A welcoming country to visit
One of the reasons for its boring, unpopular image probably stems from its capital, Brussels being a dreary collection of administrative offices and its associations with E.U. bureaucracy. Another reason is Belgium’s identity crisis. It is Flemish-speaking in the north and French-speaking in the south and there has always been a considerable clash of cultures between the two, both competing for a definition of what is the real Belgium.
However, if one delves beneath the surface of this uninspiring portrayal of Belgium, it soon becomes apparent that the country has much to offer. For a start, it is actually packed full of absorbing history; from both before and after its separation from the Netherlands in 1830. Beautiful historical buildings and architecture abounds in nearly every city. Ghent provides a fascinating example of a medieval port and has the most number of historical buildings to see. Bruges however, is the most attractive from a scenic point of view. It is a beautifully preserved 14th century Flemish town whose narrow cobble-streets, canals and gabled houses demand at least a day’s visit and preferably a longer stay there.
For a lively city with plenty to do, head for Antwerp which as well as being Europe’s diamond capital and a hotbed of modern fashion, still manages to reveal its impressive past through places like the house where Rubens lived and worked for thirty years.
Although much of Belgium’s countryside is flat and lacking in scenic appeal, the Ardennes region is mountainous and offers a beautiful wooded landscape of wild crags and ravines where one of the most famous battles of World War 2 was fought.
Belgium’s people are generally some of the most welcoming you will find anywhere. They are noted for their love of good food in large helpings. The word Gourmands (meaning big cuisine) rather than Gourmets (meaning fine cuisine) describes the typical Belgium very well. Another cliché often used to describe Belgium cuisine is; French food in German sized helpings. It is very apt!
When to visit
The warmest time of the year is April through to September but Belgium weather is inclined to provide days of grey skies and rain at any time.
A popular tourist attraction takes place at the beginning of July. This is the Ommegang Pageant, a spectacular medieval festival dating back to 1359. The colorful procession through the streets of Brussels is followed by a flag and horse parade. Next, crossbow men surround a statue of the Virgin that the procession has escorted from the Sablon Church. Finally everyone settles down to enjoy an incredible fiesta of games and entertainment.
Getting to Belgium
The UK has several discount airlines operating flights from many of its airports to Brussels, Antwerp and other cities. Visitors from other European countries will usually travel by train or road. U.S. and Canadian tourists will probably need to consider flights to France or the UK rather than finding a direct flight.