BELGIUM - The Hub of Europe

Famous for being the hub of the European Union as much as for its architectural and culinary delights, Belgium lies at the heart of Europe.

There is an old joke that asks "Name three famous Belgians" but that's easy... How about Hergé, the writer of TinTin? Or Jean-Claude Van Damme? Or Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the sexiest musical instrument, or Magritte, the artist famous for his bowler hats and ("this is not a") pipe? Further back, what about Breughel, Rubens and Van Dyck?

Belgium is home to two language groups, the Dutch-speakers (Flems) and the French-speakers (Walloons), adding to the already complex cultural mix that a country with borders to the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg imply. The time of the great Trading Companies left its mark with the ancient guilds and their impressive buildings. The second world war sadly also left a mark with many famous battle sites now carefully tended.

Belgian cities have a wealth of architectural masterpieces from Gothic through Art Deco and Art Nouveau to modern. The Belgians are rightly proud of their gastronomy which comes from a Frnch tradition but with hearty servings. Just a snack on the street may be a waffle you will remember for the rest of your life, or the "best frites (fries / chips) in the world". Cakes and chocolate are also out of this world.

Of course your meal may well be washed down with one of the 600 local beers rather than wine.

Despite the age of most of the Belgian attractions transport and infrastructure is modern and efficient. After the phenomenal Grand Place of Brussels take a side trip to Bruges to savour the tiny streets winding along the romantic canals.

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