Modern Belgium, medieval Flanders, was once Europe’s economic powerhouse. Merchants of Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp built fine Gothic communal palaces with high towers. They commissioned grand private palaces, beautiful churches and myriad exquisite Northern Renaissance paintings. Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Lamb (c. 1430) in Ghent is a vast, extraordinarily detailed masterpiece. The country’s excellent museums hold Flemish masterpieces by Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling, Frans Hals, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. Antwerp has Rubens’ fine house. Surrealist René Magritte’s work is celebrated in his own Brussels museum. Bruge’s Church of Our Lady, meanwhile, has Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna.
Belgium led the world in the development of Art Nouveau. Its great innovator was Victor Horta whose masterpieces include Hôtel Solvay and his private house and studio. His Hôtel Max Hallet has a decorated staircase, mosaic floor, painted walls, wrought iron work and custom designed furniture. Other early modern spectacles include the Art Deco Musée David et Alice van Buuren with rich furnishings, stained glass and fine art, and Michel Polack’s lovely Villa Empain.
Belgium boasts fascinating modern and contemporary architecture and design. The ADAM Brussels Design Museum displays 20th and 21st-century works. Antwerp has the home of Renaat Braem (1910-2001), Belgium’s mid-century master, and the Middelheim open-air museum which displays modern sculpture. Ghent’s new Market Hall and Zaha Hadid’s incredible Port House in Antwerp represent the very latest in European architecture.
Belgium has many great country houses and gardens. Ooidonk Castle is one of Europe’s finest. The water gardens of Annevoie are an 18th-century masterpiece. The ‘kasteel’ gardens of Hex and Coloma have abundant rose collections. Contemporary gardening and landscape masters include Daniël Ost, Erik Dhont, and Piet Blanckaert. Daniël Ost is a master of flower design. Erik Dhont has revived a neglected city precinct in his fine Parc Reine Verte, Brussels. Jacques Wirtz’s own garden was featured in Monty Don’s Around the World in 80 Gardens.
View private gardens by leading Flemish landscape designers including Jacques Wirtz, Daniël Ost & Chris Ghyselen, Hermannshof directed by Cassian Schmidt, and cruise the UNESCO-listed Rhine Gorge. Read more