Belgium


Belgium is a small place, hardly larger than Wales or New Hampshire and the four cities are all in the north of the country. Choose your city: Brussels, Bruges, Ghent or Antwerp? All share historical interest, art galleries, good hotels and restaurants and enjoyable shopping. But each is different. Brussels: vibrant capital. Bruges: medieval wonder. Ghent: venerable university.

Language & Weather – The people of Bruges, Ghent and Brussels they speak French or Dutch. Generally English is fairly widely understood. There is a third official Belgian language, German, spoken in the eastern cantons. Belgian weather is typical for northern Europe: a mix of sunshine and rain, distributed across the four season. Average seasonal temperatures range from 1C (34F) in winter to 19C (66F) in summer.

Hotels Belgium

Cheap Hotels in Belgium

Accommodation – The official star system for rating hotels is based more on facilities than n things that really make a difference, such as decor, tranquility and quality of service. Two star hotels may actually be more rewarding and agreeable.There is a great deal of information about hotels, facilities and prices on bookinghotelin.com Most hotels have their own websites, with links for enquirers and bookings. Many hotels offer weekend rates which are far cheaper that the standard ,,rack rate”. In Brussels, the cheap rate may also cover every day in July and August, and through much of December to mid January. Many hotels also offer special rates if you stay several nights. Hotels prices reflect the predicted ebb and flow of business and holiday trade. Summer is busy in Bruges, but less so in Brussels, Antwerp or the university city of Ghent. For small hotels that are very comfortable and full of character, Bruges is way ahead of the other cities. In Antwerp and Ghent, such hotels are scarce, exceptions include the Flandria and Matelote. The hotel industry  in Belgium is run with professionalism  at all levels. In the business sector, pricing is highly competitive, the more you pay, the more you get – in terms of the facilities, at least. Check whether breakfast is included in the price  quoted – it can cost EUR15 a head or more if you pay separately. A hotel breakfast usually consists of a buffet, with cereals, croissants, cold meats and cheese, fruit, yogurts and jams, juices, and sometimes bacon and eggs. Bed & Breakfast – Private citizens in the cities are, in increasing numbers, opening their homes for bed and breakfast accommodation. Some of these  are delightful historic houses, right in the center. They are good value for money, around EUR  55 – EUR 95 for a double room, per night and the best tend to be booked up months in advance. A cheap option, at under EUR 20 per family per night, is to stay at one of Belgium’s efficiently run camping and caravaning sites. Needless to say, they are not near the city centers.

Cheap eats in Brussels – Map

Eating & Drinking Tips – French was traditionally the language of menus, especially in the smarter restaurants. Today, in the Flemish cities, Dutch may lead, followed by English, perhaps with no French at all. But it is  rare to find a restaurant with no one to explain the dishes in exquisite detail – in whatever language suits you best. The Belgians love eating out, and they want good food at good prices. If a restaurant is not up to scratch, they simply don’t go there. If their favorite restaurant goes through a bad patch, they desert it. So choose the restaurants that are full of locals. Good restaurants are busy every day of the week. If you set your heart on going to a particular one, be sure to make a booking – easy enough to do over the telephone. If you change your mind, be sure to cancel the reservation. Special two or three course menus offered at a fixed price, which often change on a daily basis, can be extremely good value. It’s not simply a question of price; the chefs may have found ingredients at the market that took their fancy, and will be concentrating extra creative talents on them. Belgium is essentially a carnivorous and fish-loving nation, but most restaurants provide vegetarian options. There are also some dedicated vegetarian restaurants in all the cities, where chefs apply characteristic Belgian flare to their dishes. Tourist offices have listings. Belgian like their beef fairly rare. If you ask for a medium rare steak, it is likely to be more rare than medium. The beef’s quality usually justifies light cooking, but if you want your meat well done, insist on it, and ignore raised eyebrows. Lamb is also served rare, if you don’t like it that way, ask for it to be well done when you order. Value-added tax at 21 % and a service charged of 16% can add a lot to a  restaurant bill, but both are usually included in the prices quoted in the menu. If you are not sure, don’t be afraid to ask. If service is not included, you can add 10 %; if it is, you can add a small cash tip,but this is optional. Eating out is often a family event in Belgium, lunch can last half the afternoon. Children get used to this from an early age and may develop surprisingly sophisticated tastes. As a result, children are almost always welcomed in restaurants, and restaurants will go out of their way to satisfy their eating and drinking preferences. Children are also allowed into most cafes and bars.

