Antwerp ranked amongst the most important financial centres of the world in the 16th century before it was taken over by the Spaniards. After a lull of about 350 years, it started resurrecting its image. Today, it is the second largest city of Belgium, a major European port and the hub of the global diamond business.
With the sun shining but not burning, summer is the best time to visit Antwerp. From June to August, the city comes alive with festivals and street markets. Long hours of light add an extra edge to the already throbbing nightlife. Unfortunately, these are not well-guarded secrets, so draw your swords and be ready to battle the crowds.
The city was always culturally rich, mirroring the various historical periods that have passed through. In 1986, six local fashion students made it big on the world stage and this success of the Antwerp Six, as they are known, steered a fashion and design movement in the city. Today, it attracts both Flemish and international talent from various genres.
A Photographer’s Delight
As you walk through the glossy taupe doors of Hotel Julien, chances are you will turn around, walk back out, recheck the name and then walk back in.
The first art hotel in Antwerp, every room and almost every part of the hotel is covered by fine art photography. The hotel’s photograph collection is constantly evolving under the expert eye of Fifty One Fine Art Photography, the premier art gallery of Belgium.
This sleek and sophisticated hotel is spread over two historic buildings which stand side-by-side flanking patios planted with shrubs and creepers. These patios provide both a utilitarian value and an ornate value. They are pleasant venues for breakfast on a sunny morning or a coffee break from the sightseeing in the afternoon. And, the floor-to-length windows of the lobby area and restaurants pull them inside and sync them with the hotel interiors.
The lounge, bar and other public areas have all been designed to amalgamate tradition and modern comfort.
The rooms in Hotel Julien are simplistic. White dominates the colour scheme and the just the soft furnishings providing a vibrant streak of colour. Unlike most hotels, the bath area is given as much apace and attention as the room. Oversize tubs and shower areas make them an ideal oasis to unwind and recoup energies after a long day in the city.
Intricate detailing in the doors and ceilings make for the only adornment in the rooms leaving the visitor to focus his attention on the photographs that occupy the wall.
The Cathedral of Our Lady towering over the Antwerp skyline is impossible to miss. Situated in the old quarter of the city, its elegant 405 feet tall tower beckons from a distance and as you get closer the 47 bells in its carillon, tolling in harmony, make you double your pace.
The Cathedral has seen a tumultuous history suffering the effects of pillage and plunder at various hands through the centuries. Fortunately, its treasury of art survived, most impressive amongst it being the three large paintings of Rubens.
A Dinner Date Set In The 17th Century
A narrow cobble-stoned street leads off the road, and into the 17th century. The façades of the buildings along the street have not changed much. And at the restaurant Sir Anthony Van Dyck, nor have the interiors. Antiques dealer and art historian Avel Vervoodt has ensured that this restored space dedicated to the Flemish painter by the same name retains much of the 17th century ambience.
The Venetian style plastered walls, authentic tiles and stones for flooring, long trestle tables, and rough-hewn wooden doors further help age the restaurant. All the elements come together to give this space an ambience that is stylish without being over-the-top.
A Treasure Trove Of The Bizarre
The 16th and 17th century gentry of Flanders collected items from across the world and put them up in ornate cabinets for visitors to admire. The store International 14 in Antwerp’s antiques district is reminiscent of those times.
A straw hat from 1820 finds place amidst vibrant taxidermy parrots and cupboards from Sweden. The store is piled high with bizarre like the arm of a 19th century mannequin to the bizarrer like the wood and iron camel saddle. For anyone who is looking to quirk up a dull corner of their house, this is a one-stop shop.
Text By Himali Kothari