There’s an undeniable fondness South Africans have for Belgium. What’s not to love? It’s the home of Tintin, the birthplace of French fries, and it’s famous for its ability to cut diamonds, including those from our soil. Now that they’re flying to our shores (more on that later), what else will Saffers enjoy about a visit to Belgium? Let us dive right in.
It’s in the heart of Europe
While there’s much to see and do in Belgium, it’s also bookmarked by France and the Netherlands, making it an ideal place to kick off a European experience. You could easily take a loop tour of Belgium, the Netherlands and northern France with Paris and surroundings in 10 days without feeling rushed.
Here’s how close Brussels actually is to its European cousins. A high-speed train will take you from Brussels to Paris in a record-breaking 1 hour and 22 minutes, and a bus ride in just over three hours. Amsterdam is even closer. The distance between Brussels and Amsterdam is 210 km. Europe, here we come!
Getting to Belgium from South Africa just got easier and more affordable too. “We’re excited to offer South Africans a convenient, affordable and quality air service, with our new direct flights from South Africa to Brussels twice a week, bringing them to the heart of Europe. From here, they can explore the continent or simply enjoy everything our country has to offer,” says Niky Terzakis, CEO of Air Belgium.
You can understand the “taal”
Although English is not the primary language of Belgium, a large part of the population speaks it fluently. This means South African travellers can get by with English when travelling through Belgium. Flemish, a Belgian dialect, and Afrikaans are often referred to as “Dutch cousins” and share many similarities.
For Saffers greeting others and getting around are a bit easier thanks to this. For example, “links” and “rechts” are left and right, and when you ask “Waar is…” or “Kan je me helpen?” the locals know exactly what you mean. How “mooi” is that?
Belgians take Christmas seriously
For South Africans, experiencing Christmas in chilly climes is a novelty. In Brussels, Christmas is celebrated like nowhere else in the world. The city hosts an annual Christmas market and festival called Winter Wonders and it’s a must-see for anyone who wants to experience a traditional European Christmas.
Picture this. The Grand Place is transformed into a magical wonderland with a spectacular light show that runs every hour and every 30 minutes on weekends. The music accompanying the light show is enchanting. It creates an unforgettable atmosphere while you admire the giant Christmas tree and the nativity scene set up in the middle of the square.
With over 200 wooden huts selling gifts and treasures from the region, the market offers a special glimpse into a Belgian Christmas – with all its traditions. Besides shopping, you can also go ice skating … a real fairy tale, right?
More than just beer and chocolates… Belgian cuisine is exceptional
No matter where your travels take you in Belgium, there’s always good beer and chocolates to be had. There are over 200 breweries in this small country and approximately 2000 chocolate shops, many of which are centuries old. The country’s unique and delicious beers, brewed with yeast-infused spices and flavours of clove, pepper and banana, are world-renowned for their uniqueness and variety and inspire many contemporary craft brews, including those made in South Africa.
But the country has so much more to offer than just beers, ‘frites’ and chocolate. In fact, the small country is a food lover’s delight that offers rustic, authentic and healthy dishes. There is a vast choice of regional specialties that have earned their place at the world’s gastronomy table. In the agricultural and forest-rich Ardennes one will find a lot of meat and game while the coast of course is all about fresh fish and seafood. Spoilt for choice? Be sure to try the Carbonnade Flamande (beef stew cooked in beer), Vol-au-Vent (puff pastry batter filled with chicken) or Waterzooi (fish stew). Did you know that Belgium even has its own version of our boerewors?
Beach or Forest? You can enjoy the great outdoors …
It may not be your typical beach holiday, but for true R&R the Belgian coast can’t be beaten. De Panne, on Belgium’s north coast near the French border, is one of the most beautiful places in Belgium to get close to nature. With its wide-open spaces, ancient sand dunes and grasslands, it is perfect for a family break.
For the most breath-taking forests and picturesque villages, the Ardennes is the place to be. Springtime in the Ardennes is the season for walking, cycling, fishing, canoeing and kayaking. Horse riding, climbing and mountain biking are other examples of popular sports in the Ardennes. In Winter, this region transforms into a true winter wonderland.
All-in-all Belgium punches above its weight as a small, hearty and welcoming European country.