The northern part of Belgium is known as Flanders. Each city of Flanders is brimming with quaint medieval squares, tree-lined canals, gorgeous architectural facades, world class museums and friendly outdoor cafes. The scenic Flemish countryside is painted with soft green hills and winding roads dotted by black heather bordered by exotic farms. With its cobblestone streets, beguinages, gothic cathedrals and artistic treasures of internationally renowned paintings from the Flemish primitives to Breughel and Rubens the region is an ideal destination for a short haul trip that feels like a long break.
Places to Visit:
Bruges is known as 'the Venice of the North'. So picture postcard perfect is the city centre that it is almost impossible to take a bad photograph. The heart of the city, surrounded by an almost continuous ring of canals, is the best preserved example of medieval Flanders. The city is one of the most beautiful places in the world to feel the pulse of saying, 'Love you' to your beloveds. There is gorgeous architecture to admire virtually everywhere you wander in Bruges. Start at the Markt, with its gabled buildings and Belfry, then wander south to the Beguinage before winding your way back to walk along Dijver, through the Vismarkt to the Burg, historically the most important square in Bruges, where it is possible to see 700 years of architecture in the following styles: Romanesque & Neo-Gothic (Basilica of the Holy Blood), Gothic (City Hall), Renaissance (Old Recorders' House), Baroque (Provost's House) and Classic (Old Country House of the 'Brugse Vrije').
Antwerp Belgium’s second largest city has always been a hotbed of creativity. For an overview of the great Flemish artists, visit the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, the Fine Arts museum, which houses Flanders' largest art collection, over 7000 pieces. There is stunning architecture to be found almost everywhere you look in Antwerp. The Gothic Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal has two triptychs by Rubens, while St Paul's church plays host to paintings by several masters including Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck and Jordaens. The Grote Markt, with its 16th and 17th century guild houses and town hall, is at the heart of the city and is a good place to start an architectural tour of Antwerp. With Antwerp established as the world's capital for diamonds, it's an important item in the shopping agenda of those in love with this most-celebrated stone. To learn more about the history of diamonds and maybe buy one, visit Diamondland on Appelmansstraat.
Ghent is the hidden gem in Belgium’s crown and is known as the veggie capital of Europe. It is a rare city, a magical place that is able to preserve both its proud medieval treasures and keep up with modern times. One should be prepared to be stunned by many architectural delights that include Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque churches. The city has an extensive network of canals and endless streets to explore, which are some of the most picturesque in the Flanders region. Ghent boasts the largest number of listed buildings in Belgium. There is no other place with so many monuments in such a small area. With a pleasant climate , there are things to see and do no matter what time of year you visit. The city has an excellent public transport system; however, many of the main sights are all within easy walking distance of each other in the historic centre.
Brussels is also a fantastic city, a real treasure trove for all those interested in antiques and home interiors. The city has more than 80 museums, from Fencing to Fine Arts, ensuring something to suit every taste. Highlights include the Fine Arts Museum (do see the Brueghels and the Magrittes), Scientastic (basic but highly interactive science museum for kids right in the heart of town), the Royal Museum of Central Africa (for an excellent overview of a fascinating continent) and the Museum of Natural Sciences (for the largest dinosaur collection in Europe, plus the shell, insect and North Sea galleries). Also visit the Musical Instruments Museum and the Comic Strip Museum (think Tintin), not only for the internal exhibits but also the stunning Art Nouveau buildings of Victor Horta. If design is a passion, you really should not miss the dedicated Horta Museum in St Gilles. Above this, Manneken-Pis, the bizarre little statue of a peeing boy is the most popular tourist attraction in Brussels, just off the Grand'Place. Famously touted as a glorious example of Belgian humour and capacity for self-mockery, it is a true cultural icon and a must see.
The Flemish Coast is something of a secret: along 67 kilometres of pristine beaches stand 14 resorts, each with its own unique style and character. A visit to the Belgian Coast is like a spring cleaning for the soul. The pure air, salty sea and sandy beaches will literally take your breath away. There is something to suit every honeymooner: long sandy beaches at De Panne and Westende, fishing ports and excellent seafood at Nieuwpoort and Zeebrugge, leisure activities at Blankenberge and Middelkerke and designer shopping at Knokke-Heist.
