Home to the longest circuit on the Formula One calendar – Spa-Francorchamps – Belgium has something for everyone: fascinating history, haute cuisine and a surprising link to Motown. The latest travel guide from our Global Luxury Luggage Partner Globe-Trotter reveals how you can make the most of a trip to Belgium, taking in its vibrant culture and beautiful scenery.
How can you get a history fix?
With its spooky gothic churches and picturesque canals, it's no wonder that Bruges is so popular. So many historic towns have been modernised, but Bruges looks just how it would have done hundreds of years ago when the Flanders towns were rich world leaders.
If the crowds get too much remember there are other options too, like Ghent or Leuven. Film fans will love to visit the parts of Bruges made famous in the 2008 Martin McDonagh film In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell, and set in the historic heart of the town.
Where can fans of travel and engineering visit?
Chances are that if you're a regular traveller and fan of Formula One you'll also have more than a passing interest in the engineering of trains and railways. Although Train World in Brussels sounds like a potentially unlikely stop-off, bear with us because this is actually one of the best museums of its kind in the world.
Slickly-realised displays that are bang up to date tell the story of the glamorous golden age of steam and the more modern attempts at building high-speed trains not just around Belgium, but across Europe. Regular displays of vintage trains bring the scene to life, and the design elements: luggage, posters, furnishings, menus, logos and station architecture are the icing on the cake.
Where is the most glamorous place to hang out in Brussels?
The prestigious new Le Louise Hotel opened in 2022 in the upmarket Le Louise district of Brussels. This is where you'll see diplomats, business leaders, visiting cultural icons and canny locals mixing over cocktails in the Maison Louise Bar or dining on a quirky menu in the restaurant – with dishes like lamb confit with hummus and za'atar and a kitsch dessert titled "Comme un Snickers" – inspired by the chocolate bar. Lavish bedrooms are designed with a nod to the art-nouveau age that is noticeable in much of Brussels' architecture. Plenty of bars and boutiques are within walking distance.
Which is the most beautiful bit of Belgium?
The French-speaking southern portion of Belgium, Wallonia, is the most beautiful part of this country. It's where the Spa-Francorchamps circuit is located. And it's where you can find the forests and hills that seem so different to the Flemish flatlands in the north. The beautiful fortified town of Namur is a perfect stopping-off point.
The Semois Valley National Park straddles the Semois River offering fishing, boating and excellent hiking opportunities. The old industrial city of Liege has dramatic topography and fascinating architecture. If you're fascinated by the history of World War II, look no further than the Bastogne War Museum and Battle of the Bulge Memorial at Bastogne.
Fancy a trip to the seaside – and a secret soul music pilgrimage?
The unlikely story of a Motown superstar holed up in a Flemish seaside resort seems like one of the greatest musical myths, but it’s completely true. Marvin Gaye came to Ostend in 1981 and ended up staying for more than a year as he fought depression and addiction. He wrote his biggest hit Sexual Healing while he was living in Ostend and the town has never forgotten its moment in the spotlight. It's fun to imagine Gaye walking the streets and relaxing on the beach just like tourists do today. He found solace in the fresh air, fresh seafood, faded glamour and sea views – and you can too.
Want to know what the future was supposed to look like?
Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer biopic has re-ignited interest in the atomic age, and there is no more beautiful symbol of the potency and destructive power of the atom than the Atomium. There's simply nothing quite like this structure anywhere in the world. The nine huge spheres are connected by corridors with escalators whisking visitors up into the metallic machine. It was designed by Andre Polak and Andre Waterkeyn for the 1958 Brussels Expo and is one of the few remaining sights of what was considered by many to be the apotheosis of optimistic post-war architecture. Exhibitions about history, science and Belgian life fill the galleries, with a cafe at the top.
Where can you mix ancient with modern?
Antwerp is Belgium's most fun city – young, hip and full of fashion designers and artists. Its history as a gem trading capital and a world-class port has given it a richness and a cosmopolitan air that defy Belgium's sometimes stuffy national brand.
Explore the city and its architecture, like the Zaha Hadid-designed Port House and the dockside MAS Museum. And when you need to turn in, choose Sapphire House. Exquisite interiors blend with the 16th Century history of this handsome building. Intriguingly it comes with a plant-based restaurant helmed by 2 Michelin Starred-chef Bart De Pooter that vegans will adore.
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