Reason enough to visit Belgium? The food, of course. Decadent, sweet waffles are sold on nearly every street corner, chocolate is as much a masterpiece as the Bruegels and Rubens artwork, and moules frites are washed down with crisp, cold Belgian beer daily in restaurants across the country.
But there’s more – the country has a thriving fashion scene, iconic museums, and impressive architecture, all embedded within a classic historical framework. You can order an open-face sandwich at the very first Le Pain Quotidien in Brussels, or explore a style and design scene that evokes an English country cottage decorated with modern Swedish flair.
Here are five reasons to travel to Belgium now.
An easy add-on in Europe
Just an hour’s train ride from Paris, Brussels, and the Flanders region (roughly the size of Connecticut), is easy to get to, easy to navigate, and easy to tack on to other European destinations. It’s considered the crossroads of Europe for geographical reasons, but also for major institutions based here, such as the European Parliament (the elected voice of the European Union) and NATO – both of which offer tours.
The food “rebellion”
Consider the Flanders Kitchen Rebels, 25 top chefs under the age of 35 who are crafting a new Flemish food scene, as you map out your meals. The classic Belgian dishes – fries and waffles – are still must-eats, but high-end, creative dining is growing, with around 130 Michelin-starred restaurants countrywide. Belgium’s high concentration of microbreweries place utmost importance on the water quality and even the appropriate glassware for specific beers. “It’s as much an art form as wine glasses,” a local told me. “No Belgian in their right mind would serve beer in the wrong glass.”
Striking architecture and modern opera
A sight to see: One of the late Zaha Hadid’s final commissions, Antwerp’s futuristic Port House looks like a craggy diamond-shaped ship perched on the historic port building. Hadid was renowned for her futuristic structures worldwide. Brussels’ beautiful opera house, La Monnaie/De Munt, will unveil much-anticipated renovations early this year. In Brussels, opera sets and costumes are usually staged in a modern way, bringing in fans looking for fresh retellings.
Masterful art, old and new
Belgium fosters one of Europe’s fastest-growing art scenes, with hundreds of galleries and museums. Your travel advisor can work with Virtuoso’s on-site tour operator in Brussels, ITB Belgium, to arrange guided tours to exclusive art fairs and events throughout the year. City museums feel less overwhelming than those in Paris or London and yet pack an equal punch – in Brussels, the René Magritte Museum showcases the artist’s quirky genius, and it’s humbling to stand in front of enormous Rubens and Bruegels masterworks at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts. For a fun detour, check out the Belgian Comic Strip Center to discover how and why comics began, and to pay homage to The Smurfs and Tintin. In Antwerp, visits to the palatial seventeenth-century Rubens House reveal where the painter lived with his family and how the light reflected in his studio. The Antwerp Museum of Fashion stages new exhibitions every year, and is a top draw for fashion lovers.
Belgium’s top hotels offer tremendous value right now. The 173-room Hotel Amigo, a Rocco Forte Hotel, a stone’s throw from the Grand Place, Brussels beautiful main square, is an ideal base for art- and culture-filled weekends – with a side of waffles and beer. Or consider the 169-room Sofitel Brussels Le Louise, a chic hideaway in a leafy residential district close to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts.
Belgium has a hopping festival scene – electronic dance music, jazz, rock, and more. Check out these five must-know festival signals if you go: rock ‘n’ roll!
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