Belgian beers

Belgian Beers

Belgian Beers are, on average, some have stronger than their equivalents in Britain and the USA, and range from about 5% to 12% alcohol by volume. Since beers are served in fairly small quantities, the effect can be deceptive until you stand up. It may need a bit of practice to get the measure of this. Trappist Beer – In the past, some of Belgium’s finest beers were made by the Trappist, a silent order of Cisterican monks. Now it’s produced commercially by five breweries with close ties to the monasteries (Chimay, Westmalle, Orval, Rochefort and Westvleteren). yeast is added at bottling to induce a second fermentation, so pour off carefully in one go to avoid disturbing the sediment. Abbey Beer – Other abbeys also produced beer, but unlike the Trappist monasteries, many have licensed them to commercial breweries. Leffe, for example, is now closely connected with InBev. That said, many of the abbey beers are excellent. In addition, there are good ,, abbey-style” beers, such as Ename, Floreffe and St. Feuillien.  Witbier – Most beer is made from barley, but it can also be made from wheat to produce a distinctive ,,white beer” to which flavourings such as coriander and orange peel may be added. The result is a light, sparkling and refreshing beer, often served cloudy with sediment. Lambic beer – In the valley of the Senne, the river that flows through Brussels, there is a natural airborne yeast called Brettanomyces. For centuries, brewers have simply left their warm wheat beer wort uncovered during the winter months, and allowed air to deliver the yeast into it. The fermenting beer is then left to mature in wooden casks for a year or more. This creates a very distinctive beer, called lambic – the quintessential beer of Brussels.

Discount Hotel Reservations

Gueuze beer – Lambic of various ages can be blended, and then fermented a second time in the bottle. This produces a beer called Gueuze, fizzy like champagne and matured a further year or two to accentuate the winey qualities of the original product. Kriek Beer – Lambic can be flavoured with cherries, added during fermentation to create a highly distinctive drink called kriek, with raspberries to make framboise or with candy sugar to make faro. Of the three, newcomers may find faro the easiest to begin with. Strong ales – Some breweries pride themselves on the sheer power of their product. Duvel is a famous example. Several lay claim to being the strongest beer in Belgium, at 12%, Bush Beer is up there, and to be treated with respect. Christmas Beers – Many of the breweries produce Christmas ales for the festive season. These may just be prettily labeled versions of their usual brew, but may also be enriched ales of high strength.

Shopping Tips

Tax Refunds – Visitors from outside the EU can reclaim most sales tax on purchases above a minimum value of $175 from any one shop. Look for shops with the Tax free Shopping sign. With sales tax at 21 %, this means a large saving on items of high value. You must obtain a ,,Tax free shopping cheque” from the shop, and you can claim your refund at the Tax – free offices at Zavantem Airport. Custom Allowances – Residences of the EU face few limits on taking goods out of Belgium, but some restrictions apply to meat products, plants and of course weapons and narcotics. Alcohol and tobacco must be for personal use only. Fashion -The city centers are packed with all sorts of clothes shops. Many items are imported but the prices may still seem good value. Belgium is also famous for its home-grown designers. Antwerp is the fashion design center and has a throng of shops that reflect this but the clothes of the top designers can be found in outlets elsewhere. There are several respected Belgian labels (such as Olivier Strelli and Rue Blanche), with shops in most cities.

Suggested reading:

Brussels

Antwerp

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Things to buy in Belgium

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