The Rough Guide to Belgium & Luxembourg
There isn’t a country on earth quite like Belgium. It’s one of the smallest nations in Europe, yet it has three official languages and an intense regional rivalry between the Flemish-speaking north and the French-speaking south. Its historic cities – most famously Bruges and Ghent – are the equal of any, as is its cuisine, with a host of regional specialities, alongside a marvellous range of beers and sumptuous chocolate. Neighbouring Luxembourg, commonly regarded as a refuge of bankers and diplomats, has surprises in store too: its capital, Luxembourg City, has a handsome setting, its tiny centre perched on a plateau above deep green gorges, and the rest of the country – diminutive though it is – boasts steep wooded hills and plunging valleys aplenty. Many outsiders view Belgium and Luxembourg as good weekend-break material – but not much else, which is a pity, as this is historically one of the most complex and intriguing parts of Europe. Squeezed in between France, Germany and the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg occupy a spot that has often decided the European balance of power. It was here that the Romans shared an important border with the Germanic tribes to the north; here that the Spanish Habsburgs finally met their match in the Protestant rebels of the Netherlands; here that Napoleon was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo; and – most famously – here, too, that the British and Belgians slugged it out with the Germans in World War I. Indeed so many powers have had an interest in this region that it was only in 1830 that Belgium and Luxembourg became separate, independent states, free from foreign rule.