Belgium has one of the most vibrant cultures of any European country. The country has been at the centre of important artistic movements since the Middle Ages and has also introduced many dishes and foods which are now a permanent feature of European culture. With a reputation as a country where one can enjoy the good life, each year Belgium attracts thousands of visitors and people who wish to settle. If you’re looking for a pied-à-terre in Belgium, ENGEL & VÖLKERS always have a selection of offers you may find particularly interesting. And to give you a better idea of the contributions this small country has made in terms of its arts and cuisine, here is a list highlighting some of the most important Belgian innovations.
Belgian painters have been renowned for their excellence since the medieval era. The Flemish painter Jan van Eyck (circa 1390-1441) is considered to be the inventor of the method of painting in oils with a wooden easel. From the fifteenth century onwards, Flemish masters who adopted this new technique enjoyed overwhelming success throughout Europe. These exceptional artists spread the Renaissance movement (born in Italy) right across Northern Europe. In the process, they also created some of the most acclaimed masterpieces in oils dating from that era. Among the great Flemish masters of the sixteenth century some such as Rogier van der Weyden, Quentin Matsys, Robert Campin and the various artists of the Bruegel family have gained a lasting reputation. The Belgian art scene continued to influence European culture during the ensuing centuries. And with the emergence of the Baroque style, for example, and its subsequent development during the seventeenth century, Flemish painters, led of course by the great Rubens, continued to play a significant role, and were regarded as some of the most respected artists of that time. And likewise during the twentieth century, Belgium has continued to nurture some of the greatest creators in the world of art. For instance, the emergence of the surrealist movement once more brought Belgian painting to the fore, and the work of René Magritte and Paul Delvaux has since become famous worldwide.
Can you imagine a piece of jazz without a saxophone? It is a little-known fact that this orchestral instrument, now considered so indispensable, was created in 1846 by a Belgian inventor, Adolphe Sax (1814-1894). Originally designed just for military-style music, the saxophone had its heyday a century later when it became an essential sound used in the repertoire of all the great American jazz standards. Adolphe Sax’s invention (which of course bears his name) has also found its place in many of the most famous orchestral pieces. Included among these are works such as: Ravel's Bolero, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, L'Arlesienne by Bizet and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliette.
Whenever we talk about comics today, we immediately think of Belgium. If the comic strip was not invented there (it actually dates back to the 1820s in Switzerland), it is undoubtedly where it has enjoyed its finest hour. It was not until the creation of the character of Tintin by the Belgian author Hergé in 1929 that the comic strip really took off in Europe. Translated into more than 50 languages, Tintin's Adventures became one of the most famous comic strips in the whole world. And from the 1950s onwards, many more successful series were born in Belgium, created by authors whose names have become a reference for the genre. The list includes the likes of Gaston Lagaffe (Franquin), The Smurfs (Peyo), Lucky Luke (Morris) and Blake and Mortimer (Edgar P. Jacobs). During the 1980s, Belgium further reinforced its pre-eminent reputation in the field of comic strips with the birth of a some significant new work, especially the creative output of the author Jean Van Hamme who was responsible for XIII, Thorgal, and Largo Winch.
If there’s a dish we naturally associate with Belgium, it has to be french fries! They were first invented in a place which was historically part of the Netherlands, but which is now in the north of present-day France. Belgian fries are immediately recognisable because of their large size, and they are most commonly served with mayonnaise. Adding ketchup is a recent American idea which has never been particularly popular in Belgium. Here, french fries are often served along with a piece of beef, to which we add a sauce made with green peppers. And even though these are French rather than Belgian creations, we also enjoy eating french fries garnished with Archiduc sauce or Béarnaise sauce.
Reports suggest there are over 800 types of Belgian beer. And, of course, that’s because Belgium is truly the most inventive country in the world, with 180 breweries spread throughout the land. So in Belgium you can find every kind of beer imaginable. Some of the best known varieties of Belgian beer are: lager, dark beer, white beer, Flanders red ale, lambic beer, Trappist beer and pale ale. In international terms, the main company in the beer-producing sector is the Belgian company AB InBev which commands a quarter of the world market and sells famous Belgian beers such as Stella Artois, Leffe and Hoegaarden.
Chocolates are yet another important speciality from Belgium, and the country is widely known for the quality of its chocolate bars and praline. Cocoa beans from Central America first began to appear in Europe at the beginning of the 16th century. The Spanish crown, which had important Belgian links back then, permitted the country to discover the new cocoa substance. At first it was consumed as a hot drink, and chocolate bars then appeared later in the nineteenth century. Jean Neuhaus's famous chocolate factory opened in Brussels in 1857, and it was his grandson who perfected the chocolate praline in 1912. Since then, chocolate has become a signature emblem of Belgian confectionery, and Belgium currently has more than 2000 chocolatiers.
Waffles were invented in northern Europe at the end of the Middle Ages. The best known variety are undoubtedly Liège waffles, containing sugar pearls, which are regularly sold out in the streets. Restaurants also serve Brussels waffles as a dessert. These have a crunchy texture and a more rectangular shape, and are usually served along with fruit, ice cream or whipped cream. Belgium also produces other popular kinds of waffle, such as the Flemish waffle, round and usually eaten dry without a topping, or the Quatre-Quarts waffle typical of Wallonia, which adds milk to the recipe to give the waffle a much softer taste and appearance.
Like France, Belgium is a country with many different types of cheese. These were designed from the Middle Ages in the various abbeys throughout the country. There are about fifty varieties of cheeses in Belgium, whether sweet, hard, semi-hard (the most represented), blue or cottage. Among the most famous Belgian cheese brands are Chimay, Orval, Saint-Feuillien or Westmalle.
Belgium is the origin of two vegetables which are now widespread across Europe: Brussels sprouts and Belgian endives. First produced in the Middle Ages, the Brussels sprout is a miniature cabbage much renowned as a healthy addition to the diet. Cultivated underground, Belgian endives (also known as ‘witloof’ in Dutch, and ‘chicon’ in French) are popular in many European countries. Grown in Brussels since the middle of the 19th century, over the years Belgian endives have since been exported to some 40 countries around the world.
If you wish to discover a little more about Belgium, our rich land of innovation and creativity, ENGEL & VÖLKERS is at your disposal to help you realise your ambition to come and live in this country with a special vitality.