Wednesday, Nov 21, 2018 | Last Update : 09:52 AM IST

In an European state of mind

THE ASIAN AGE. | MOHIT KHARBANDA
Published : Oct 10, 2018, 12:37 am IST
Updated : Oct 10, 2018, 12:37 am IST

If you want the best view of the city, climb the 366 steps of the Belfort, a stunning 13th century belfry to get amazing views, especially at sunset.

Brussels, a must visit
 Brussels, a must visit

A tiny European nation, almost always overshadowed by its more popular neighbours, is amongst the few places in the world I have visited more than once. Belgium offers the diversity you would expect from a country drenched in history but constantly evolving with the new.

Bang in the middle of Western Europe, it surprises explorers with its medieval belfries alongside contemporary arcades, historic and quirky museums in equal measures (over 150 in total), age-old breweries bringing us frothy goodness, and comfort food like no other (waffles, frites and chocolates).

The Dutch speaking Flanders (the northern part of the country) is where I flocked during both my visits. While one can never get enough of Brussels and Bruges, a quick trip to Oostende on the sea front will make it a perfect visit. Here are some must-not-miss activities in each of these cities.

Get ready to be surprised by a stunning mix of old and modern, world heritage sites and perhaps an expanding waistline as you leave this cultural and gastronomic hotpot.

A breathtaking view of BrugesA breathtaking view of Bruges

Brussels
Imagine being awestruck by old world architectural brilliance on a street and finding yourself having a meal at a funky cafe, right around the corner.  That’s Brussels for you. The heart of the EU, Brussels is just the perfect mix of art nouveau mansions and hip buildings, contemporary art and cafes.

A must visit is the Grand Place, perhaps one of the most stunning city squares in the world, which stuns you as the cobble-stoned enclosure pops up as you walk the narrow alleys surrounding it.

Nothing compares to the comfort food! Head to Maison Dandoy near the square, for one of the best classic waffles with snowfall of icing sugar and to Fritland at Rue Henry Maus for Belgian fries, incontestably the best in the world, and of course double fried, just like the Belgians love it. Better still, just pick up your favourite food from the umpteen roadside joints near the grand place, sit back and watch life go by as you revel in the architectural marvels of antique guildhalls and statues.

Belgium is beer-lover’s ultimate heaven. Its innumerable old-breweries still carry the mystic charm and have a selection unmatched. I recommend The Sister, a bar which is stone’s throw away from the Grand Place and stacked with over 70 organic Belgian brews like the Zoevel or the Alfoncine. For the quirk-smitten, there is Le Cercueil, a famous bar with spooky and psychedelic interiors, so you can grab your beer while you chill in the bar where Exorcist was shot.

The royal quarter with its museums will stun and satisfy the art lovers. The most intriguing is the Museum of Music in the Old England building which in itself is an art nouveau masterpiece.           

Utopia for chocolate lovers, you can get your hands on chocolate brands from famous chocolatiers include Godiva, Leonidas, Guylian and others. But the best chocolates are the indigenous ones you would buy at tiny boutiques, found aplenty in the city.

Bruges
Bruges looks straight out of a fairytale which makes it one of the prettiest cities in Europe. This authentic medieval charmer, with dreamy canals, most photogenic market squares, charming houses converted to museums, houses with a unique white-washed facade in every other lane, and historic towers and churches, is one of the best preserved cities in Europe. In contrast to Brussels, it is quaint, laidback but packed with the same historic charm.

The old Markt Square brims with pavement cafes with best views in the evening, Groeninge museum, Bruges’ most celebrated art gallery prides itself in the amazing collection of Flemish and Renaissance artists, the 12th century basilica Heilig-Bloedbasiliek, a colourful chapel within the sliver facade interspersed with gold statues.

If you want the best view of the city, climb the 366 steps of the Belfort, a stunning 13th century belfry to get amazing views, especially at sunset.

You are sure to love the almost hidden, yet so popular De Garre Bar and their house beer staminee de garre, which is so strong that they only allow you to have three. You could also head to the Halve Maan brewery, creator of the famous ‘Brugse Zot’ beer.

Oostende
A beautiful promenade along a white sand beach, interspersed with charming houses and historic buildings, is what best describes the fabulous coastal destination in Belgium.

You can see the surprisingly intact Fort Napolean, get a hint of world war history at the Atlantikwall Raversyde, a complex of over 60 bunkers and trenches from WW 2 and 3. Walk the Belle Epoque-weg area to see lanes of charming townshouses or admire the neo-gothic architecture of St-Petrus-&-Pauluskerk historic church.

You can eat at a number of sea-faced cafes but don’t miss the freshly made shrimp croquettes and mussels of Bij Moustache, the smallest fish shop in all of Belgium.

The near-perfect public transport in the country seamlessly connects the cities and all attractions within. Trams, metros, buses and water bus services bring easy access to the best in the cities.  What’s better, Brussels, Bruges and Oostende are all on one train line.

Whoever called Belgium ‘boring’ is clearly oblivious to what this compact European wonder has to offer to the unsuspecting traveller. So, for your next European adventure, be sure to put it amongst the top of your list and be rest assured that you won’t be disappointed.

Tags: brussels, museum of music, bruges