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16

VELOCITY

VOYAGE

Antwerp:

A jewel in Belgium’s crown

I

f you asked a Belgian to sum up Antwerp, he’d tell

you about its majestic cathedral, its Old Masters,

the bustling port and the diamond trade. While

pouring out a couple of “bollekes”. No, not a dirty

joke, rather the name of the city’s most famous beer,

or bolleke de Koninck, to give it its full name, after the

equally-famous brewery that makes it.

Belgium’s second city and Europe’s second-biggest

port in this Dutch-speaking part of northern Belgium,

known as Flanders, has been one of Europe’s most

economically powerful since the 14th century. In the

17th, painters like Peter Paul Rubens put the city firmly

on the cultural map. Despite suffering under Nazi

occupation and being badly bombed during the Second

World War, Antwerp (Antwerpen in Dutch, Anvers in

French) has continued to flourish.

Today, its history is as important as ever and people

continue to flock here to visit the diamond district,

the countless museums and to stock up on Belgian

chocolate. But now, it’s much more than its past.

Antwerp has become the country’s capital of cool, a

major draw for art dealers and fashion moguls. You’ll

find world-class restaurants in its medieval alleyways,

design-led hotels and cutting-edge galleries tucked away

behind centuries-old buildings.

For all its hipness, however, Antwerp remains

refreshingly laid-back. Whether dressed in Prada or

dungarees, more or less everyone cycles, and its cafe-

filled, cobbled streets have an easygoing ambience.

And, if you’re looking, you’re sure to find a friendly

local more than willing to share a beer with you.

Saturday day

Central Antwerp is compact enough to explore on foot,

so put on your walking shoes and head off to Rubens

House

( www.rubenshuis.be )

on Wapper street. The

beautiful house and gardens, now a museum, showcase

works by Belgium’s most famous painter, Peter Paul

Rubens, as well as those of some of his well-known

proteges such as Anthony van Dyck.

Just around the corner, in the Paleis Op de Meir,

an 18th-century rococo palace that once belonged

to Napoleon Bonaparte, order a cappuccino at Café

Impérial

( www.cafe-imperial.be )

, an elegant Belgian

coffee house with high ceilings, chandeliers and an

impeccably-dressed clientele. Afterwards, be sure to pop

into The Chocolate Line,

( www.thechocolateline.be )

on

the ground floor, where you can buy exquisite hand-

made creations by chocolatier Dominique Persoone,

famed for inventing the ‘chocolate shooter’ (a chocolate

sniffing device) for a Rolling Stones party. Walking

westwards towards the Scheldt river, you’ll come to

Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady, a soaring Gothic

structure 123 metres tall and a World Heritage Site.

Wanderlust

Antwerp is a city of contradictions, where quaint squares and cobbled

lanes hide cutting-edge design, avant-garde fashion and a diamond

industry worth billions. We spent a weekend discovering its secrets

Words: Tina Walsh Images: VISITFLANDERS