Activites to indulge in while you are in Flanders:
Cycling and walking
Flanders has 1000s of kilometers of walking and cycling routes. The Flemish landscape but also the cities lend themselves particularly well to cycling and walking. The Flemish Ardennes is synonymous with Flanders' most beautiful landscapes. The old Scheldt basin is also a very tempting walking area.
There are numerous nature reserves, recreational parks, historic towns, and pleasant villages along the Flemish waterways. Cruising along the Flemish waterways makes an unforgettable voyage of discovery. You can also join a cruise on the Flemish waterways. De 4 Vaartijden, a refitted barge from 1924, will take you in luxury from one Flemish harbour to the next. www.de4vaargetijden.com
Diamond lovers should visit Antwerp's shopping galleries in De Keyselei and also take some time to visit the Meir, Antwerp's main brand shopping street now graced with the beautiful Stadsfeestzaal shopping centre. Individual takes on streetwear can be found on Kammenstraat whilst on Kloosterstraat the shops are a paradise for antique hunters. Visit the flea market at the Place du Jeu de Balle and the Sablon to pick up a bargain and you will discover why so many of Britain's top interior designers flock to Brussels. With more Michelin stars per head of population than anywhere else in the world, Brussels is a great place to set aside all diet plans and indulge. In Bruges, drop into some of its countless speciality chocolatiers. Chocolate Line, on Katelijnestraat, produces some innovative chocolate concoctions with ingredients such as chilli peppers, peas, cauliflower and even cheese! If you are searching for a really cutting edge look in spectacles, look no further than a visit to the famous optician Hoet in Bruges which produces trendy designer spectacles. In Ghent you'll find an interesting array of shops ranging from trendy designer clothing shops to romantic and charming gift shops selling anything from soaps to sweets. Don't miss Confiserie Temmerman, Ghent's 19th century sweet shop selling their famous 'neus' or nose shape candy sweets.
Eating and Drinking
Flanders has more Michelin-starred restaurants per head than France. Belgian "national dishes" are fries with mussels, rabbit with plums, eel in green sauce (Paling in't Groen in Dutch) and meatballs with "rabbit sauce" - also called "hunter sauce" - (literal translation of respectively Boulets sauce lapin and Boulets sauce chasseur in French). And if you love sea foods, it is truly amazing and widely praised at the Flemish coast. The large variation of bistros and restaurants will fit everyone's taste and budget. From buzzing Blankenberge to cultural Koksijde and Oostduinkerke, there is sure to be a perfect coastal resort just for you. Some of the top restaurants include:
The House of Eliott Jan Breydelstraat 36, 9000 Ghent: This is a delightly decorated restaurant with an edge of Edwardian eccentricity. Located by the canal this stylish bistro serves the very best in Belgo-French fusion cookery. Try its 'Dining with a Heart' menu where a proportion of the cost of the meal is donated to charity. Mouth-watering executions elaborately and brilliantly presented will do more than just excite your palate. Open daily from 12.00 to 14:00 and 18:00 to late except Tuesday and Wednesday
Velvet Lounge Antwerp
This Bar/Restaurant serves the very best in international fusion food to the back beat of trendy ethnic afro-beats, jazz and other international sounds. Sip on a gin-fizz, enjoy a glass of champagne or red wine with your main course or just come to chill with the trendy Antwerp regulars. The bar has regular house parties and watch out for specially themed events which take place during the year. Check their website for details. http://www.velvetlounge.be/
De Kelk Langestraat 69, 8000 Brugge. tel: 0473733460: Comprising of three separate bars, there is a good choice for all tastes at this place. With a choice of over 150 different Belgian beers, Wunderbar definately worth a trip. For a trendy pub, head to Bar Nouveau where they host parties at weekends and on occasion, watch local bands provide live entertainment.
Havana 4 Rue de l'Epée, Brussels, 1000: Cuban cuisine meets salsa club with vast seating booths and 3 dance floors. A wide range of cocktails (mixed with Havana Club naturally) and dancing until 7am at weekends. So if you know your Cube Libre from your daiquiri, make your way to Havana near the Palace de Justice. Check their website for details. http://www.havana-brussels.com
• The Residence Hotel, Molenbergstraat 9, 2000 Antwerpen
• Ramada Plaza, Desguinlei 94, 2018 Antwerpen
• Apollo Arthotel Brugge, Handboogstraat
• Europa Hotel, Gordunakaai 59, 9000 Ghent
• For further information on Flanders, log onto www.visitflanders.com