The square is at its best in the summer's when it is turned into a giant flower carpet.
Maison Dandoy has been baking delicious treats in Brussels since 1829 and you'll find their famous shops scattered around Brussels. Step inside, and you'll be greeted by the sights and smells of crunchy biscuits (cookies) looking much as they have since the shop began. The beautiful packaging makes Dandoy cookies a great gift (even if it is for yourself). Be sure to try the traditional Speculaas (or Speculoos); a spicy, crunchy gingerbread cookie, popular throughout the lowlands. While the Dandoy shops can be found all over, only one is home to the Dandoy tearoom. In my opinion, it is well worth seeking out for arguably the best waffles in Belgium. There are two types of waffle here—Bruxelles (Brussels); rectangular and flaky and Liege; rounded and baked with sticky sugar. How best to eat a waffle in Belgium is hotly contested. Locals swear waffles should be topping-free. I however am a sucker for the stewed cherries and vanilla ice-cream. However you order yours, just don't ask for a "Belgium Waffle."
Hallerbos (Flemish) or Bois de Halle (French) is a beech forest just south of Brussels. It's a popular spot for walking, cycling and horseback-riding. Every spring, for a few short weeks, the forest makes a magical transformation into a blue carpeted wonderland. Millions of tiny bluebell flowers bloom under the shade of the beech trees and people flock to the forest to catch a glimpse. Timing is everything, too soon and the bluebells aren't out yet; too late and you've missed the show for another year. But that's what makes seeing it so special.
Located in a pair of centuries-old Flemish townhouses in the center of town, Hotel Julien epitomizes Antwerp today: traditional on the outside, cutting-edge modern on the inside. Antwerp has the chic feeling of a mini Paris. Korte Nieuwstraat 24, 32/(0) 3-229-0600. Photo by Cityzine.be. This appeared in the January/February 2013 issue.
One of the "must visit" places in Brussels is A la Morte Subite, which is a cafe that dates back over a hundred years. It has that real "Brussels" & "Jacques Brel" feel to it. I remember the old days when there was lots of beer being poured and lots of cigarette and cigar smoke making the air blue. Walking into the cafe once upon a time was like looking out the window of a Boeing 747 into the clouds! I don't got there too often any more, just when I have visitors, but when I do, this is my usual snack!
I love the National Botanic Garden of Belgium. We went there last summer when the daisies were in bloom and it looked so beautiful. This year I am looking forward to the Magnolia walk which takes place from March 30th till April 30th. It's a great, cheap way to spend your day.
With a huge community of British expats in Brussels, it's hard to believe there was no decent place to get fish 'n chips. But until the opening of Bia Mara in the summer of 2012, this was a sad fact. Seafood lovers in Brussels can now rejoice. Not only is the fish fresh (the owner regularly rejects seafood orders that aren't up to his high standard) and the menu creative (Spicy tempura salmon anyone?) but everything is sustainable. You would expect such an establishment to be pricey, but Bia Mara is made for the budget conscious. For 10 euro you get 2 large pieces of fresh fish (your choice of fish and style) with a mound of thick cut fries. You also choose of of 6 delicious sauces and a flavoured salt for your chips. Everything is made in house from organic and local ingredients. Or choose the fish tacos for only 8 euro. Vegetarians and carnivores aren't forgotten at Bia Mara either. The piri piri chicken was moist inside, crunchy outside and had a nice spicy kick. It is located just steps from Grand Place so you have no excuse not to visit.
The Vrijdagmarkt has been held in this location every Friday since a developer started the second-hand market in 1547. Today you can still get a used anything – furniture, knick knacks, and many, many bicycles. The café on the square is a great place to watch things get started and take bets on what the bikes will sell for. If you’re here long enough, you might as well buy one!
As Canadian expat in Belgium, one thing I miss is the sea (and good lobster), so when I saw "Lobster Six Ways" on the menu at the House of Eliott in Ghent, I had to try it. Far from the traditional 'crack it open and dig in' style lobster I was used to, this was still a wonderful meal. The varieties included a curry lobster and a more traditional herb and garlic sauce. Even if lobster isn't your thing, this quirky restaurant is worth visiting. It's a bit like dining in your crazy Aunt Nelly's attic. The homage to Coco Chanel in the lady's room is worth the trip on its own.
Even if you aren't hungry, it's worth stopping for a drink at the stunningly beautiful De Foyer cafe in Antwerp. You'll feel like royalty under the magnificent dome of the the 19th century Bourla Theater . The stained-glass, rich velvet curtains and ceiling frescos all add to the atmosphere. Come watch Antwerp's trendy fashionistas and tourists alike, while you enjoy a Belgian beer or a cappuccino, or fill-up at their extensive Sunday brunch.
My sister is a modern dancer who lives in Brussels and is a great guide to the city. Last March, we were strolling the streets of Brussels searching for the perfect cup of hot chocolate when a sudden downpour of rain hit. We sought refuge in the nearby Bozar Museum, opting to wander through the free basement galleries to avoid paying the main entrance fee. We stumbled upon a small, red-lit side room near the auditorium, delighted to find it flooded with hundreds of playful hanging origami models. With the basement to ourselves, we partook in some sisterly fun and choreographed a dance inspired by our unlikely art find as we waited for the storm to subside.
If you're in Brussels and like beer, I mean all kinds of beer, then the Delirium Cafe is the place for you! The cafe is somewhat tucked away in the restaurant section of the city, just off of the grand place. The short walk is worth it and while walking there, you can scout out which restaurant you want to eat at after a beer or three. The choices of beer are great with hundreds on offer. Before you head to your eaterie though, make sure you check out Janneke Pis, the peeing little girl, which is about a dozen or so foot steps from the cafe.
I was told that I HAD to go to Bruges, it was a non-negotiable, must-see. I watched the movie "In Bruges" on my way there and decided that I had to go up to the top of the famous bell tower. It was way more than I bargained for as I was pretty sure that I developed a raging case of vertigo by the time I made it to the top. But I was beyond well rewarded once I reached the top and spent a solitary thirty minutes admiring the beauty that is the gorgeous city below.
The most interesting part of Brussels' Christmas Market is in St Catherine's Square, where there are not only food and drink stalls, as well as those to buy gifts, but also a chance to go ice skating and ride a very big Ferris wheel. The square is also famous for its excellent seafood restaurants.
Most people know some of Belgium's best beer is brewed by monks in abbeys. These abbeys are still active and thriving. However there are many ruined abbeys dotting the countryside. Villers Abbey is one of the most beautiful and atmospheric. The ruined remains give visitors a real sense of how huge this abbey was in its heyday. Now it is a popular spot for family picnics. Stroll through the restored medieval medicinal garden or take a walk by the abbey vineyard. Whatever you do, bring your camera.
Hot dogs aren't normally what come to mind when you think of a healthy snack, but Hop Dog is trying to change that perception. This little take-away, nestled in one of the pedestrian streets near Grand Place in central Brussels is bringing new life to 'meat in tube form.' A Hop Dog is an 100% chicken sausage. It is served with homemade sauces and buns and features all fresh ingredients. If you want to be even more virtuous, there are organic and veggie Hop Dogs on offer. My favourite is the Spicy, with barbecue sauce and crispy fried onions, but offerings also include pesto, mustard and a monthly special. It's a great stop for a quick break from sight-seeing or shopping in the city centre.
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