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Ten reasons why Britain’s near-neighbour is a great place for a holiday

belgium

DinantALAMY

One of Europe’s smallest countries, Belgium will nonetheless be in the spotlight this year as the centenary of the First World War pulls into view. But for Richard Browning, a fan of all things Belgium, there is far more to Britain’s near-neighbour than the dark history of 1914-1918. From sand dunes to skiing, he reveals the ten Belgian things that make him smile…

 

1. Surrealism

The Flemish people, who speak Dutch and live in Flanders – the north of Belgium – believe that they are more Belgian than the even-more-Belgian-sounding Walloons – who speak French and live in Wallonia, the south. They don’t get on. In 2010 they agreed on so little that they had no government for nearly two years. That’s a modern world record. But they make the best of it. I like that. I love Belgian people.

2. Amazing beaches

There are miles of perfect sandy beaches with enough space to accommodate the year-round visitors (only 10 per cent of whom come from outside Belgium) – from sun-seeking families, nature lovers and naturists to off-season kite surfers and sand sailors.

3. The coastline

The Belgian coast is only 50 miles long. You can cycle the entire thing in one day. Hire companies will deliver bikes to your accommodation, and there are so many of these cycling outlets that you are never far from somewhere to get a puncture fixed or a saddle adjusted.

4. The tram

The longest tramway in the world runs the length of the Belgian coast, between the French and Dutch borders. You can take bikes on it. If you cycle the entire length of the country in a day, you don’t even have to cycle back. Just buy a one-way ticket back on the tram for a few euros.

5. It’s largely flat…

Belgium has hundreds of miles of off-road cycle tracks. There is something very liberating being able to explore a country at your own pace on just a normal bike. Much of the country is flat.

6. …but not completely flat

Over by its German and Luxembourg borders, you can go mountaineering, and cross-country and Alpine skiing. This is not possible at the coast, where the highest point is a sand dune about 100 feet above sea level. It takes approximately one and a half minutes by bike to reach the summit, and you don’t have to change gear.

7. Chips

Belgians are on record as being the first people to slice a potato into long, thin rectangles and then cook them in hot oil. The country pays homage to this invention with a chip shop on seemingly every street corner. You can also get strangely shaped meat products fried with your chips, and then put mayonnaise on top.

8. C&A

They still have C&A in Belgium. For young people, this is a Dutch clothes shop chain that used to be very popular on Britain’s high streets until supermarkets started selling clothes. In Belgium, you don’t have to go to the supermarket to find reasonably fashionable clothes for people of a certain width. You can go to C&A, like I do.

9. Beer. And chocolate

Turns out this has been written about before.

10. Audrey Hepburn

She was Belgian. She was born in Brussels in 1929. She is a brilliant excuse for a glamourous photo (that’s her, there, on the right). She was a Walloon who sped to fame on a Vespa in Roman Holiday. Other famous Belgians include Hergé, who created Tintin, half the English Premiership (especially Everton and Spurs), over-shaped actor Jean-Claude Van Damme and artists such as Rene Magritte.

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