24 hours of sparkling discovery in Antwerp:
They’ve been trading diamonds in Antwerp since 1470. It’s the diamond capital of the world with 84% of all rough diamonds and 50% of all polished diamonds bought and sold here. Every diamond sold anywhere in the world probably passed through Antwerp at least once. And this year, the city has decided to celebrate 570 years of its truly rich heritage.
Dazzling Desire sets the tone for the Antwerp Diamond Year. It’s a fascinating exhibition at the lovely MAS (Museum by the River) exploring diamonds and their emotional meaning. The year of celebration will culminate with the grand opening in May 2018 of a brand-new “Brilliant Museum” dedicated to diamonds in Antwerp: DIVA!
Antwerp as a city to visit is a diamond in the rough. Three hours by train from central London courtesy of the Eurostar and Belgium’s easily navigable transport system, and you arrive in a station voted by American magazine “Newsweek” as the world’s fourth greatest train station and by British-American magazine Mashable as the most beautiful railway station in the world!
The city centre is compact and manageable; a delightful mix of historic buildings, well-walked streets and modern commerce evidenced by the 16th-century buildings in the beautiful Grote Markt or Central Square and the monumental Port House designed by the exciting Zaha Hadid Architects.
There’s a thriving cultural scene and the eclectic food experience that you’d expect from restaurants surrounding an international port, housing 176 nationalities and the biggest coffee bean storage in the world. The RAS (Restaurant by the River) offers fine dining and fine views. The menu features dishes reflecting its location: try the shrimp croquettes (typically Antwerp) followed by North Sea Cod, forest mushrooms, potato & celeriac mousseline and finish with a Belgian legend, a Dame Blanche of vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce.
In 24 hours you can experience a lot of culture, chocolate and Belgian beer, ensuring you’ll be keen to return for more. Check-in to Hotel Franq. Centrally located, this 18th-century former bank was transformed into a lovely boutique hotel earlier this year. Offering 34 bedrooms and spacious public areas, the conversion has maintained the elegance of the light-filled neo-classical building and furnished it with contemporary colours and styles. The fresh bedrooms come with clean neutral tones and every convenience you’d expect to find in “Antwerp’s Finest Friendly Hotel”. The overall atmosphere is one of cosiness, comfort and calm efficiency.
The restaurant and bar look out onto a courtyard garden containing an original 16th-century house and the bank vaults, which once stored the Belgian francs from which the hotel derives its name, are now used to house its wine cellar. With a promise on the menu that you will taste the “pure craft and love” that goes into its creation, Franq’s Breakfast is worth making time for. A newspaper style menu describes the provenance of everything you’re about to eat along with an explanation of why the product’s been chosen. Your meal is thus transformed from an obligatory morning refuelling exercise into a semi-spiritual tasting experience which leaves you wondering whether a quick coffee will ever suffice again.
Do visit the MAS, ten floors of Antwerpian culture and history, and until January, enjoy the excellent exhibition exploring our fascination with diamonds and the power that we attribute to them. View the exquisite and unique Flemish Hearts and other treasures relating to our desire for higher enlightenment; see the first engagement ring ever given as a symbol of love and commitment; consider the juxtaposition of death against the need for power and status in life and finally consider the impact of diamond mining on our valuable and fragile environment.
These themes along with the history of Antwerp and its people will form the basis of the DIVA experience when the new diamond museum opens next May. Bringing together the city’s silversmith museum alongside the previous diamond museum collection, the new Euro 20 million development will take state of the art museum and exhibition curation and house it within Antwerp’s historic quarter. Visitors will walk through six rooms of stories involving objects, narrative and music and guided by your own personal “butler”. Don’t forget to exit through what will be a particularly desirable gift shop!
Shopping for diamonds is made easy by looking for dealers who are part of Antwerp’s Most Brilliant, a quality assurance label ensuring dealers abide by a code of conduct. Find out more by taking a guided tour of the Diamond Square Mile and learn how diamond trading has shaped the city and its people.
Antwerp sparkles with attractions, attitude and atmosphere and like its diamonds will leave you a little dazzled and desiring more.
I travelled as a guest of Visit Antwerp – for more information, check their website
For more information about the Dazzling Desire exhibition, which runs until Sunday 14 January 2018 check the website
I stayed at Hotel Franq
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