The Rough Guide to Belgium & Luxembourg

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Overview

INTRODUCTION
There isn't a country on earth quite like Belgium. It's one of the smallest nations in Europe, yet it has a federal system, three official languages, and is intensely regionalized, to the extent that northerners frequently demand secession from the south. And its cuisine, manifest most famously in its marvellous array of different beers and a sumptuous reputation as a producer of fine chocolate, is startlingly diverse. For a small ...
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The Rough Guide to Belgium & Luxembourg

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Overview

INTRODUCTION
There isn't a country on earth quite like Belgium. It's one of the smallest nations in Europe, yet it has a federal system, three official languages, and is intensely regionalized, to the extent that northerners frequently demand secession from the south. And its cuisine, manifest most famously in its marvellous array of different beers and a sumptuous reputation as a producer of fine chocolate, is startlingly diverse. For a small country with an identity problem, Belgium is anything but dull.
The country has its scenic highlights, too, most notably in the rolling hills of the Ardennes, which continue down into the connected but entirely independent Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Though known as a tiny refuge of bankers and diplomats, this too has surprises in store: its capital, Luxembourg City, is one of the most striking capitals in Europe, and the rest of the country - small though it is - is a beautifully green and hilly landscape of castles, steep wooded valleys and slate-roofed villages.
Both Belgium and Luxembourg are underrated as a destination for holidaymakers: for the British at least, they are viewed as a perfect weekend break or home of the EU but not much else. This is a pity, as this is historically one of the most complex and intriguing parts of Europe. Squeezed in between France, Germany and Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg occupy a spot that has often decided the European balance of power. It was here that the Holy Roman Empire shared an important border with the Germanic tribes to the north; here that the Spanish Habsburgs finally met their match against the Protestant rebels of the Netherlands; here that Napoleon was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo; and here, too, that the British and Belgians slugged it out with the Germans in World War I. Indeed so many powers have had an interest in this region over the years that it was only in 1830 that Belgium and Luxembourg became separate, independent states, free from all colonial rule.
It's perhaps partly because of this messy history that Belgium and Luxembourg have never become homogenous nation-states, like most of the rest of Europe. Belgium divides between the Dutch- or Flemish-speaking north of the country, and French-speaking Wallonia in the south. There's a small German-speaking community in the east, and in the centre lies Brussels, which is officially bilingual. The tenacity of regional (and linguistic) feeling is such that Belgium is a federal state, with much power devolved to the regions. In Luxembourg there has been a slightly different outcome. The people here are at ease with the linguistic ebb and flow of their European neighbours, switching comfortably between French, German and their own language, Letzeburgesch, a dialect of German - all without so much as an intercommunal ripple.
Where to go
There's more to the Flemish-Walloon divide than just language: the north and south of Belgium are visually very different places. The North, made up of the provinces of West and East Flanders, Antwerp, Limburg and the top half of Brabant, is mainly flat, with a landscape and architecture not unlike Holland. Antwerp is the largest city, a big, sprawling, bustling old port with doses of sleaze and high art in roughly equal measure. Further south, in the Flemish heartland of Flanders, are the great Belgian historic cities, Bruges and Ghent, tourist attractions in themselves, with a stunning concentration of Flemish art and architecture. Bruges especially is the country's biggest tourist pull, and although this inevitably means it gets very crowded, you shouldn't miss it on any account. Beyond lies the Belgian coast, which makes valiant attempts to compete with the seaside resorts of the rest of Europe but is ultimately let down by the crassness of its development and the coldness of the North Sea. There are a couple of appealing seaside spots, for example De Haan, and the beaches and duney interludes along the coast are delightful. But you might be better off spending time in some of the other inland Flanders towns, not least Ieper, formerly and better known as Ypres to the English-speaking world. Every year veterans and pilgrims come to visit the stark sights of the nearby World War I battlefields and the vast, sad acreages of cemeteries.
Marking the meeting of the Flemish and Walloon parts of Belgium, Brussels, the capital, is central enough to be pretty much unavoidable. It is more exciting and varied than its reputation as a bland Euro-capital would suggest and, because Belgium is not a large country, it is also useful as a base for day-trips. Bruges and Ghent are easily accessible from here, as is the old university city of Leuven to the east, or even the cathedral city of Mechelen, halfway to Antwerp.
Flemish Brabant encircles Brussels, but to the south of the capital it narrows into the slender corridor of Wallonian Brabant, which is distinguished by the splendid church at Nivelles and the elegaic abbey ruins at nearby Villers-la-Ville. West of here, the solely Walloon province of Hainaut is rich agricultural country, dotted with ancient cities like charming Tournai and industrial centres like Charleroi and the more appealing Mons. East of here lies Belgium's most scenically rewarding region, the Ardennes, spread across the three provinces of Namur, Lige and Luxembourg: an area of deep, wooded valleys, high elevations and heathy plateaux and caverns that, beyond the main tourist resorts, is very wild indeed. Use either Lige or Luxembourg as a jumping-off point, before heading into the heart of the region at St-Hubert, Han-sur-Lesse or La Roche-en-Ardenne.
The Ardennes reach across the Belgian border into the northern part of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, a green landscape of high hills topped with crumbling castles overlooking rushing rivers. Vianden and Echternach are perhaps the two best centres for touring the countryside - quiet, small towns with little life outside the tourist industry. However, the country's status as European nonentity is quite unjust; in fact it packs more scenic highlights into its tight borders than other more renowned holiday spots. And while its southern reaches are much more ordinary, Luxembourg City at least is worth a stop. Dramatically sited, it's about the closest the country gets to a proper urban environment, although its population of 75,000 people (around a fifth of the Grand Duchy's total) is still tiny by capital city standards.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781848367203
  • Publisher: Rough Guides, Limited
  • Publication date: 5/30/2011
  • Series: Rough Guide To... Series
  • Edition number: 5
  • Pages: 392
  • Sales rank: 389,811
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Climate and when to go
Belgium enjoys a fairly standard temperate climate, with warm, if mild, summers and cold winters. Generally speaking, temperatures rise the further south you go, with Wallonia a couple of degrees warmer than Flanders for most of the year, though in the east this is offset by the more severe climate of continental Europe, and emphasized by the increase in altitude of the Ardennes. Luxembourg, too, has more extreme temperatures and harsher winters, often accompanied by snow. In both countries rain is always a possibility, and you can expect a greater degree of precipitation in the Ardennes and upland regions than on the northern plains.
As regards clothing, you should take heavy coats and gloves in winter, and lighter clothes and warm sweaters for the evening in summer. Some sort of rainwear is advisable all year round.
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Table of Contents

