Camping in Belgium
88 in Belgium
Belgium offers some of Europe’s most picturesque scenery: ancient towns, unspoilt countryside, forested hills. And, yes, there is plenty of beer, waffles and chocolate, which in Belgium all count as ‘cultural interest’. Not to mention its comic book heritage (think Tintin but also a whole lot more, on an industrial scale).
Belgium is a great base from which to explore the medieval towns, the charming byways and the big-name historical sites like Waterloo and the monuments of World War One.
Above all it’s a place to linger and get to know. All too often tourists pass through, hurrying on their way north to the Netherlands and beyond, or south into France. Belgium deserves more attention than that and those who do linger and explore will be rewarded with superb landscapes and uncrowded hot spots.
It’s a small country divided into three regions: Flanders in the north, Wallonia in the south and Brussels the capital.
Dutch-speaking Flanders is largely flat like the neighbouring Netherlands and is studded by three of Belgium’s most famous cities.
Antwerp is home to the dramatic Renaissance Town Hall, the stunning 16th century Grote Markt (Market Square) and the huge port. It is also the world’s epicentre of diamond trading and cutting.
Bruges with its network of canals and especially its famous 83m Belfort Tower, dating from 1240, is another historic Belgian jewel. The magnificent market square and cloth hall (Lakenhalle) are must-see places. Quite simply, Bruges is Europe’s best preserved medieval city, a labyrinth of cobbled streets linking wide open squares and crisscrossed by a network of willow-lined canals.
Aside from the museums and galleries, there are the obvious delights of the famous Bruges chocolate shops. In times past Ghent was the 4th largest city in Europe. Plenty of historic buildings remain including the 12th century Castle of the Counts, complete with crenellated towers, moat and a dungeon. Among its remarkably well preserved medieval architectural gems are St Bravo’s cathedral, with origins dating back to 942 and artwork by van Eyck and Rubens.
The safe, sandy beaches on the west coast run for forty miles. The cosmopolitan resort of Ostend with its yacht basin and harbour offers year-round attractions including a carnival weekend and a Christmas market, as well as myriad seafood restaurants.
French-speaking Wallonia is the picturesque southern region that incorporates rustic villages nestled in the undulating verdant countryside.
Popular with nature lovers and walkers who enjoy exploring the many castles and forts, the Belgian Ardennes are a major attraction for walkers and outdoors enthusiasts. Here the landscape is interlaced with rivers for kayaking, underground caves for exploring and handy slopes for occasional skiing in the whitest of winters.
Durbuy is one of the most beautiful villages in the Ardennes – it’s like stepping back in time as you stroll the 14th-century streets around the castle, pausing to admire the tiny brewery and Europe’s largest topiary garden.
Wallonia’s wild and wooded Ardennes region stretches down into Luxembourg and is a lovely quiet corner with a sprinkling of country towns. One of the most appealing of these is Chimay, which has a ruined medieval castle and nature reserve nearby. Medieval Tournai and Mons, with its magnificent central square and a fascinating medieval quarter, are historical gems worthy of a visit.
The dramatic fortress town of Namur is the region’s capital, at the head of the rivers Meuse and Sambre.
Both a capital city and a region, Brussels is at the very heart of Europe and is a must-see destination for its heady mix of shops, bars, nightlife, exhibitions and festivals – it’s a multi-cultural and multi-lingual city that is a focal point of art, fashion, culture and, yes, politics.
There’s a host of world-class sites. The Grande Place is sometimes referred to as the most beautiful square in the world – its Gothic town hall is stunning. The Royal Palace is bigger than Buckingham Palace. The Law Courts – inspired by the temples of ancient Egypt. The European Parliament is huge and reeks of a big budget ‘grand projet’ - the scene of so much European legislation.
Waterloo - Just 18km south of Brussels, Waterloo was the scene of Napoleon’s defeat by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussians on 18 June 1815. There are plenty of museums but little of tangible evidence remains. The 40m high Lion’s Mound was created shortly after the battle as a memorial.
Ypres - This was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting during the Great War 1914-1918. The city was virtually destroyed with 300,000 Allied soldiers killed preventing the Germans reaching the strategically important port of Calais. The Cloth Hall was rebuilt and today houses the In Flanders Fields Museum.
One essential while camping in Belgium is a cold Belgian beer. Whether you sample this delight over lunch or after a long day exploring, whether you choose a blonde ale or a Flemish red, it’s one of the simple pleasures you mustn’t miss. There are at least 1,100 so stop in a local café to taste a beer or two and watch the world go by.
Belgian gastronomy has a variety of influences from neighbouring Germany, France and the Netherlands. Some say it’s French in style but Germanic in quantity. Carbonade flamande is similar to Boeuf bourguignon but made with beer rather than wine, while waterzooi is a rich vegetable stew with fish or chicken, cream and eggs.
Belgium is famous for its baked goods. Cramique bread cooked with egg yolk and raisins, cougnou from Wallonia and gozettes (similar to an apple turnover).
Other food items are iconic and forever associated with Belgium: waffles of course, for breakfast or as a snack. Chips or French fries which the Belgians claim to have invented and then cleverly served with mussels as moules frites ever since. And chocolate – with 220,000 tonnes produced annually, Belgians have a sweet tooth.