Boring, bland, unexciting. These adjectives and others like them have come to be the cliched fallback options when people who have never been to Belgium try to describe it. Unfortunately, people who have never been to Belgium are usually in the majority. Anyone who has spent time in the country knows that it has a rich history, beautiful towns, a fascinating cultural mix, great food and a fabulous selection of beer.
Long known as the Battlefield of Europe due to the many inter-European conflicts that have taken place on its soil, Belgium gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1830, joined the vanguard of the industrial revolution, became a colonial power and was among the first nations to introduce full male suffrage. Its post-war industrial might and position between the major capitals of Europe led to Belgium becoming the home of the organisations that eventually led to the EU as well as NATO’s headquarters in Europe. To this day Brussels hosts the European Parliament.
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Belgium is practically two nations in one. The northern section, Flanders, is almost entirely Dutch speaking, has the level landscape you’d associate with Holland and picturesque historic cities well connected by road and public transport. The southern section, Wallonia, is almost entirely French speaking (apart from a German speaking enclave on the eastern border) and has a much more varied rural landscape which invites camping, driving and cycling holidays. The Flemish and the Walloons have been uneasy political bedfellows of late - or at least that’s true of their representatives in the Belgian parliament who went 16 months without forming a coalition government in 2010/11.
Despite the political wrangles Belgium is an economically stable country and rewards immigrants with a high standard of living, excellent healthcare and high standards in education.