This may be death by chocolate, but what a way to go! This is the feeling one has when dining at Wittamer, the renowned chocolate establishment in Brussels, Belgium. Your “lunch” will consist of countless samples of chocolate in every flavor and shape, light, dark and dangerously indulgent – a delicious way to start your tour of Belgium.
Take time to fully explore the vibrant city of Brussels and then plan to travel to Bastogne, where you’ll visit the Ardennes and the site of the Battle of the Bulge. But before leaving Brussels, plan to dine at some tantalizing cafes and restaurants, visit way too many chocolate shops and sample some of its 500 (you read it right - 500) different types of beer! Yes, you gotta know that you’ll end your trip facing your own, personal battle of the bulge but hey, you’re in the land of beer and chocolate and it’s too tempting to resist!
Brussels is conveniently located less than an hour and a half from Paris and just two hours from Amsterdam. Home of the European Union and NATO, Brussels had its beginnings in the 10th century, evolving from a fortress town into a metropolis of more than one million inhabitants today. The city derives its character by the coexistence of French and Flemish culture, and is now home to nationalities around the world which add to its cosmopolitan flavor. It’s further enhanced by picturesque medieval streets, lively squares, cozy cafes and a vibrant cultural life.
Do visit the Galeries St. Hubert which is on La Grand Place. In this fabulous glass arcade which opened in 1847, there are luxurious shops and beautiful cafes. spend a leisurely half hour sipping coffee at Taverne du Passage and indulging in a favorite pastimes, people-watching. Before returning to your hotel, treat yourself to Belgian frites, twice fried potatoes that are served in a paper cone. Take yours with a side of mayonnaise. Highly recommended.
You’ve Gotta Have Art
Painting is one of the glories of Belgium and in Brussels you’ll find more than 80 museums to house its splendid works of art. Not to be missed: The Royal Museum containing both ancient and modern art and the Belgian Center for Comic Strip Art, famous for its exhibits of Belgium’s beloved comic strip character, Tintin, and those roguish blue guys, the Smurfs. Check out the Rene Magritte Museum. It boasts the largest collection in the world of items related to the artist.
John Coltrane Thanks You
Did you know that this is the land where the saxophone was invented? No wonder jazz is an integral part of daily life here. There is the Brussels Jazz Marathon held in May, the Brussels Summer Festival in August, and outside of Brussels in Namur, the Verdur Rock Festival in June. Audi puts on a jazz festival from September to December in various Belgian cities, and for classical music lovers, there’s the Festival of Wallonia from June to October held in castles, abbeys and churches in the southern region of the country.
An Invitation to Temptation
Food of champions, a lure for lovers, a drink for the gods and an indulgence for the masses. Chocolate. At last count, there were some 2,000 chocolate shops in Belgium and 172,000 tons of this dark, de-lightful and de-lovelystuff are produced each year. All of the great chocolatiers are here – Marcolini, Leonidas, Neuhaus and the aforementioned Wittamer’s and if you want some sweet, in-depth browsing, check out the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate.
Beauty Lies in the Hands of the Beer Holder
Three cheers for Belgian beers, some 500 of them appreciated by ale enthusiasts in much the same way as fine wines. The variety of beer flavors is endless. Anyone in the mood for raspberry, chocolate, cherry, white or brown beer? You can find it here. The Belgian Beer Weekend held on La Grand Place takes place in early September and there is the Beer Festival of Bouillion in April.
If you want to forgo beer and try a cool, crisp Chardonnay, you’re in luck. Brussels is a city of pubs, the oldest being L’Imaige Nostre-Dame which beckons your way by gaslight. Its tiny interior is all warm, golden glow, stained glass windows, the dark wood of its tables and chairs polished smooth by centuries of use. At Au Bon Vieux Temps, it is, just like the name says, the good old days. Their motto is: “Curiosity from the 17th century,” and here you can try one of their several curious and very drinkable aperitifs.
Spend some time in Namur, an hour drive from Brussels and the capital of Wallonia. The city is quaint, cradled by the Meuse and Sambre Rivers, its architectural heritage dominated by a 1,000 year old citadel. Les Tanneurs de Namur is both a hotel and restaurant and when you walk to the restaurant down a narrow alleyway, you’ll pass superb 17th century restored buildings. This site is a favorite among residents and tourists alike.
A Solemn Visit
After lunch, travel to Bastogne, a few hours drive and close to the Luxembourg border. This is the site where thousands of soldiers died during the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-45. By the time fighting stopped, the city was completely destroyed and more than 25,000 people had been killed. The town is filled with stark reminders of WWII, including the American Memorial, the Ardennes American Cemetery and the Bastogne Historical Center.
Tour the Historical Center, one of the world’s finest war museums with your guide, Henri Mignon, a man well versed in this area’s past, living here and following its history since he was a child. You’ll watch a short film which tells the story of the Battle of the Bulge with some remarkable footage. There are 120 mannequins of American, English, and German soldiers with their equipment and armaments, as well as uniforms donated by veterans of this most famous battle. There is also an important collection of light and heavy arms, photographic documents, personal objects and equipment found on the battlefield. Before leaving Bastogne, spend some time at the American Memorial, an ultra modern, star-shaped building set atop a hill and affording a sweeping view of Bastogne, the Ardennes forests and the battlefield, now quiet and meadow-like.
Belgians invite visitors to come and experience their country through the eyes of natives. They promise that your experience will not be that of a tourist. So don’t waffle about visiting - - Belgium is ready and waiting to make you its guest.
Want to bask in the warm glow of Belgium right here? Try these restaurants in NYC! Markt is a precise and detailed recreation of a classic Belgian brasserie in New York’s Chelsea/Flatiron district. With their antique bar and furniture, expansive selection of Belgian beers, and authentic Belgian cuisine, you’ll enjoy a true Belgian dining experience in this welcoming and cozy spot, www.marktrestaurant.com. Also try Petite Abeille Belgian Restaurant with three locations in the City, www.petiteabeille.com.
For all information relating to this story:
Belgian Tourist Office