Often overlooked as a travel destination in favour of France, Spain and Germany it could be said that Belgium is the underrated gem of Europe. Home to a collection of impossibly picturesque suspended-in-time medieval towns and cites Belgium actually offers some of the most beautiful – and romantic – city breaks in Europe. That’s also not forgetting its cosmopolitan capital Brussels, the pockets of truly beautiful countryside and of course its world famous beer production. From a few of my very favourite towns in Europe (Ghent, Bruges and Dinant) and beyond, here is my choice for 10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Belgium…
This under-the-radar beautiful gem of a city sits on the banks of the river Meuse in Belgium’s Walloon region. The picturesque town is backed by a spectacular sheer cliff face and protected by the ancient fortified citadel and the city’s historical buildings are steeped in legend – as you meander through the narrow streets you can sense this is a place with many stories to tell. Perhaps the city’s most famous connection comes from it being the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the man who invented the Saxophone whose house you can now visit. Foodies don’t miss a chance to try the delicious Flamiche (a bit like a Tarte Flambe) or Couques de Dinant which are delicious brittle honey biscuits.
Eifel Nature Park
With its low hanging mist and miles of untamed rugged wilderness, this park has a mystical and almost other-worldly beauty. The beech forest covered conversation area lies mostly in Germany but also borders Belgium. It also happens to be home to some incredible wildlife – wild cats, wild boars, wildcats, black grouse, red deer, eagle owls all call this beautiful place home and since the new millennium, the lynx has again been sighted in this remote and highly protected area here for the first time in three centuries. Part of the park’s moors date back to the last Ice Age – definitely a must see place in Belgium!
I loved Ghent. While most head for Brussels or Bruges, the small but beautiful port city is arguably Europe’s best-kept secret. Ghent was, in fact, the most powerful in Europe but today it’s a very relaxed picturesque place with more than a whiff of a bohemian air. It’s also story-book pretty with a collection of canal-side medieval architecture, Michelin-starred restaurants, quirky boutique stores and a rich calendar of cultural events. To really get the feel of the place, skip the touristy canal boat trips and discover all the local hotspots instead.
Chateau de la hulpe
France isn’t the only country which boasts fairytale castles and one of Belgium’s finest is truly exquisite. Located in the municipality of La Hulpe in the Walloon Brabant and less than an hour away from Brussels, this beautiful chateau was modelled after the castles in the Loire Valley in France and served as Marquis Maximilien de Béthune’s home. The castle itself is not open to the public but you can visit the garden which is littered with sculptures and brimming with colourful flowers and also the surrounding park which is known for its rolling lawns, small ponds and fragrant rhododendrons where you can take a walk, take a picnic and or just kick back and relax.
One of the most famously beautiful places to visit in Belgium, Bruges – the perfectly preserved medieval city – is the place to head to for couples wanting to head out on a romantic European getaway. Thousands of visitors can’t be wrong and with a collection of attractive market squares, steep-gabled houses lining dreamy canals and winding cobbled streets all tied up in a compact, mostly traffic-free package makes Bruges, the suspended-in-time canal-side city is very romantic, it’s also undeniably photogenic. Make sure you include Burg square, the 14th-century Stadhuis (City Hall) which has an ornately carved ceiling, Market square which features a 13th-century belfry with panoramic views and of course one of the critically acclaimed restaurants (which there are many)!
With the accolade of the smallest town on earth and a population of just 500 Durbury – located just 2 hours from Brussels is living proof that the best things come in small packages. It’s also managed to maintain its charming medieval setting and today its pedestrian streets are flowered, narrow and cobbled, winding between the old bluestone homes and buildings, attracting curious visitors to its shops, fine restaurants and hotels. Shop for artisanal produce, gaze at half-timbered houses, visit the beautiful Topiary Park and stop off to quench your thirst at La Ferme du Chêne which brews beer using a 14th-century method. Sporty types can also kayak or raft the Ourthe River that passes through the city.
Spa is a beautiful and elegant place to visit in Belgium which yep you’ve guessed it, it’s famous for being an ‘original’ spa. Located in the Ardennes region of eastern Belgium it’s naturally blessed with an abundance of mineral-rich thermal waters tourists flock here to relax and enjoy the health and wellness benefits of the water and the hot springs. It’s also very easy on the eye with beautiful buildings, thermal baths, a historic casino, an array of luxury hotels and an endearing 19th century retro charm.
Forget the dull image that one of Europe’s premier cities seems to be saddled with, Brussels is fact a very beautiful and trip-worthy city. In the last few decades the city has become a thriving cosmopolitan metropolis. The historic architecture (including a perfectly-preserved late seventeenth-century centre) is truly superb and add in a fine collection of art galleries, museums, a famous foodie scene (consisting everything of chocolate and waffles to Michelin star adorned fine cuisine) and of course the delicious beer, then Brussels easily deserves a place on this list!
The Sonian Forest
Part of this exceptionally beautiful forest has just been awarded a UNESCO heritage status. Beginning in the Iron Age, the 4,000 hectares of woodlands used to be part of a long natural border of beeches and oaks stretching from Brabant all the way to the north of France. It’s a treasured, peaceful and unspoilt place in Belgium and a perfect naturally picturesque destination to spot roaming and wild boars, foxes, and roe deer.
With more than a whiff of Provence, this idyllic little village is often cited as on the most beautiful in Belgium. Lying on the southernmost tip of Belgium lies Torgny in the Gaume region in the province of Luxemburg, south of the Ardennes and surrounded by France on three sides. Consisting of ochre-coloured, hand-hewn stones and red curved tiles, the dwellings are reminiscent of the south of France. The village also enjoys a microclimate, so it is well suited for vineyards. It’s a quiet place so don’t expect too much going on but just kick, back relax and take in the rolling hills, the honey-coloured houses and the abundance of flowers, the local restaurants’ gastronomy and walks and bike rides in the countryside, as well as a visit to the Abbey of the Trappist Cistercian monks of Orval.
Where to stay
For a beautifully unique place to stay in Belgium, I stayed in Indrani Lodge which is located in the heart of the historic Brabant-Wallon village of Loupoigne, only a 45-minute drive from Brussels. Combing contemporary stylish luxury with historic elegance and a personalised service, the lodge is a meticulously renovated medieval farm set amidst rural farmland – so a place to get escape city hassles but still in an easy reach of the cultural attractions of one of Europe’s quirkier cities.