When South-East Asians travel to Europe, in groups – via organized tours or individually, they often skip Belgium altogether or include it in a brief ‘one-day’ visit to Brugge and/or Brussels. Missing one of the most vibrant cities in Belgium, and known worldwide for its diamond district, Antwerp is the self-proclaimed capital of avant-garde fashion. Leading the path, back in the 90’s, the ‘six of Antwerp’ made a name for themselves onto the world fashion collection circuits, and the city appeared suddenly in the spotlight. The vibrant port city of Antwerpen – literally “throw the hand” (Flemish name for Antwerp or Anvers –in French) is rich in historical buildings and deeply rooted culture.
One of the ten biggest port in the world, Antwerp has the oldest stock exchange building (dating from 1531 and rebuilt in 1872). Both contributed gradually to make Antwerp a major trade and cultural center, which boost one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world (after Amsterdam). Home to over 170 nationalities, minimum three languages are fluently spoken (Dutch, French, English) and ‘Anterwepenaars’ (inhabitants of Antwerp) are known to be cool, cosmopolitan and social.
Instead of booking a corporate hotel from big international chains, get a true taste of Flemish stylish interiors. Staying in design boutique hotels are the preferred choice for knowledgeable travelers.
Hotel Franq is located just a stone’s throw from the Meir and Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Cathedral. This luxury hotel will delight visitors with its combination of historical charm and contemporary urban-chic. Style maven, Anouk Van Spaendonck looked after the interior design. She carefully selected elegant furniture and added refined touches in the public spaces, to make everyone welcome and ‘feel at home’. Combining subtle colors and Asian elements in a neo-classical building which was formerly a bank, Franq derives its name from the former Belgian Francs. The vault where the Belgian Francs used to be kept has been restored to its former glory and transformed into a unique wine cellar. The gastronomic restaurant Franq will spoil connoisseurs with contemporary French-Belgian gourmet cuisine in an elegant setting. Fine cuisine is prepared by renowned Chef Tim Meuleneire and his team, whose previous success includes his Restaurant De Koopvaardij. The hotel just opened last October 2017 with a lavish party. Caviar from Imperial Heritage and champagne Bollinger were served with freshly made canapes prepared by the team behind Chef Tim Meuleneire. The desserts were not forgotten with chocolate Del Rey and patisseries Toon de Klerck topped with high-quality coffee from Caffe Mundi. All these delicacies are available at the hotel bar and restaurant on a daily basis.
For the best hotel rates in Belgium – Antwerp, follow this link: http://search.hotellook.com/?marker=118565&language=en
Another option five minutes away, Hotel Julien is an urban retreat offering an oasis of peace in a relaxed setting. Dating back from the 16th century, the hotel is housed in two properties, which were restored to combine effortlessly, the original buildings feature with contemporary furnishings while offering the utmost comfort. The central location is the perfect base to either explore the main shopping arteries or to find hidden gems in smaller alleys. Either by foot or by the convenient public bicycles ‘A’ (first 30 min. ride are free/get a day pass for €4) provided by the City of Antwerp. http://www.velo-antwerpen.be
Most of the furniture or artwork on display can be purchased by pre-ordering them at the reception.
For the best hotel rates in Belgium – Antwerp, follow this link: http://search.hotellook.com/?marker=118565&language=en
Antwerp is a city of diversity, which combines harmoniously places with historical background and sleek interior. Youngsters easily rub elbow with elders who have quickly adapted to modern life as all Belgians love good food, prefer locally made drinks and good conversations. Generations gaps are less prominent with a good bolleke! A typical beer made in Antwerp by local brewer De Koninck (an Antwerp-based famous brewery since 1833).
Housed in a 1557 century alley and house, Sir Anthony Van Dijck restaurant is one of the gourmet destination and must-see landmarks of Antwerp. Centrally located near the corner of the Grote Markt, discreetly hidden in a narrow-cobbled alley, this exquisite restaurant is among Antwerp’s finest for French cuisine and Flemish classic staples in a tasteful and artsy surrounding; as Sir Anthony van Dyck was a Flemish Baroque artist from the 16th century.
When the sun comes out, try to book a table in the indoor courtyard. The best deal is to come for lunch and order the four-course ‘gourmet’ menu du jour (€45~).
