Antwerp is Belgium's second largest city and has Europe's second largest harbour. It has many architectural highlights dating as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries, but the old town has scars from WWII.
Excavations show that there was certainly habitation as far back as the Gallo-Roman period in the second or third century BC. It is possible that the name Antwerp came from a Gallo-Roman settlement on a mound or aanwerp.
The modern day Antwerp is full of self-confidence and has regained its position at the centre of Belgium's economy. The fact that it is the world's third-largest port with vast associated industries helps.
It also enjoys a sense of chic. Its Academy of Fine Arts is "the" place for young Europeans to gain their schooling in fashion design. Walter Van Beirendonck, one of the better-known graduates, has the popular, trendy Walter shop in what was once a garage.
Belgium has produced many master painters and their works attract art lovers from around the world. Peter Paul Rubens' family left Antwerp for Germany (where their son was born) because of their Calvinist sympathies. After Rubens senior's death, the family returned to Antwerp and Catholicism. Young Peter Paul became an apprentice to several painters who urged him to go to Italy, where he was influenced by the Italian Renaissance masters. His paintings of fused Flemish and Italian style made him Belgium's most influential artist in the early 17th century. His enormous canvases with their glowing colours and animated forms are baroque masterpieces.
Rubenshuis was the home and studio of Peter Paul Rubens. He built the baroque mansion in 1611 and lived there until his death in 1640. When the city acquired the building in 1937 it was in ruins, but has been superbly restored along the original lines and is the city's chief attraction.
Antwerpians are enormously proud of their city being the diamond capital of the world. Seventy percent of the world's diamonds are handled there. The district near Hoveniersstraat houses 1500 diamond firms. Security is high, constant and very visible understandable with the number of buyers, dealers, brokers and jewellers, such as Cartier and van Cleef & Arpels, coming and going.
Antwerp has attracted the world's best stonecutters and polishers for five centuries and the label "Cut in Antwerp" is the most sought-after in the world of gems. Many people wanted to buy their diamonds at the source, so in 1983 the district was opened to the public. Visitors can see diamonds being sawn and polished and stone setters at work. More than 150,000 visitors go there to buy set and loose stones each year and the prices are excellent. Loose stones can be set in 10 minutes.
The large Jewish community is inextricably associated with the diamond industry. They have been there since the 16th century. With the rise of the Hitler regime many of the Jewish craftsmen fled to the US, Portugal and England.
De Witte Lelie Hotel, Flemish for "white lily", is a 10-bedroom small hotel of three 17th-century canalhouses right in the cultural centre of Antwerp. The discreet, five-star-plus hotel was completely restored in 1993. It has white linen sofas and armchairs, marble fireplaces, Persian carpets, masses of fresh flowers and each suite's décor is a mix of antiques and modern design. It is a favourite place to stay for the Prince of Denmark, Jean Paul Gaultier and Michael Palin.
Another thing Belgians are proud of is the quality of the beer. EKU-28 is the world's strongest brew. There are more than 500 varieties for connoisseurs to try and locals are as serious about their beer as others are about wine.
The Kulminator Bar is in an alleyway and those who know call it the best beer bar in the world. There are two levels with tables and chairs, dark wood walls, ceiling and floor. It is really quite cosy. To go with the beer, the national meals are steak and chips, which must have mayonnaise for dipping, and enormous pots of mussels (mussels from Brussels?) in a broth.
The north of Belgium
De Witte Lelie Hotel has accommodation starting at $420 per room.
Qantas flies daily to London, with connections to Antwerp operated by British Airways. Return economy airfares start from $3889 from Perth, $4004 from Melbourne, $4014 from Brisbane and Darwin, $4014 from Adelaide and $4024 from Sydney, per person. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of writing but may vary at time of booking. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.
Appelmansstraat 33A, 2018 Antwerp
Ph: 32 03 229 2990
Fax: 32 03 229 email@example.com
St Antoniusstraat 12, Antwerp
Ph: 32 03 213 2644www.walt.be
Vleminckveld 32-34, Antwerp
Ph: 32 03 232 4538
De Witte Lelie Hotel
Keizerstraat 16-18, 2000 Antwerp
Ph: 32 03 226 1966
Fax: 32 03 234 firstname.lastname@example.org
To book a flight, visit www.qantas.com.au
or call 13 13 13.