French fries were invented in Belgium. Mussels, croquettes, waffles, chocolate and cheese are a few of the other culinary mainstays of this beautiful country, and the variety of beer and beer-themed venues is unmatched. The 2012 Year of Gastronomy in Belgium aims to promote this host of palate-pleasing experiences available from Brussels to Liege.
“Planners might not always think of Belgium as a gastronomic capital but they know all of our specialties, like beer,” says Annette Choynacki, North American director of the Belgian Tourist Office. “We drink beer like Americans drink Coca Cola. And even if visitors say they don’t drink beer, once they drink beer in Belgium they’re hooked for the rest of the trip.”
A heady array of Beer Tours showcase 650 different varieties of brew around the countryside. Benedictine monks perfected beer recipes inside places like Maredsous Abbey, built in 1872, which is located one hour southeast of Brussels. Today, the sprawling cathedral and verdant forests provide a mesmerizing backdrop for cultural tours and group dining up to 1,800 pax.
Mussel season in Belgium runs August through April. Meals can run up to four hours, five maybe when you create a group dinner in a castle. Everything is organic, local and/or sustainable because, “People in Belgium like to eat whatever is next to them,” says Choynacki.
She recommends Château de Modave, built in 1659, with preserved original interiors and furniture. The exquisite setting hosts large groups outdoors and inside vaulted beam buildings. Planners can also book tours of the chateau, cooking classes, picnics in the forest and wine tastings in the cellars.