Another gourmet institution, ‘T Fornuis restaurant holds one Michelin star since 1986 and is most of the time fully booked up to two months in advance (sometimes longer). The head Chef Johan Segers is a ‘bon vivant’, who rides a Harley Davidson to work, and is a well-known personality of the Antwerp’s culinary scene. The restaurant name literally means ‘the stove’ in Flemish, and not-to-be-missed is Johan’s collections of antique miniature stoves carefully displayed by the restaurant entrance. His communicative passion for food and bright personality allows him to enjoy and still have fun at what he does best: simple, consistent, warm-hearted cuisine. Johan cooks as he comes to the table to greet patrons: relaxed, good-hearted and with a good dose of relativism which translates onto the plate with finesse and sobriety. Conclusion; a chef that can still be able to get excited about a simple bone marrow as for black truffle is maybe the reasons behind his constant success. Chef Johan Segers was recently awarded the title of Craftsman of the Year 2018 by Gault & Millau.
Reyndersstraat 24, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium Tel. +32 3 233 62 70 (reservation mandatory)
Besides its wide gourmet offerings, Antwerp is rich in cultural and historical institutions.
Start your day traveling back in time – four hundred years ago precisely, to see how, long before today’s digital age, words and images were spread around the world. A must-see Unesco World Heritage site, Plantin-Moretus Museum is the oldest print and typography museum in Belgium, which dates back from the 16th century. Christophe Plantin and his son-in-law Jan Moretus were the first printers on an industrial scale, a revolutionary duo of that time. Here visitors can see over three hundred years of book-printing art and family history. Upon entering the old mansion, you are invited to enter different connecting rooms and admire in awe; the oldest printing presses in the world, a rich collection of art and paintings, including portraits by Rubens, or old manuscripts, incunabula and original prints in the library. Tactile interactive digital screens explain more about daily life in both the printing works and the mansion. Back in 1576, Plantin relocated his printing works to the Vrijdagmarkt and converted the ‘Gulden Passer’ (‘Golden Compass’) into a beautiful mansion. The Moretus family cherished and passed their printing works from one generation to the next, which then became a part of the city heritage when the last owner, Edward Moretus, sold the house to the City of Antwerp in 1876. www.museumplantinmoretus.be
With a century-long world-famous trading port, the city has worked actively to re-develop areas around it that were once derelict warehouses and abandoned buildings. Antwerp continued to reinvent itself for the past ten years, kickstarted with Het Eilandje, which embraced its maritime history through multiple projects. Starting way before the striking architecture of MAS (Museum Aan de Stroom) bold broken lego-shaped building opened its doors in 2011, the apparent buzz brought all sorts of other projects who mushroomed around it. Coffee bars, artist ateliers, and stunning architectural projects have popped up making the area a must-see. International visitors and locals can access (for free) the horizontal boulevard leading past all the adjacent galleries, and enjoy the panoramic views of the city below its rippling glass, while the building reflections in the water, create intriguing patterns.
Diamond and fashion were also important factors that contributed to the rising fame of Antwerp onto the world stages. Started by the ‘Antwerp Six’: Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee, Maison Martin Margiela, a group of fashion designers, who graduated in 1980-81, from the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts – fashion dept. The Fashion department is currently housed in ModeNatie, a modern construction which was built in the 19th century as a department store for the New England Menswear and Children’s fashion shop.
