Belgium is fractured along the age-old European great divide between the Germanic north and the Latin south. This division is expressed in the constant regional bickering between Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia that threatens to split the country entirely. Yet throughout the country, vibrant towns and cities are packed with Art Nouveau and medieval architecture, where gastronomy and high fashion are the order of the day. In the countryside, take your pick from dune-filled beaches and dense forests to pristine lakes and underground caves.
Marvel at Brussels' opulent 17th-century architecture and Art Nouveau masterpieces. In the north, admire the fusion of renaissance old town with avant-garde design in Antwerp. The relaxing waterways dissecting the medieval centers of Bruges and Ghent are worth exploring. Or travel south to the Ardennes to the striking citadel of Namur flung high above town on a rocky outcrop. Ancient caves drip with natural sculptures in the inspiring village of Hans-sur-Lesse.
Eating and Drinking
In Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia, try creamy Ardennes pâté and gooseberry tart, carbonnades à la flamande (beef braised in beer), and hearty andouillettes (sausages). Countrywide, moules et frites (mussels and French fries) and thick, hot waffles are ubiquitous and delicious. Don't forget: Belgium is a serious beer country, whose breweries produce around 450 varieties. So head to a cozy local pub to discover your favorite, such as cherry-flavored Kriek or smooth Trappist ales brewed by monks.
In Brussels, bag bric-a-brac at Place du Jeu du Balle flea market, or comb through antiques along Rue Haute, Rue Blase and Sablon Square. Pick up sweets and textiles from Liège's medieval-style La Batte market, or seek out Belgian designer labels such as Ann Demeulemeester and sparkling diamonds in Antwerp. The ideal gift, a box of artisanal pralines, is easy to find: there's always a local chocolate shop nearby.
Be at one with nature along the abundant footpaths, canal towpaths and former railway lines in the Ardennes -- they're ideal for walking or cycling. For an instant adrenaline rush, sail or windsurf off the windswept resort towns lining the Flemish coast. In De Panne, on the southwest coast, you can also try out sand-yachting on the beach.