When our friends at leading flooring company IVC, whose manufacturing base is in Belgium, told us they were preparing a list of Belgian classics, we got quite excited at the prospect of reading about timeless chair designs and the likes (well, we are unashamed furniture geeks!). We were, however, even more excited when we received this fascinating, diverse selection of true Belgian classics…
1. The Tour of Flanders
Belgium is the spiritual home of professional road cycling and the Tour of Flanders is certainly among the country’s biggest sporting events. Part of the famous Classics series of one-day races, the Tour of Flanders sees elite professional cyclists tackle the famous cobbled tracks and bergs – small, sharp hills – of the Flanders countryside. In a war of attrition over some 164 miles, the winner of the Tour of Flanders gains a place in cycling folklore and winning the race is an ambition of many professional cyclists. Such is the love for the race in Belgium, the pavé – cobbled sections of track – are lovingly tended by the local community to ensure they are in great (and punishingly brutal) condition for the race. Often quiet and barely used, these sections and famous bergs, such as the Koppenburg and Paterburg, are lined with thousands of Belgians waving the region’s iconic lion flags on race day.
2. Peter Paul Rubens
Knighted by both Philip IV of Spain and Charles I of England, there is no doubt that Rubens is Belgium’s most celebrated artist. The painter is considered a true master with his work, Massacre of the Innocents, selling for £49.5m. Famed for his nudes of full-figured women, giving rise to terms like ‘Rubensian’ or ‘Rubenesque’, Rubens’ fame as a court painter also led him to become a diplomat, moving between the courts of Spain and England in an attempt to bring peace between the Spanish Netherlands and the Dutch Republic. Through his Antwerp studio, Rubens also influenced the work of apprentices, his most famous student being Anthony Van Dyck, who became England’s leading court painter.
3. Trappist Tripel Beer
With a strength bordering on 10% ABV and a history rooted in monastic brewing, Trappist Tripel is certainly worthy of a spot as a Belgian classic. This strong pale ale is made with three-times the malt of other ales, accounting for the name Tripel and the high ABV. A true Trappist beer is closely guarded, and must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, by the monks themselves or under their close supervision and not as a profit-making venture, with any profit donated to charity. While there are Trappist brewers in the UK, USA, Italy, France, Spain and Holland, nowhere is as prolific or historic as Belgium, with six active breweries, the earliest of these dating back to 1836.
Georges Prosper Rémi, known by his pen name Hergé, is undoubtedly the most famous cartoonist to come from Belgium. ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ is part of popular culture and has been adapted to theatre, radio, TV, cinema and even gaming. Featuring the unforgettable characters Tintin, Snowy, Thompson and Thompson and Captain Haddock, on their adventures across the world, Hergé’s work was widely acclaimed for the clarity of draughtsmanship and well-researched plots. With the first Tintin cartoon published in serial format in 1929, Hergé continued to pen the series throughout WWII under German occupation, an act that led to his arrest by the Belgian authorities after the war. Tintin went on to compete with Asterix, cited by many critics as the foremost comic in the Franco-Belgian tradition, much to the annoyance of Hergé, until finally ceasing production in 1988, some five years after his death.
Chocolate has been a major industry of Belgium since the 1800s and is still an important part of the country’s economy and culture. Renowned for its high standard across the world, the composition of Belgian chocolate has been regulated by the government since 1894 when, in order to prevent low quality, a minimum 35% pure cocoa level was imposed. Now a voluntary quality standard, the Belgian Chocolate Code ensures that refining, mixing and conching must be carried out in Belgium. In nearly every Belgian town you are likely to find chocolatiers handcrafting exquisite pralines (invented by the Belgian industry), truffles and figurines for sale. There are over 2,000 chocolatiers in Belgium, with some 172,000 tonnes produced each year.
6. The Wrap Dress
Born in Brussels, Diane von Fürstenburg is most famed for her knitted jersey wrap dress of 1974, which, due to its influence in fashion, is now in the collection of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The success of the dress saw Diane grace the cover of Newsweek magazine in 1976, declaring her ‘the most marketable woman since Coco Chanel’. Worn by Michelle Obama in the official White House Christmas card and the subject of an entire exhibition, the wrap dress has become a wardrobe staple for modern life. Since inventing the wrap dress and now established as a fashion great, Diane Von Fürstenburg became one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2015 as well as founding the Diller-von Fürstenburg Family Foundation.
7. JPEG 2000
Belgian physicist and mathematician, Ingrid Daubechies, is recognised for her study of the mathematics involved in image compression and the creation of the Daubechies and CDF wavelets. A wavelet from this family is now used in the JPEG 2000 image standard, invented in 2000 to supersede the former JPEG standard, with a more flexible and scalable compression technology, eliminating much of the blocking of highly-compressed JPEGs. Ingrid has also developed sophisticated image processing technologies used to help establish the authenticity and age of some of the world’s most famous works of art – maybe even the odd Rubens or two.