Quickly becoming an icon in the heart of the fashion district, and after ongoing thorough renovation in 2000, MoMu also opened its doors in September 2002 on the same premises, later joined by Artesis Hogeschool Antwerp, the Flanders Fashion Institute (FFI) and Copyright Bookshop. A one-stop place for all your Fashion needs! www.momu.be
Another landmark in the fashion district, Het Modepaleis is home to the designer Dries Van Noten. His flagship store is a period-house dating from the 19th century, with one floor entirely dedicated to women, another one to men and his own atelier on the top floors. www.driesvannoten.be
For shoe addicts, Coccodrillo is the primary choice. First opened in 1983 by its two founders Geert Bruloot and Eddy Michiels, with a collaboration with fashion designer Martin Margiela. The duo embraced creativity and took risks by creating shoe lines in collaborations with famous designers. Their visions and privileged relations with key luxury brands solidified their position as leader of the avant-garde chic shoes. The shop moved recently to a bigger space, where brut volumes are blended with elegant fixtures, combining rough and refined elements in an organic harmony; a typical characteristic of Flemish people as well. www.coccodrillo.com
Established in 1884 and one of the few remaining gloves shops in Belgium Huis A. Boon is an institution for crafted gloves. Ganterie Boon is a family business for three generations and the quality has constantly pleased travelers from all around the world. The added art deco character kept intact since 1920, add a unique shopping experience. www.glovesboon.be
Welcoming and offering three activities in one, each floor at Graanmarkt 13 tells a different story. Founded by Ilse Cornelissens and Tim Van Geloven, visitors can step into their wonderland, like entering a haven of calm and inspiration. On the first-floor store is a place where established fashion, interior, and beauty brands meet their cutting-edge, emerging counterparts. Each object in the house is sourced from their travels around the world. Their motto is not to sell trends, but objects for life. The downstairs restaurant is run by acclaimed chef Seppe Nobels. He transforms the daily harvest of locally sourced fresh ingredients, garden herbs, and Graanmarkt rooftop honey into generous dishes. The Chef’s honest and healthy kitchen was voted the “Best Vegetable restaurant 2015 from Flanders” by Gault&Millau. The top floor luxury apartment with hotel service is the founders best-kept secret. The home away from home, in the heart of the fashion hub. Available for short & long-term rentals. www.graanmarkt13.com
Diamonds are women’s best friend and it can also be said for the city of Antwerp. The precious stone trade played a big role to establish Antwerp and its diamond district (nicknamed the Square Mile) as one of the best places in the world for polishing and finishing. Since 1890, families of diamonds traders and manufacturers came from Amsterdam to establish the diamond industry. As of today, about 84% of the world’s rough diamonds pass through the district, valued at over $16 billion annually. One reputable and established specialist, DiamondLand organizes a free guided tour of their showroom and ateliers. www.diamondland.be
Recently opened, the MV Art Center (www.verbaet.com) is a welcoming addition to the vibrant art scene. MV Art Center focuses primarily on the promotion and recognition of Belgian art with a permanent exhibition of artists from after the Second World War (1945 until 1975). Temporary exhibitions are held every two months showcasing international artists carefully selected by Caroline Vanden Balck.
Upon entering the neo-classic building on the left side, Tapta café and restaurant is dominated by large windows, white tables and a fully open kitchen, where Chef Magalie, the daughter of Maurice Verbeek, prepare innovative dishes with artful touches. Tapta is the pseudonym of the Belgian-Polish sculptor Maria Irena Boyé who’s monumental work is displayed in the main foyer. www.tapta.be
For meat lovers, Black Smoke BBQ grill and bar brings serious ‘heat’ and meat to the heart of Antwerp. Mixing American BBQ traditions with local influences, the meat is cooked in the ‘low & slow’ style and prepared on wood-fired smokers or classic ‘hot & fast’ style on the unique Argentinian parrilla grill. At the bar, Belgium’s finest bartenders shake award-winning cocktails or serve locally crafted beers on tap directly from the cellars. Their sixth-floor urban rooftop offers Antwerp’s finest view with a drink in hand. www.blacksmoke.be
A cozier and stylish dinner alternative, SOMA offers a ‘cuisine a quatre mains‘ in a semi-private apartment setting. Soma is the equation of two talents, Adriana Zafiris, and Frederic Chastro. Additionally, they are the sum of four food cultures: Belgian and Greek for her, French and Colombian for him. Together they provide both the kitchen and the service in an elegant dining room with a view of the stoves. Cooking together, serving together – and giving explanations of their philosophy. Their mise-en-bouche serving of brioche bread with Serrano ham and Tête de Moine cheese are only the beginning of these four courses gastronomic journey. Fairly priced and clear menu makes it appealing for every budget in an intimate setting. Patrons are welcome to watch the show in the open kitchen or even to sit with the duo chefs. www.soma.restaurant
For more exotic delights, head to Dim Dining, where the youngest Belgian chef, Dimitri Proost (23 years old) proposes Japanese dishes with a Western twist. The focus is on contemporary Japanese kitchen with worldly influences from Tokyo, New York, London, and LA. Get a seat at the bar to watch Dimitri doing wonders in the kitchen. www.dimdining.be
Music and art calm the souls and it will be certainly true at Think Jazzy, an eclectic jazz bar photo, and art gallery. Eyes are also pleased by the handsome top model Thomas Gielen cum-owner standing behind the counter. Accompanied by a piano player, jazzy tunes are de rigeur during tapas happy hours (free tapas served from 6pm-8pm) while after 10 pm, things can get a bit crazier and often curtains are closed to keep clients privacy and madness inside! Rotating exhibitions are part of the gallery of the same name and changed every three months. A five-course menu is also available for €29. www.thinkjazzy.com