With our book, This is Belgium, hitting stores on 25th April, we pay our respect to six Belgium-bound travel guides, each with their own specificities. From the country’s best architectural landmarks and sexiest boutiques to its hidden secrets and most absurd everyday living solutions, these six books are the perfect introductions to one of the world’s last remaining superpowers.
Pre-order This is Belgium here.
Belgian Solutions, David Helbich
You might remember this yellow booklet from a previous post titled ‘Three reasons Belgium stood proud in 2013’. Belgian Solutions is not a guidebook in the Lonely planet sense of the word, but a 300-strong photo library of observations about Belgium. Each photo, grouped under the motto ‘not every solution is the answer to a problem’, captures Belgium’s occasional, or not so occasional lapse in urban logic. These include anything from precarious makeshift repair jobs to four botched posters of Taylor Swift’s gnarled face. It all began with Berlin-born Helbich, who used to post similar photos on his personal Facebook. The idea took off and soon became its own Facebook page, before winding up as a published book. We like it a lot and with this one previous experience of Belgium is not a must, although comedy value is likely to increase proportionally with years spent upon its soil.MediuMER (2013) – €20
Available from: Waterstones, Sterling, Fnac etc.
The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium, Derek Blyth
For those of us who suffer with minor OCD, Blyth’s offering of numbered, categorised and ranked ‘hidden secrets’ of Brussels is likely to conjure emotions similar to those of the first beer after a whole Lent of abstention. Blyth’s guidebook filters his twenty years of local experience into 500 highlights, further shaped into one hundred ‘top 5’ lists. The quintets are broadly organised by activity or theme, such as ‘places to eat good food’ or ‘places to sleep’. The list themselves range from the useful (the best 5 places for cheap eats) to the more trivia-based (the 5 people who made Brussels). All things considered this guidebook is perhaps better matched to a Brussels-newbie than a capital veteran. Nevertheless, all are sure to discover something, even if it’s just a renewed sense of pride for the place in which you live.Luster (2012) – €14.95
Available from: Sterling
Brussels Type, Stan Van Steendam
Like Belgian Solutions, this photo collection is not strictly a guidebook, but proposes a very specific way to discover the Belgian metropolis: street lettering. These alphabetical treats, often overlooked by the inexperienced tourist or overworked commuter, “span all ages” according to Van Steendam, “you can read the continuous change of a city through its street typography.” All eighty photos lock a moment in time – freezing the vibe of Brussels for just one second – as most will someday vanish in the blender of urban renewal. The contents range from mosaic doormats to sandwich shops; some even demonstrate Brussels’s playful side, like the trilingual hairdresser and facial masseuse Monsieur Philippe. This guide is all about confronting those blind spots of your field of vision, and for once looking at your surroundings rather than letting your brain just copy and paste. Fans of Blyth’s Hidden Secrets might find this painfully uninformative, but with patience each lettering can be your own personal shepherd.Luster (2013) – €17.95
Available from: Standaard Boekhandel
Belgium’s Best Buildings, Hadewijch Ceulemans
The title is pretty self-explanatory with this hefty collection of Belgium’s most successful placements of bricks and concrete. Author Ceulemans realised the impact of modern architecture on generating tourist buzz in Belgium, and set out to answer the much-mouthed question of ‘what are the best Belgian buildings created since 1900?’ He posed it to 29 renowned architects and architecture experts, and with each one’s Top 10 he constructed the 75 contents of this book. Of the selection many are recognisable, like Antwerp’s central station or the nine spheres of the Atomium, now tattooed onto the subconscious of every Belgian. Others not so much, for example the Evel Knievel ramp meets house of God, Chapel Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van Kerselare in Edelare, East Flanders. The guide is ordered from north to south, with double pages consisting of a full-page photo besides a bilingual (NED/ENG) description. All in all a specialist book that is arguably best-suited to the bookshelf of a Belgian architecture-enthusiast, than in the dark pits of a twenty-something’s rucksack interrailing around Europe.Luster (2012) – €19.95
Available from: Staandard Boekhandel & Fnac
Wallpaper* City Guide Brussels/Antwerp
Wallpaper* City Guides are big dogs when it comes to guidebooks. And with more than two million copies sold worldwide and over one hundred destinations as their subject, it seems they must be doing something right. Here we look specifically at the Brussels and Antwerp editions, although all are true to their tourist-proof format. The neat design of the book complements its ‘in/out-of-the-bag’ function: compact size, finger-friendly indented tabs and even a notes section. Open up the front cover of the guide and out flaps a skyline of the city, complete with labels of landmark buildings. Tabs organise the guide by site or activity. The ’24 Hours’ tab, for example, provides a dummy timetable for a one-day visit. Somewhat paradoxically in its attempt to cover all bases, there even exists the ‘Escapes’ tab, which tells you where to go if you want to leave the same city you just bought a guide book on. A great guide for the mass, perhaps best though for the weekend tourist or those clutching at straws with the impending visit of family members.Phaidon – €8.95
Available from: Waterstones & Fnac
These pop out maps offer a refreshing, local perspective of a number of cities across Europe. Founded in Copenhagen in 1971, the idea first landed in Belgium in 2002, and has since spawned versions in Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Liège, Leuven and Mechelen. Each map boasts locally penned illustrations that capture every city’s unique essence. Try not to be too distracted by the the artwork though, for inside awaits insider information that they compare with the ‘no-nonsense friend’ you lack when in an unknown city. Despite their individual character, all maps follow a similar blueprint; the main feature being a generous map with corresponding texts. Some texts are given precedence with the title ‘local tip’, which are straight from the horse’s mouth style pointers. In addition, there is the how to ‘Act like a local’ section and ‘5 minutes of history’, to partially quench the thirst of history buffs. The USE-IT maps target young people and for this reason you won’t find info on B&B’s but hostels, nor will they tell your Dad where to park his silver people carrier.Tourist Info for Young People – FREE
Available online or distributed at hostels