Introduction
PART ONE BASICS
Getting there from Britain and Ireland
Getting there from the USA and Canada
Getting there from Australia and New Zealand
Visas and red tape
Health and insurance
Travellers with disabilities
Information and maps
Costs, money and banks
Getting around
Accommodation
Eating and drinking
Post and telephones
Media
Opening hours and public holidays
Festivals
Trouble, the police and sexual harassment
Gay and lesbian life
Women
Directory
PART TWO THE GUIDE
CHAPTER 1 BRUSSELS
Arrival
Information
City transport
Accommodation
The Lower Town
The Upper Town
Muses Royaux des Beaux Arts
EU Quarter
Le Cinquantenaire
Avenue Louise
Ixelles
Anderlecht and Koekleberg
Laeken and Heysel
Eating and drinking
Nightlife: music, clubs, film and theatre
Shopping
Listings
Waterloo
Travel details
CHAPTER 2 FLANDERS
Ostend
East of Ostend
West of Ostend
Veurne
Ieper (Ypres)
The Ypres Salient
Kortrijk
Oudenaarde
Ronse
Bruges
Damme
Ghent
Laarne
St Niklaas
Dendermonde
Aalst
Travel details
CHAPTER 3 ANTWEP AND THE NOTHEAST
Antwerp
The Kempen
Lier
Mechelen
Leuven
Diest
Hasselt
Tongeren
Sint Truiden
Zoutleeuw
Travel details
CHAPTER 4 HAINAUT AND WALLONIAN BRABANT
Tournai
Mons
Attre
Beloeil
Binche
Soignies
Nivelles
Villers-la-Ville
Charleroi
Walcourt
Couvin
Beaumont
Chimay
Travel details
CHAPTER 5 THE ARDENNES
Namur
Dinant
The Meuse Valley
The Lesse Valley
Rochefort
Han-sur-Lesse
St-Hubert
Bouillon
Florenville
Bastogne
La Roche-en-Ardenne
Huy
Lige
Eupen
Stavelot
Malmdy
Spa
Travel details
CHAPTER 6 LUXEMBOURG
Luxembourg City
The Luxembourg Moselle
Ettelbruck
Diekirch
Echternach
Vianden
Bourscheid
Esch-sur-Sre
Wiltz
Clervaux
Travel details
PART THREE CONTEXTS
The Historical Framework
An introduction to Belgian art
Belgium's Great Beers
Books
Language
Glossaries
Index
LIST OF MAPS
Belgium & Luxembourg
Trains
Chapter divisions
Brussels and Around
Brussels Mtro
Brussels
Central Brussels
Flanders
Ostend
Ieper
The Ypres Salient
Kortrijk
Bruges
Central Bruges
Ghent
Antwerp and the Northeast
Antwerp
Lier
Mechelen
Leuven
Tongeren
Hainaut & Wallonian Brabant
Tournai
Mons
Charleroi
The Ardennes
Namur
Central Lige
Luxembourg
Luxembourg City
Luxembourg City (The Old Town)
Belgium's Provincial & Linguistic Borders
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