Antwerp wows! A history filled with money and culture has resulted in a very impressive present. This small city with the big port has been mixing commerce and art since the early 16thcentury when it became the richest city in Europe. Pepper and cinnamon arrived from Asia while cloth, wine, wheat and salt were shipped out. Antwerp became the financial hub of the Age of Exploration controlling 40 % of the world’s trade. The port earned seven times more for ruling Spain than all of the Americas. Though this golden era only lasted about 50 years, the money started a passion for and investment in culture that still endures. Today’s Antwerp is a mecca for food, fashion, art and history. I loved this city. Here are 6 of my must do’s…
Rent a bike! It‘s what locals do and is the best way to get around. There are miles of bike paths everywhere with special signals just for bikers. Make sure you ride by the Zaha Hadid’s Port House, her revamp of an old firehouse. You’ll either love it or hate…there’s no in-between.
Go to the Central Train Station whether you are taking a train or not. It’s gorgeous and has a crazy escalator. Built between 1895-1905, it is an indefinable mish mosh of styles that was voted the most beautiful station in the world by Mashable media network. The 12,000 square metre iron and glass hall needed to be this huge to give the smoke from the stream trains somewhere to go. The hall was damaged during WWII. By 1986 the structure was so weak the station had to be closed. It was saved from demolition when someone discovered that light plastic panels could replace the heavy glass. Another renovation in 1998 accommodated high speed trains, Paris is only 2 hours away.
Eat at The Franq. (Stay there too!) A Michelin one star in a great hotel. The building was once a bank… the old vault is now a wine cellar. Now it is a perfect reflection of Antwerp…understated modern luxury combined with an historic past. Petit fours are served on the old doors of safety deposit boxes. The food is meticulously sourced with clean intense flavors and classical touches. Tim Meuleneire is a chef to watch.
Shop at Gantarie Boon, the greatest glove shop. The shop was founded in 1884. Arthur Boon bought it in 1920, and members of his family have been in charge ever since. Boy do they know gloves. They collaborate with little workshops all over Europe. Every glove is unique, an artistic creation. The leather is carefully sourced and tanned. On line shopping is available. But you really want to go in person. The original counters, cabinets and glove boxes remain and the one-on-one service ensures the perfect fit. It is an experience.
Explore the Plantin-Moretus Printing Museum and discover the history of books. There are thousands of books, the world’s oldest printing machines and an insight into life in the 16thcentury. This is the only Museum in the world to be recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. This was the Moretus family home and business for more than 300 years until they sold it to the city in 1876. There leather walls and Ruben portraits still remain.
Climb (actually escalator) to the top of the MAS Museum. The huge collection is spread over five floors. It is an unconventional history of the city. This is not your typical museum experience. You want to take the escalator…up, up, up, around the building, even if you don’t see an exhibit. The views over the city just get bigger and better! As does the Luc Tuymans’s hidden installation ‘Dead Skull’. From street level it’s just an odd tiled courtyard. From the roof terrace it is art! If you get hungry and can get a reservation…grab a bite at ‘t Zilte, a two starred Michelin restaurant located on the top floor.