Belgium is a rather underrated destination. When you hear Belgium you may think of the headquarters of the EU and Nato. But did you know it is the birthplace of the fries? Read on to learn some fun facts about this small country in Western Europe.
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Facts about Belgium
The Kingdom of Belgium is a smaller country in Western Europe. How small you wonder? Well, you could fit it into the United States 322 times. Belgium is divided into three regions, and each of them is highly autonomous.
The Flemish Region
There is the Flemish Region in the North. It makes up more than 40% of the country and is one of the most densely populated regions in Europe. The official language here is Dutch, though the local dialect is sometimes referred to as Flemish.
3 languages, 3 regions.
The Walloon Region
In the South you will find the Waloon Region, also referred to as Wallonia. The primary language spoken here is French, though there is a small, German-speaking minority in Eastern Wallonia. Wallonia makes up about 55% of Belgium, but only one third of the country’s population live here.
The Brussels Capital Region
This region is located in central Belgium. It is both part of the Flemish and the French community, but not part of either of those regions. As the name tells you it is home to Brussels, the capital of Belgium.
It’s the Birthplace of the Fries
I know this is a topic that we can argue about endlessly. But Belgian fries are the best! Belgian mayo, in my humble opinion, is also a must-try when you come here for a visit. Rumor has it that the fry was born in Namur, which is in the French speaking part of Belgium. There the locals were particularly fond of fried fish. But one winter in 1680 it was so cold that the Meuse, the local river, froze over. Since fishing wasn’t possible people started frying potatoes and thus the fry was born. Fun fact: Flanders. the Dutch-speaking Northern region, included fries in its list of intangible and cultural UNESCO heritage in 2014.
So what is the secret that makes Belgian fries so good? They are thick cut and fried twice. The first round of frying makes them tender, while the second round makes them nice and crispy.
No matter where you live in the world, you may have heard of Stella Artois. But that’s not the only fab beer coming out of Belgium. There is a wide range of flavors, brewing methods and ingredients. Try a pale lager, amber ales, lambic beers, Flemish red ales, sour brown ales, as well as strong ales and stouts. Beer brewing in this country dates back to the 12th century, when abbeys got permission to brew and distribute it as a fundraising method. Try one of the many choices at dinner at the birthplace of the fries!
Who doesn’t Love Chocolate?
Chocolate production has been a major industry in Belgium since the 19th century. While the cocoa is not grown in the country, chocolate production started in the 17th century with the help of imports from Africa, Central and South America. While there are many different brands, Cote D’Or and Leonidas are probably the most famous ones. You can find Cote D’Or in most any store, and Leonidas has smaller (or sometimes bigger) stores in most bigger towns. Don’t miss any of these when you visit Belgium!
If you plan to visit Brussels, there’s even a chocolate museum where you can learn all about this delicious national treat.
Bruges – The Venice of the North
Enough with the culinary experiences now. Let’s move on to places you must visit. The entire city of Bruges is a Unesco World Heritage site! Founded by the Vikings in the 9th century, the name originates from the Scandinavian word ‘Brygga’, which means harbor, or mooring place. Back then Bruges was linked to the North Sea by the river Zwin, and therefore quickly became an important trading port. In the 12th century the Zwin started to silt up, and land transport became much more prevalent. When the nearby city of Antwerp started to become more important in the 15th century Bruges lost a lot of its status and power. In the 1800s it was one of the poorest cities in Belgium.
It gained new status in the 20th century, when its medieval heritage it started to draw more and more international tourists.
This is a place I enjoyed tremendously as a child. Being in three countries at the same time seemed like the coolest thing in the world. Here, on the highest mountain (or should we call it a hill?) of the Netherlands three countries meet. Climb onto the tower and have a fantastic view of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Besides the tower there is a labyrinth that’s loads of fun. After your enjoy the activities, have lunch at the restaurant De Bokkerijder, or venture out to places nearby in the Netherlands or Germany for a different culinary experience.
Hohes Venn (High Fens)
The Hohes Venn is one of the last raised bogs in Europe. It is located between Malmedy, Eupen, Spa and the German city of Monschau. It was declared a nature reserve in 1957. The Signal the Botrange, standing at 694 meters (2277 feet) above sea level is not just the highest point in Belgium, but also the highest one in the Benelux countries. Those include Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
There are plenty activities available for outdoor lovers. You can go trekking or biking, or go for a nice stroll. During winter skiing is allowed, and even cross-country skiing is permitted on certain specified forest tracks.
Les Aventures de Tintin & More
Belgian comics have a long history. They are not only a distinct subgroup in the history of comics, but it is one of the few arts in which Belgium has made lasting international impact. The Adventures of Tintin by famous Belgian cartoonist Hergé is probably the most well-known example. In 2011 it was even made into a movie that hit theaters around the world.
If you visit Brussels, do not miss the Comic Arts Museum, where you can learn all about these famous Belgian artists.
And while we are on topic, Brussels is one big outdoor museum! Artwork covers not just the walls of buildings, but also lamp posts, benches, shop fronts and much more. Some is commissioned, and some was done spontaneously. But all together they create the feeling of a city transformed into a gallery.
It’s impossible to get bored in Brussels. You already learned about the chocolate museum, as well as comic arts museum. But, and I kid you not, there are over 150 museums and sites to visit in Brussels!