|Country Information & Lifestyle|
The Kingdom of Belgium is more than 1000 years old and is often called the 'Essence of Europe'. Belgium shares its borders with France, Germany, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. Belgium has three official languages with English as the 4th unofficial language.
The people are warm and friendly, living life to the fullest and this is a country for connoisseurs who do not take themselves too seriously because the Belgians certainly do not. Famous for lace, diamonds, chocolate, and great festivals. The town of Spa was the place where all the other spas get their name.
The northern part is known as Flanders, the inhabitants are called Flemings and they speak Flemish and Dutch. A land that is criss-crossed by canals and has beautiful, medieval art cities like Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent.
Antwerp, daughter of the River Scheldt and second largest city in Belgium, is called the Metropolis by the inhabitants. Antwerp is the diamond centre of the World and if diamonds really are a girl's best friend then no lady should miss visiting the diamond district around the Railway Station.
This area is also the Jewish part of the city and here you will find a flair that cannot be found in other Belgian cities. The past is represented by the numerous paintings of Peter Paul Rubens who lived in Antwerp in the early 17th century, and today the city is known for its fashion thanks to the numerous young Flemish fashion designers.
Ghent has managed to preserve its medieval charm while keeping up with the times and is also the flower city of Belgium. Flower growers from every region around Ghent sell their beautiful begonias and azaleas all over the world and every five years Gentse Floralien, (Ghent Flower Show) attracts thousands to the city. The city is the fourth largest in Belgium and has an important harbour with the Ghent-Terneuzen allowing sea-going vessels to bring Ghent and the industrial hinterland their products.
Bruges, a splendid medieval city, is the capital of the province of West-Flanders and is called the Venice of the North. The city is one of Belgium's crown jewels and is unique in the sense that the town authorities have done the utmost to preserve the medieval-looking images of the city. Bruges is always beautiful, in the summertime as well as in wintertime, and visitors will never forget the enchanting experience of strolling through the tiny medieval streets with their blanket of snow in December, or in the springtime when a trip on the canal is delightful.
Bruges is famous for its lace making, a trade that rose in the Renaissance, and Emperor Charles V ordered that lace-making should be a compulsory skill for girls in convents throughout Flanders, and hundreds of craftsmen still continue the handiwork today.
Brussels is a cosmopolitan city where many different cultures live together and different languages can be heard in the streets. It is the bi-lingual capital of Belgium which means that both French and Dutch are the official languages of the city. Street names and traffic signs are always in these two languages. Brussels is home to the EU and NATO and was the birthplace of the actress Audrey Hepburn. The liveliness and international flair is of course intimately related to its role as a crossroads for all of Europe.
Brussels was the former capital of the medieval Duchy of Brabant and you will see Gothic cathedrals and churches next to, and sometimes in stark contrast with, gracious classical facades like the buildings around the Royal Square (Palace Royale-Koningsplein). The heart of Brussels and the place to start getting to know the city is the Grand Place (Grote Markt). This historic market square with its splendid guild houses and the impressive Gothic beauty of the Town Hall, is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe.
To the south is Wallonia, also known as Ardennes, a region of peaceful villages, and the landscape once describe by Ernest Hemingway as "something out of a Grimms fairy-tale". The locals are called Walloons and their official language is French except for a small area where they speak German.
This is a beautiful region full of abbeys, parks and gardens, chateaux, battlefields, woodland, moors, waterfalls, rolling hills and countless castles, there are more per square mile in Belgium than anywhere else in the world. The cities have cobblestone streets, Gothic cathedrals, artistic treasure, and regional specialities such as ham and Trappist beer brewed locally in the Abbey of Westvleteren which has consistently been rated the world's best beer.
Known as the smallest town on earth Durbuy is also one of the prettiest. The old town dates mainly from the 17th century. A must for every visitor is to walk through the Old Town where you will find shops, cafes and restaurants in its narrow flowered and cobbled streets, winding between ancient houses. The smallest town on earth ironically boasts the largest topiary park anywhere! High above Durbury at the top of the cliff face is The Belevedere.
There is a magnificent view over the town and of the valley of the River Ourthe. The Confiturerie Saint-Amout is a jam factory where you can still see the jam being made by hand-stirred in large copper basins. Purchase some of this excellent product in the factory shop which also sells food from the surrounding area.
Belgium produces over 500 varieties of beer and the biggest brewer in the world, Anheuser-Busch InBev is based in Leuven. Belgium is famous for waffles and French fries, contrary to their name they originated in Belgium. The name French fries actually refers to the manner in which the potato is cut, to French means to cut into slivers. The national dishes are steak and French fries with salad and mussels with fries. Belgium produces some of the finest chocolates in the world with brands such as Godiva, Cote d'Or and Guylian world renowned.
Belgium has a very long and rich history but only received its independence from the Netherlands in 1830. The current King is Albert II, the sixth in the Belgian dynasty and he is married to Princess Paola Ruffo di Calabria.
Belgium is the capital of culture and food, a dynamic city with intriguing history. You can sip the legendary Belgian beer on an outdoor terrace along historic Grand Place, taste the magnificent Belgian chocolate, wonder at the exquisitely made beautiful lace products and wonder the streets of this enchanting country.
Where-ever you decide to settle in Belgium you will be amazed at the beauty of this gorgeous country in the heart of Europe.