In terms of its size, Belgium is a country punching well above its weight. It’s a tiny geographical crossroads, a meeting point, a melting pot of all Europe. And yet its credibility in terms of food, design, architecture and so on is worthy of being up there on the global stage.
Take diamond-dealing haughty Antwerp for example. Ever since the Antwerp Six in the 1980s, it has continually spilled forth a regular flow of self-assured and interminably cool fashion labels, such as Essentiel Antwerp, married couple Inge Onsea and Esfan Eghtessadi’s ever-expanding brand of bold florals and sharp staples.
Michelin-starred restaurants like The Jane (thejaneantwerp.com) in its Piet Boon-designed chapel, hotels including the just-opened August (august-antwerp.com), a stone-cold classic in the making, and architect Axel Vervoordt’s wondrous modern living project Kanaal (kanaal.be) cement the city’s credibility as a design hotbed even further.
Bruges as always remains forever popular in all its medieval, chocolate box beauty. But modern art and architecture is now getting a look in amongst the gothic landmarks, and in the run up to the 2021 Triennial, there are a number of fascinating programmes and discussions that make a welcome respite from the cobbles and canals.
Bruges will always boast chocolate-box beauty.
Then of course there is Brussels, which these days is far from boring. Yes it is a round-the clock centre of finance and bureaucracy but it’s not all suits and ties. Here you’ll find the country’s best chocolatier Pierre Marcolini (eu.marcolini.com), whose flagship store is a Willy Wonka-style delight. Hot on Marcolini’s heels is Elisabeth (elisabeth.be) with its six outlets and outrageous giant marshmallows, Laurent Gerbaud’s (chocolatsgerbaud.be) fruity spicy confections and Frederic Blondeel’s (frederic-blondeel.be) Belgian chocolate truffles.
And in foodie Ghent, the slow-burning, top-level restaurant scene continues to boom, with hotspots Taxi’s (taxisrestaurant.be) and Oak (oakgent.be) still relentlessly tricky to book for a Friday-night dinner.
If you thought eating in Belgium was all just €110 plates of moules-frites, think again. The hotly contested World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2020 will be held in Flanders, shining a much-deserved spotlight on this underrated country.
*Plus, discover Maasmechelen Village, a member of The Bicester Village Shopping Collection, just an hour from Brussels. *