Right in the middle of Western Europe, bordering Germany, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and France, is one of the continent’s most beautiful, creative and refreshing countries. This is Belgium – home of delectable chocolate, crunchy waffles, flavourful moules (mussels) and, of course, some seriously excellent chips (also known as fries or, as the locals say, frites). Of course, there’s more to this place than the food (and the hundreds upon hundreds of varieties of hops) and on any one trip, it’s possible to discover city after city of attractive sights. These are just three of
Begin your journey in the capital, with its small-town charm yet rapidly rising worldwide reputation for fashionable bars and restaurants, fantastic shopping and fascinating culture. You don’t need more than a couple of days here to be able to absorb it all and one of the quickest, stress-free ways to do so is by hopping on and off one of the red open-top double-decker buses over the course of 24 or 48 hours (see www.citysightseeingbrussel.be). It has two lines, the first of which will take you through northern Brussels to discover the Rue Neuve shopping area, The Royal Palace, the Atomium (a futuristic monument of nine interconnected spheres built in 1958), the Basilica and the must-see Grand Place, a regal central square that’s also a Unesco World Heritage Site. The second line travels through the artistic south where you’ll find Mont des Arts, Sablon, the Louise district and Victor Horta museum, dedicated to the renowned Belgian art nouveau architect.
Take a half-hour train journey from Brussels Central Station for €8.50 (Dhs34), single, to the vibrant city of Ghent. Located in the Flemish region, and the capital of the East Flanders province, Ghent may often be overlooked for other, more famous areas. But it shouldn’t be. This up-and-coming port city merges modern living with medieval architecture and, for the health-conscious of you, it’s a place that’s known for its love of nature, cycling and farm-to-table eating. That’s not to say you won’t find a touch of indulgence; Ghent is also home to an ever-increasing array of trendy bars and restaurants. Take a canal cruise and stop off at the Unesco-listed 700-year-old belfry Belfort that’s topped by a large dragon (something of a city mascot). And no trip here is complete without a meander around the interactive STAM – Ghent City Museum that combines a 14th century abbey and 17th century monastery with a 21st century development that provides a contemporary view on a historical city.
From Gent-Sint-Pieters station it’s possible to hop on the train for another half-hour for €6 (Dhs24) to reach picturesque Bruges. Everyone has to follow in Colin Farrell’s footsteps and visit. Of course, no one will mimic his In Bruges character Ray’s disdain for place, as this fairy tale city (the capital of West Flanders) could easily be described as one of the most beautiful places in the world. Distinguished by canals, medieval buildings and cobbled streets, it’s commonplace to see horse-drawn carriages and quaint market stalls here. Wander around on foot for a while, but there’s no better way to view the city than from the water, on a canal tour, which costs around €8 (Dhs32) per adult. The only downside to your trip will be the sheer amount of tourists that ferry through during the summer. Yet if you avoid eating in one of the restaurants on the main Markt square (where the famous Belfry also lies – as seen in Farrell’s film), and make the effort to discover the back alleyways, then you’ll undoubtedly be transported to another, magical era in this timeless city.
Emirates flies from Dubai to Brussels direct from Dhs3,225 return. www.emirates.com.
Places to stay
It’s set a stone’s throw from the Grand Place among the capital’s cobbled streets. A former prison, this hotel has a captive audience among city breakers wanting to be in the thick of it.
Dhs990 per room per night. www.roccofortehotels.com.
Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof
Calling itself the city’s “crown jewel”, this stately venue is just half a mile from the throng of Ghent’s historic centre and offers opera, theatre and ballet packages for the culture vultures among you.
From Dhs422 per room, per night. www.sandton.eu/gent.
A former family home, this gorgeous hotel in the heart of the city prides itself on being an oasis of tranquillity. The romantic package includes a sightseeing tour in a horse-drawn carriage.
From Dhs668 per room, per night. www.prinsenhof.com.