History, with a Side of Moules-Frites
Napoleon Bonaparte once proclaimed that an army marches on its stomach. The French Emperor, however, was too preoccupied on his last visit to Belgium to savor the country's many gastronomic delights.
On June 18, 1815, an Allied force under Britain's Duke of Wellington defeated the French at the Battle of Waterloo. One of the world's best military re-enactments recalls that historic event each June.
Waterloo is one of many Belgian landmarks where armies have clashed in history-changing engagements. For instance, the first major battle of World War One took place in Liège, Belgium. And, ironically, the first and the last British fatality of the war occurred in Mons.
The Second World War added more Belgian place names to the annals of world conflict. As an example, Americans honor the 76,890 of their countrymen killed or wounded at Bastogne's Battle of the Bulge.
Today, millions of tourists visit Belgium annually. Many explore the museums, battle sites, cemeteries and other locales of war and remembrance.
Virtually all of them enjoy Belgium's world-renowned cuisine while engaging in such cultural pursuits as music festivals, art galleries, historical pageants and lively night-time entertainment.
Belgium's gateway is its vibrant capital of Brussels. Yet since the country is about the size of Maryland virtually all "must-see" sites are reachable by train or automobile within an hour or so.
Brussels' magnificent Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. It's a great place to begin sampling Belgian hospitality at one of the many terrace cafes. A venue for concerts and events throughout the year, it features a colorful summertime flower market.
Other happenings in the Belgian capital include the Brussels Jazz Marathon in May, July's Ommegang Pageant honoring Emperor Charles V, Sunday flea markets and a Beer Weekend in September. The Museum of Fine Arts, or BOZAR, hosts numerous musical performances annually.
Outside the capital, Mons offers the Doudou Festival commemorating St. George's dragon-slaying prowess. Tournai boasts another UNESCO Site, Notre Dame Cathedral. A further UNESCO-designated venue is the Mardi Gras Carnival in Binche.
Liège, the birthplace of Charlemagne, takes a train traveler's breath away upon arrival with a view of the stunning new Guillemins TGV Railway Station designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
In Bastogne, the new world-class War Museum features daring architecture and contemporary scenography, recontextualizing the causes, events and results of the Second World War in a modern and interactive manner.
Belgium is a gourmet's paradise, with the highest density of Michelin star-rated restaurants in Europe. And with the country producing about 175,000 tons of chocolate annually, more than 850 different varieties of beer, cheese to tempt every palate and such succulent dishes as moules frites (mussels and fries), waffles with myriad toppings and ham from the Ardennes – to name just a few gustatory delights – visitors to Belgium are known to exclaim: "It doesn't get any better than this!"