Atyp­i­cal An­twerp

From Old Masters to Miche­lin star-stan­dard chips, Adam Jones dis­cov­ers the de­lights and sur­prises of Bel­gium’s beau­ti­ful sec­ond city

Essex Life - - INSIDE -

In the Seven­ties, a favourite game was ‘Name Ten Fa­mous Bel­gians’. Af­ter Agatha Christie’s Her­cule Poirot, Ge­orges Remi (AKA Hergé, the cre­ator of Tintin), pop-punk Plas­tic Ber­trand and, of course, leg­endary cy­clist Eddy Mer­ckx, many strug­gled to com­plete the list. Now it’s easy to deepen your knowl­edge of beau­ti­ful Bel­gium thanks to the di­rect route be­tween Lon­don Southend Air­port and An­twerp. Barely an hour’s flight time away from Es­sex, this re­mark­ably re­laxed city is an eclec­tic mix of me­dieval, Re­nais­sance and baroque build­ings com­bined with bold, mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture.

The home of An­twerp’s most fa­mous son, the cel­e­brated 17th cen­tury painter Peter Paul Rubens, is a must-see. Rubens bought the prop­erty in 1610 and then re­mod­elled it. Some rooms have leather-lined walls – vastly ex­pen­sive in their day – and merely imag­in­ing what buy­ing a sim­i­lar-sized prop­erty in Es­sex to­day would cost, gives vis­i­tors a very good sense of just how suc­cess­ful Rubens was. The art is rather good too (www.ruben­shuis.be).

Art lovers will also be charmed by the Rock­ox­huis (www.sni­jder­srock­ox­huis.be), a de­light­ful mu­seum and trea­sure trove of Baroque art in­clud­ing a num­ber of paint­ings by Rubens, along with works by other Flem­ish masters. The build­ing it­self was the for­mer res­i­dence of the mayor of An­twerp at the time, Ni­co­laas Rockox, a friend and pa­tron of Rubens.

In Groen­plaats, a broad square in the old town dis­trict, you’ll find a num­ber of cafes, bars and restau­rants invit­ing you to sim­ply pull up a chair and kick back. In De Stoop has a great vibe, an in­cred­i­ble drinks menu and friendly staff on hand to keep you topped up. They don’t skimp on the wine mea­sures, so do what the lo­cals do and ask for some ‘lekkere kn­abbels’, or tasty nib­bles. These are sim­ply cubes of cheese, crisps and salami pieces, ideal for keep­ing you go­ing un­til din­ner.

The ap­pro­pri­ately named The Glo­ri­ous (the­glo­ri­ous.be) boasts a Miche­lin star with a small but ex­cit­ing menu of mod­ern French, Eu­ro­pean and Bel­gian dishes. Steve, the som­me­lier, is a mas­ter of the art of match­ing wine with your food choices. Re­lax, trust him and pre­pare to be wowed.

In con­trast to The Glo­ri­ous’ mod­ernism, Huis de Col­ve­nier (www.col­ve­nier.be) is proudly of the old school and charm­ingly ec­cen­tric. Com­plete with his trade­mark, stovepipe toque blanche, chef-pa­tron Pa­trick Van Herk cre­ates a warm, per­sonal wel­come by invit­ing guests into the restau­rant via his kitchen. From there, you de­scend a flight of steps into the most in­cred­i­ble wine cel­lar – the largest in the city – for a pre-din­ner aper­i­tif. There is a strong em­pha­sis on game on the a la carte menu while daily fresh pro­duce, such as foie gras, ex­clu­sive types of fish, wild and home­made desserts, are al­ways avail­able. This is a foodie’s par­adise.

Find out more

For de­tails, see the Visit Flan­ders (vis­it­flan­ders.com) and Visit An­twerp (vis­i­tantwer­pen.be) web­sites

ABOVE: Groen­plaats

LEFT:The gar­dens at Ruben­shuis

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