Belgium is fractured along the age-old European great divide between the Germanic north and the Latin south. This division is expressed in the constant regional bickering between Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia that threatens to split the country entirely. Yet throughout the country, vibrant towns and cities are packed with Art Nouveau and medieval architecture, where gastronomy and high fashion are the order of the day. In the countryside, take your pick from dune-filled beaches and dense forests to pristine lakes and underground caves.
Marvel at Brussels‘ opulent 17th-century architecture and Art Nouveau masterpieces. In the north, admire the fusion of renaissance old town with avant-garde design in Antwerp. The relaxing waterways dissecting the medieval centers of Bruges and Ghent are worth exploring. Or travel south to the Ardennes to the striking citadel of Namur flung high above town on a rocky outcrop. Ancient caves drip with natural sculptures in the inspiring village of Hans-sur-Lesse.
Restaurants and Dining
Bruxellois love their food. Beyond mussels and frites around the St. Catherine Square, find innovative flavors in voguish restaurants on the avenue Louise and classics like creamy waterzooi stews in cozy wood-paneled brasseries. French food comes with panoramic city views at the rooftop Musical Instruments Museum restaurant, set in a graceful Art Nouveau Horta building. A short stroll from the bustle of the Grand-Place, the romantic Grand-Sablon‘s petit bistros are a great place to indulge.
In Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia, try creamy Ardennes pâté and gooseberry tart, carbonnades à la flamande (beef braised in beer), and hearty andouillettes (sausages). Countrywide, moules et frites (mussels and French fries) and thick, hot waffles are ubiquitous and delicious. Don’t forget: Belgium is a serious beer country, whose breweries produce around 450 varieties. So head to a cozy local pub to discover your favorite, such as cherry-flavored Kriek or smooth Trappist ales brewed by monks.
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In Brussels, bag bric-a-brac at Place du Jeu du Balle flea market, or comb through antiques along Rue Haute, Rue Blase and Sablon Square. Pick up sweets and textiles from Liège’s medieval-style La Batte market, or seek out Belgian designer labels such as Ann Demeulemeester and sparkling diamonds in Antwerp. The ideal gift, a box of artisanal pralines, is easy to find: there’s always a local chocolate shop nearby.
Nightlife and Entertainment
There’s no greater pleasure in Brussels than sipping a refreshing lambic or cherry-flavored kriek beer in a cozy estaminet. Each pub has its own history and character, from the puppet theatre’s quirky Estaminet Toone to the Art Deco splendor of the beer café A la Mort Subite. The scene is more champagne cocktails, club beats and people-watching around the image-conscious avenue Louise and rue Antoine Dansaert. For top-drawer ballet and opera, head to the neoclassical La Monnaie.
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