Capital | Brussels
Population | 10,423,493 (July 2010 est.)
Area | 30,510 SQ KM
Official Language | Dutch, French and German
Holidays | Independence Day 21 July
Currency | Euro
Time Zone | UTC+1 / UTC+2 (summer)
Best Time to Visit | May to September (summer), Christmas and Carnival (January – February)
Connecting with the Culture | Stepping back in time in dreamlike Bruges; Sampling the country’s 800-odd beers and world renowned chocolates; Creeping through the corridors and dungeons at the Chateau de Bouillon; Visiting Ypres’ poppy-clad battlegrounds; Wining, dining and indulging in lively and atmospheric Antwerp; Warming up on hot wine at a Christmas market.
Read | A Tall Man in a Low Land by Englishman harry Pearson for a humorous look at the country; Hugo Claus The Snow of Belgium – wartime Belgium through the eyes of a Flemish adolescent.
Listen | to Jacques Brel’s poetic oeuvre or tunes from dEUS, Arno, Vaya con Dios and K’s Choice
Watch | Van Dormael’s charming Le Huitieme Jour and Toto le Heros or the Dardenne frères Rosetta – they’re all shot locally
Eat | mosselen/ moules (mussels), gegratineerd witloof/gratin au chicon (chicory au gratin), grey North Sea garmalen/crevettes (shrimps), waterzooi (a chicken and fish stew)
Drink | Duvel, Westmalle, Hoegaarden or even Kriek (cherry) biren/bieres (beers), or some excellent ‘young’ or ‘old’ jenevers/genievres (gin) from distilleries like Smeets and Filliers.
In a Word | schol!/ santé! (cheers)
Characteristics | Beer; chocolate; lace; the linguistic divide; the EU; Rubens, Breugel and Van Eyke; kisses on the cheek; Tintin; frites (hot chips) and mayonnaise; pigeon-racing; confusing placenames; Manneken Pis; picture-postcard town squares; waffles; Hercule Poirot
Surprises | the saxophone was invented in Belgium