Empty street in the Small Béguinage at dusk, Leuven, Belgium

A city trip to off-the-beaten-path Leuven

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Only 26 kilometres from the Belgian and European capital Brussels, Leuven is a compact student town of 100,000 inhabitants, plus another 60,000 during the school year! Nicknamed the Oxford of Belgium, it competes – gently – against the 2.5-times larger university city of Ghent. Off-the-beaten path, the authentic and historical Leuven is vibrant, young and international, characteristics not often found in such compact towns: all the more reasons to spend a weekend in Leuven between discovering its brewing culture in one of its 240 pubs, exploring its interactive museums, and venturing by bike to some of its picturesque abbeys. For a perfect 48 hours in town read on to find out which places must be on your list!

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The City Hall of Leuven in the sun, Belgium

13 fun & interesting facts about Leuven

Text: Claire Lessiau& Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

1. The beautiful architecture of Leuven’s picturesque squares is not original…

In 1914, Leuven was burnt to the ground by the occupying German forces: they set fire to the historical city centre to retaliate against the Belgian resistance.

The whole city centre was rebuilt. Leuven’s Oude Markt and Groot Markt are amongst the most picturesque squares of town, reconstructed in a similar style as to prior to the fire. On the other hand, the local Champs Elysées, the former residential Bondgenotenlaan Street that runs from the train station to the city hall, showcases a more eclectic architecture today.

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Leuven University Library reading room, Belgium

Have you heard the Big Bang! in Leuven?

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The Big Bang theory was formulated in 1931 at the University of Leuven by Georges Lemaître (1894-1966). It was not the first ground-breaking discovery made in the Belgian city. Some of the illustrious alumni and professors of the University of Leuven are the 16th century, Andrea Vesalius (1514-1564) who produced the first complete description of the human body, the cartographer Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594) who invented the projection that allows to properly visualize the globe in 2D, Jean Pierre Minckelers (1748-1824) who invented gas lighting and the linguist and great humanist Erasmus (1466-1536), to name the ones who have had the greatest impact on our lives.

As such, the off-the-beaten path student town with its picturesque centre, has been a melting pot for innovation and intends to remain so. On its cultural stage, a biennale festival takes place highlighting not only scientific discoveries, but also the arts, bridging themes in a universal and humanist approach. Between October 2021 and January 2022, the BANG! Festival will challenge you through three excellently curated exhibits and many engaging events!

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The Nottebohm room at the Hendrik Conscience Library, Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerp: A Must for Book Lovers!

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

If Gutenberg invented printing in 1450, it is Christophe Plantin (1520-1589) who set up the first industrial printing facility in 1555: the Officina Plantiniana in Antwerp. Autodidact, printer, publisher, manager, businessman, humanist, the Frenchman established a renowned publishing house that grew fast into a multinational with subsidiaries in Leiden and Paris. For about 300 years, the Plantin-Moretus’ had been on the forefront of publishing, and the family house has since then been turned into a wonderful museum where one can understand the process of printing, follow in the footsteps of the humanists, admire world’s oldest printing presses, marvel at Rubens’ portraits and at some precious books such as the Biblia Regia by Plantin and one of the few remaining Gutenberg Bibles in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, world’s first museum being awarded this status.

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The iconic Port House of Antwerp, Belgium

The harbour of Antwerp through past & present [inc. GPS track]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The harbour of Antwerp is larger than Antwerp itself… Historically, it allowed the city to become one of the most prominent in the world during its Golden Age in the 15th and 16th centuries. Today, it provides 150,000 jobs, greatly contributes to the wealth of the region of Flanders and propels Antwerp as the second city of Belgium. Hop on a bike to discover Europe’s second largest harbour (after Rotterdam), between capsize bulk carriers and cute villages surrounded by nature.

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The Bonifacius Bridge over a canal, reflections and blue skies

72 hours in Bruges

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Bruges is far more than a cute, instagrammable and romantic city to spend a day in. During the Middle Ages, Bruges was a booming, vibrant and extremely rich trading metropolis (have a quick read to dig into its history!). Today, its wealth not only resides in its preserved architecture, but also in the masterpieces that were created here amongst which some of the most remarkable paintings by the Flemish Primitives that are beautifully showcased in the intimate city museums. Follow us on this 3-day itinerary to enjoy Bruges to the fullest, including the best attractions, walks, photo spots, bike rides around town, hidden gems and insider’s favourites!

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Enjoying a beer by the fireplace at De Halve Maan brewery pub, Bruges.

The secrets of beer making in a 500-year old brewery

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Belgium’s reputation of producing high quality beer is a reason for many to visit, and if it is not your reason, this is the perfect opportunity to learn how to appreciate better this millennium-old drink that has become more and more fashionable lately with the wave of microbreweries all over the world.

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Rooftops and facades of Ghent

72 hours in Ghent

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Ghent, strategically located at the confluence of the Lys and Scheldt Rivers was a powerful trading city during the medieval times, boomed during the industrial revolution starting in the 18th century, and today is Belgium’s largest student town. The dynamic city of Ghent is refreshing and trendy, while being full of history as highlighted by its varied architecture encompassing over a millennium, its contrasted art from the classic Flemish Primitive masters to funky street art, picturesque canals and gardens, authentic markets, excellent restaurants and great nightlife: an ideal off the beaten path city for the perfect eclectic city trip. In this article we list our must-do’s and reveal some hidden gems for you to craft your perfect 3-day itinerary in the vibrant capital of East Flanders.

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Two people walking through the colourful graffiti street in Ghen, Belgium

Brief history of Ghent, the rebellious city of Flanders

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

For years, Ghent has remained Belgium’s best kept secret. In the shade of fairytale Bruges, only half-an-hour away, Ghent used to be overlooked. Big mistake! If Bruges seems frozen in time back during the Middle Ages, Ghent is a vibrant city with a rich medieval past and architecture, but also an industrial heritage. Today, the lively student town is a destination you don’t want to miss… To fully appreciate this lovely city, take this brief travel through time and be amazed!

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The Adoration of the Lamb by the Van Eycks

Decoding the great Flemish Primitive Jan van Eyck [Bruges & Ghent]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

The stunning realism, numerous details and vivid colours of Jan van Eyck’s paintings give them an irresistible appeal that makes the Flemish Primitive an undisputed master who revolutionized European art and is still one of the most revered artists to this day. One of the founders of Flemish painting, his style was unique and has inspired many. His technique was so innovative that he is still often considered – wrongly – as the inventor of oil painting. Travelling to both Bruges and Ghent is the best way to learn more about Jan van Eyck, admire his most acclaimed masterpieces and rediscover his art and genius thanks to state-of-the-art technologies.

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Reflections at the Dijver at night in Bruges, Belgium

Bruges’ glorious past & ever-lasting charm

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photos: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

In the Middle Ages, Bruges was the centre of the trading world living its Golden Age in the 15th century: exotic products, precious stones and pigments, spices and expensive goods were exchanged from all corners of the world. This is where the stock exchange got its name, and the cradle of the Flemish Primitive painters. Dig into its history to enjoy one of the cutest European towns even better!

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Canal with the medieval Butcher's Hall, Ghent, Belgium

Food & drinks to try in Ghent

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau and Marcella van Alphen

Belgian gastronomy is too often summed up to beer, chocolate and waffles. There is a lot more to it, and Ghent is the perfect city to explore the wide range of yummy foods and innovative drinks! On top of this, its vibrant student life makes Ghent’s nightlife lively and a forerunner for vegetarian and even vegan fares in Belgium.

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