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A Belgian Alternative?


Mechelen, Belgium by clayirving

Peter Moore urges you to look to Belgium this summer. Often forgotten, but always alluring.

Belgium is a pleasant, quiet place that deserves a little more of our attention. Old towns, a lively culture and a position at the heart of New Europe would be, you would have thought, enough to stir a little interest in the country. But no. It’s still considered a path of low ground squashed downwards by Holland and sandwiched between Germany and France: a place that it is better to drive through than to drive to. Perhaps the ultimate badge of our ignorance is that the pub quiz question, ‘Name five famous Belgians’ remains one of the most problematic. *

But there is much to advertise Belgium. Fine beer and chocolate would suffice for most people, but then there are the beautiful towns such as Ghent and Bruges, the comely Flemish architecture, the cycling culture and the warm, friendly people. I’ve always thought of it as a mystery as to why quite so many people take their holidays in the north of France and so few in Belgium.

For those looking for something different at the beginning of June, here is a list of attractions and events that will take place in Belgium over the coming months. Each of these events are easily accessible for any English tourists, and lie just a short car ride from one of the ports that are served by P&O Ferries at Rotterdam or Calais.

ANTWERP PRIDE (25 – 28 June)
Antwerp Pride is an annual event which dominates the city of Antwerp for a period of four days. It involves clubbing, street parades, galleries and exhibitions in the city’s museums. A number of the city’s main hostels are offering special discounts for visitors that include champagne brunches.

Highlight events include the Cafe de Love party and Crazy Hour. Visitors to the city can get around easily on the free Gay City Tour Bus.

Interesting fact: Belgium was the world’s second country to legally recognise same-sex marriages.

BEER PASSION ANTWERP (26 –28 June)

Belgium is well known for its wide variety of quality beers and this festival, also in Antwerp, celebrates the very best of Flemish malts, hops and barley. Beer Passion Antwerp is a three day festival that takes place in the heart of the old town amidst a variety of food stalls that sell everything from food to waffles.

In total there are more than 150 different beers to be sampled, including varieties from rural Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic. Around 3,000 visitors arrived for the event last year and consumed more than 10,000 barrels of beer. This year the organisers aim to better that. Additional entertainment will be provided by brass bands, and, all in all, Beer Passion Antwerp is set to be a perfect alternative to the oversubscribed Oktoberfest in Munich. All beers are €1.50, payable in the form of tokens.

OMMEGANG PAGEANT (30th June -2nd Juy)

Straddling the end of June and the beginning of July, the Ommegang Pageant will take place in the centre of Brussels. Ommegang means simply to ‘walk about’ and it is part of an entrenched local custom which stretches back to medieval Belgium and the reign of the Spanish King Charles V.

The procession that forms the heart of the Ommegang Pageant will only take place on two days, but it will be surrounded by a vast number of different mediaeval celebrations, from drinking to dancing and music. It is one of the country’s most colourful celebrations and vivid experience for any passing tourist.

* Five famous Belgians

Clijsters, Kim, world-class tennis player
Hepburn, Audrey, actor and special ambassador to UNICEF
Merckx, Eddy, cyclist
Remi, Georges, better known as Hergé, the creator of “Tin Tin” (Kuifje)
Van Damme, Jean-Claude, action-film hero

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Image credit: clayirving

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