Sometimes subsumed into what is called the Benelux countries (Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg) Belgium is a small country with a big impact. It is well worth a week of your time to explore and get to know this little gem. It offers much more than chocolate, waffles and pommes frites with bearnaise sauce!
Tucked up in the north-western corner of Europe, France to its west and The Netherlands and Luxembourg alongside, this country boasts a long tradition of commerce and wealth because of it. The capital Brussels is at one end of the Eurostar so it is easy to get to from London and Paris. It is home to the European Union Parliament and its very tiny but world-famous statue and fountain, Manneken Pis. Over time it has become a tradition for visiting heads of state to donate miniature versions of their national costume for the little naked boy. The wardrobe of Mannekin Pis can be seen at the Brussels museum and includes over 760 outfits – even an authentic Elvis jumpsuit. The main square the Grand Place, including the Town Hall is a focal point and jumping off point for sightseeing. Numbers of museums covering just about anything Belgian are close by.
If you are there at the right time, every second year in August – plan for 2018, Brussels hosts the floral carpet festival. Each festival is themed and the Grand Place is awash with the floral carpets.
For those with an artistic bent, Rene Magritte has a museum in Brussels. For those who love their literature, try the Belgian Comic Strip Centre and check out Tintin and the Smurfs with your kids. And as with every European capital, there are several beautiful cathedrals, basilicas and churches to check out. Try the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Notre dame du Sablon.
Belgium was in the thick of the first World War. The fields of Flanders hold many connections and memories for soldiers of many countries including Australia and there are some major memorial sites. Whilst many of the 100 year commemorations were held last year, 2017 and 2018 will also have significance in many areas. The battles of Passchendaele, Bullecourt and Messines, and the third battle for Ypres were fought in 1917 with huge loss. Don’t forget to see the Menin gate.
Two towns beyond Brussels in addition to the Flanders area that are well worth the visit are Bruges and Ghent. Whilst less well known than Bruges, Ghent is a merchant city with a great deal of history. Take the 40 minute Graslei and Korenlei boat trip to see the medieval heart of the city. Check out the museum of cloth- Belgian lace at its best.
Bruges is a must see. A beautiful medieval city with canals and winding waterways, it is also a good beginning point for daytrips to the Flanders battlefields. In the city check out the Basilica of the Holy Blood, and the very early Michelangelo in the Church of Our Lady.
The Markt is the place for food and to be seen. A guided walking tour with local will give you insights into the city.
And don’t forget to try the pommes frites with one of their array of sauces. Yum!