Belgium is a federal state in Western Europe, bordered by the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and France, as well as the North Sea. It comprises three main regions: the coastal plains in the north (‘Low Belgium), the central plateau (‘Middle Belgium) and the Ardennes Plateau (‘High Belgium’). The Signal de Botrange is the highest point, at just 694 metres above sea level.
Belgium has a temperate maritime climate, owing to influences of the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Summers are cool and winters, cold. The small size of this country mean that the weather varies little from region to region. The hottest month is July (with an average temperature of 18ºC) and the coldest is February (3ºC on average).
Belgium is a beer lover’s paradise, with over 800 varieties of this beverage to choose from. It is also a major chocolate producer, and is known for its heavenly desserts and pastries. Jean Neuhaus, a Belgian, invented the very first praline chocolate in 1912. The Belgians also claim to have invented the French fry – indeed, all villages have their own chip seller. Speaking of food, who can forget the Belgian waffle, famous across the globe?
Belgium is known for being culturally and linguistically divided, with Flemish-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south. The capital of Belgium, Brussels, is bilingual so if you know either of these languages you should have no trouble getting around. If you do manage to visit Brussels, don’t miss out on one of its main attractions: the Manneken Pis (a fountain featuring a statue of a little boy urinating). Depending on the occasion, the little boy dons various interesting apparel. Some of the most famous Belgians of all time include surrealist painter, Rene Magritte; baroque painter, Peter Paul Rubens; and creator of TinTin, Hergé.
The original settlers of Belgium were a Celtic tribe called the Belgae, who were conquered by the Roman Empire in 100B.C. As the Romans began to lose their hold over much of Europe, Germanic tribes took Belgium, asserting their influence in the north, in particular. The Belgians were subject to domination by several dynasties, including the Habsburgs. Because this country was so strategically located, it became an important business centre and soon, important cities such as Brussels enjoyed great wealth. Its position also led it to be taken over by the Germans in the two World Wars. Following the Napoleonic wars in the late 18th century, Belgium was declared part of France. Soon, however, the people rebelled and in 1830, the country obtained its independence.
Fragrant hyacinths, pristine lilies of the valley, and stately beech and oak trees grow abundantly in Belgium. Native mammals, meanwhile, include the boar, hedgehog, squirrel and weasel, while aquatic life includes mussels, crayfish and shrimp, as well as trout, barbell, smelt and pike. Belgium has three federal regional governments, each of which is responsible for its own environmental policy. All regions have established measures to promote environmental responsibility and to restore lost species such as the European beaver, once threatened but now thriving once again.
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