Who put the “Be” in Benelux? Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg each donated a syllable to name their extremely pretty and historically electric region, originally formed as an economic alliance. Despite similarities in culture, language, and lifestyle across borders, each of these countries has a distinctive character and so many compelling reasons to visit them.
Amsterdam, the Dutch capital, ringed with canals, shares with Bruges (Belgium) the title “Venice of the North”. It all has the atmosphere of another age: Flemish architecture, belfries, old churches and cathedrals, and beguinages. The cultural influence in Amsterdam is unique: Rembrandt and for a short period Van Gogh lived here. Walking in Amsterdam will be a journey into Holland’s Golden Age: its houses, churches, and palaces along the banks of the canals make this destination unforgettable.
In the southwest of Holland, Zeeland is an island province of flooded land and dikes. It represents one of the greatest defeats of nature by man: to reclaim land from the sea. The dam on the River Scheldt is one of the most remarkable aspects of this feat. The Delta Works, a system of hydraulic engineering works protects the country against storm surges and improves the water balance. In Holland, the daily struggle against the tides has given rise to a network of windmills, from Kinderdijk to Elshout. Dozens of windmills, the oldest of which were constructed at the beginning of the 18th century, use the force of the wind to drain the water from the land seized from the sea. This prodigious network today is listed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
The North Sea coast is wild, windy, and wonderful for long walks and bracing sea air. Journey along the seaboard Explore the coast in Belgium by bicycle or by tram, rolling through seaside towns and along empty dunes. The Wadden Sea islands in Holland are a magnificently preserved natural area. “Real pearls of peace and nature” are how the Dutch describe them.
Love this culture
Benelux cities have the atmosphere of another age - Dutch and Flemish houses rising narrowly from the streets, belfries, old churches, cathedrals beguinages – mixed with some of the most modern art and shopping you could wish for. In Luxembourg, charming narrow streets in the old town wind up and down under the gaze of the fortress. And yet you’ll find the most modern, gleaming buildings fill in the skyline of cities throughout the vibrant cities of the Benelux.
Amsterdam, city of surprises, has streets thronged with tourists veering from one outstanding museum to the next, stopping for a snack of poffertjes (the cutest pancakes in the world) and sampling coffeehouse culture. The locals are allotted some space, too – and watch out, they’re the ones zooming around on bicycles! Tourists are slower because they’re always taking a 360 look around.
The Hague, royal city and seat of the government of the Netherlands, boasts that it is a city of art and culture equal to Amsterdam, and here’s the proof: the Mauritshuis, the Prince William V Gallery and the Bredius Museum exhibit some of the most beautiful works of Dutch and Flemish masters. This is where the Girl with a Pearl Earring lives.
Brussels, capital of Belgium, seat of the European Union and NATO, revels in its marriage of the old and the new Europe. In the Grand’Place, built in flamboyant medieval Flemish style, sip one of 400 excellent Belgian beers, or wander the first-ever covered shopping arcade. Les Galleries de la Reine. Step into the past in the soaring nave in the cathedral of St. Michel et Gudule or relish the delicacy of Brussels’ Art Nouveau architecture. The science-fiction like Atomium is from the other end of the temporal spectrum and just as much a landmark of the Brussels’ cityscape.
The city of Antwerp is a goldmine: historic sites, a lively atmosphere, diamonds and fashion. How can you miss this? Choose from sites such as the Cathedral of Our Lady (the largest in Belgium), the house and atelier of the painter Rubens, and the Plantin-Moretus house, dedicated to the early history of the printed word. The diamond quarter has it’s own sparkle and the Antwerp fashion scene is world-famous.
Luxembourg is small, dramatic, opulent, and charming all at once. Intriguing narrow streets wind around a fortress gazing down on the spectacularly deep city park. Magnificently modern buildings punctuate the city, fueled by international and private banking centers. The arts scene is very lively, galleries abound, and festivals celebrating music, the performing arts, culture and gastronomy abound.
Relax and take advantage of the verdant green expanses of the Benelux when you’ve had your fill of urban fun.
The Ardennes in Belgium are traversed by the River Meuse, an area known for its dense forests, lakes, waterfalls, and spectacular caves and grottoes. This is a favorite area for hikes and rafting, among other sports. Quaint towns offer up castles, monastic cheeses and beers, and fun spots to visit such as Dinant, which we thank for its native son, Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone.
The Ardennes in Luxembourg cover the northern part of the Grand Duchy. One landscape vies with another to be the most beautiful: deep woods, windswept plateaus, fields that stretch to forever, deep valleys and steep hillsides surmounted by romantic medieval castles in “Little Switzerland”.