Belgium is a little country, extremely developed, and densely populated country. Brussels, is the capital of the European Union. It has three unique regions: Flanders in the north, where the language is Dutch (“Flemish”), Wallonia in the south, where the language is French, and the centrally located Brussels, which is officially bilingual. Belgium’s delightful history has left impressive castles, churches, town halls, and beautiful works of art, dating back to the beginning of the Middle Ages, spread around the cities, country-side.
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Belgium might possibly have the highest “quality of life” in the world, as testified by its housing, excellent food, health care, education and infrastructure, its high productivity and low poverty, and the love of foreigners residing in Belgium.
Why should you go to Belgium? Because it is the best kept secret in Europe. Visiting medieval cities, quaint towns, gothic cathedrals and town halls, castles and carillons will keep you busy during the day. At night go to a pub, there are more than 348 delicious beers to chose from. The reputation of our gourmet food makes the French jealous and it is almost impossible to find chocolates as good as ours !.
Climate : under the influence of the sea, Flanders has a temperate climate with four seasons, which each have their own attractions. The mild maritime climate makes our region suitable as a holiday destination all year round.
Landscape : Flanders is, as Brel sang, predominantly flat. Only in Southern Flanders is the landscape hilly.
Languages : apart from our Dutch mother tongue, most Flemish people speak several languages. In many cases, they can help you in French, our second national language, German or English.
History : this multilingualism is, of course, related to the rich history of a country at the crossroads of cultures. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Dukes of Burgundy united a number of mediaeval counties and dukedoms into a political entity, the so-called Low Countries, or in Latin “Belgium”. The religious war of liberation against Spain (1568-1648) led to the northern provinces breaking away, and forming a separate state in around 1600: what would later become the Netherlands. From 1814 to 1830, after a French and an Austrian occupation, the old Low Countries were reunited. But the experiment failed. The South formed the independent kingdom of Belgium, with the first liberal, parliamentary monarchy in continental Europe.
Federal kingdom : nowadays, Belgium is a federal kingdom with a population of 10 million. The monarch today is King Albert II. Belgium is a federation of three Communities (Flemish, French-speaking and German-speaking) and three regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussel).
Flanders: “Flanders”, formerly the name of a county, is now the name for the northern, Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. It is the most dynamic and prosperous region of the country. The Flemish are approximately 60% of the Belgian population.
Time zone: Flanders operates summer and winter time. In summer, our clocks are set to GMT + 2 hours, and in winter to GMT + 1 hour
Belgium has many opportunities to tour the countryside by foot, bike, or car. It is illegal to put children under 12 in the front seat of the car. Travel in Belgium is very easy and tourism is encouraged. For the unaware tourist, the signage for cities can cause frustration. The cities may have two names! Dutch in the northern part of the country and French in the southern part of the country. Sometimes the names are similar, but, as in the case of Mons – Bergen, you can see why having a listing of cities in Dutch-French-English is helpful. This is a rare country where you, as a tourist, should probably speak in English when in doubt.
Baroque architecture and a street named Meat & Bread; an exhibit of comic strips; and jazz until dawn-you could only be in Brussels. Don’t miss the Grand’Place and its Gothic Town Hall; it is one of the most beautiful squares in the world. All our museums are uniquely rewarding but with 70 of them, you might want to limit your enjoyment to a special few.
You get off the train in Antwerp thinking diamonds, and the first thing you see is an elephant. One of the world’s most popular zoos is right next to the station. Bruges is only an hour from Brussels; climb the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry for a spectacular view of a perfect medieval fairyland. If the soaring spires of Ghent don’t take your breath away, what’s inside the Castle of the Counts will-a torture chamber dating from the 12th century.
The people of this fascinating “hot-blooded city” in the Ardennes region are known for their passionate love of life and carefree way of living; see the 11th-century Palace of the Prince-Bishops. Namur, a city under siege for 2,000 years, now peacefully awaits your visit. In Dinant, climb the 408-step stairway of the massive Citadel, now a museum of arms and history. If you want to see a really old house, Tournai has two built in 1175; the oldest private homes still standing in Europe.
Notes on getting there: The one major airport serving Belgium lies eight miles northeast of Brussels. An airport train-shuttle will take you into the city center for only $3. Brussels is well served by major U.S. and European airlines. Once in Europe, you can fly to Brussels from major cities or take the train. It’s only three hours from London via the Eurostar train; one hour, 10 minutes from Paris via the Thalys.
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