A Room with a View
Cheshire photographer Kat Hannon explores Antwerp; the city of diamonds, art and fashion, and is hosted by the perfectly-placed Radisson Blu Astrid Hotel
After flying into Brussels, it’s just a 30-minute journey on the Intercity Direct train from the Belgian capital to Antwerp’s Central Station. The railway station – nicknamed the Cathedral of Rail – was constructed between 1895 and 1905, is steeped in history and is considered to be among one of the finest in the world. The stone-clad terminus buildings, with a vast dome above the waiting room hall, has intricate detailing and immediately takes one back to times gone by. My home-from-home for the weekend is the Radisson Blu Astrid Hotel, which is only a two-minute walk away, making it ideal for a city escape.
Located near Queen Astrid Square, the hotel offers 253 rooms and suites, expertly designed by architects Alex Kravetz. I’m treated to some Belgian chocolates on arrival and then head up to my spacious city suite, which overlooks the square to the front of the station. The view is impressive and being a photographer, I can’t help but get my camera out straight away. Once I’ve got some wow-factor shots, I decide to relax by the hotel’s heated pool, before returning to my room to get ready to dine in one of the hotel’s restaurants, Made in Antwerp, where I ponder what to do the next day. Known for using local, fresh ingredients, the menu showcases dishes such as ravioli with truffle, Belgian blue steak and wild boar stew.
THE CITY’S HISTORY
Antwerp was established around the year 900, and grew first and foremost due to its location on the Escaut river, with its port activities. This is where the first trade exchanges came into being and this made it one of Europe’s most significant towns, a status that it held throughout the Middle Ages. At this time, it had a broad reach and attracted scientists, artists and major merchants in equal measure. During the 17th century, illustrious painters such as Rubens and Van Dyck settled here, as well as the printers who made the town so renowned. A strategic prize at the centre of many conflicts, from the wars of succession to World War II, Antwerp has always rebuilt itself whilst preserving the historical identity which gives the city its present-day appeal.
After touring the MoMu fashion museum, which is located in the heart of Nationalestraat – the town’s fashion district – there’s an array of shops to keep any esteemed shopaholic satisfied. Here, there’s the finest designer boutiques where the world’s biggest names in fashion gather, such as Victoria Beckham, Alexander Wang and Helmut Lang. Among them are the renowned establishments of Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten, both of whom are from Antwerp. Meanwhile, on Le Meir, which is a bit like the Champs-Élysées by the very fact that it’s an avenue of shops, I found all the typical high street shops including Zara, Uniqlo, and H&M, and whilst there, don’t forget to stop by The Chocolate Line, which is a Belgian institution owing to its delicious chocolates and also its quirkiness. Finally, wander through the heart of the diamond dealing district, for an afternoon to remember.
FOOD & DRINK
One cannot visit Antwerp without stopping by The Smallest Waffle Shop in the World for a Belgian waffle. I sampled one and can truly say it was delicious! For more substantial meals, there are dining options aplenty, such as restaurants by The Great Market Square, and those by the City Hall and The Cathedral of Our Lady. I especially recommend the moules-frites which is pretty much on every menu, for any first-time visitor. Afterwards, hit the bars; Korsakov and Boer van Tienen were among my favourites.
Be sure to visit the city’s history and art museums, FOMU photography museum, Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the monumental Museum aan de Stroom next to the Willemdok, a recreational boating dock. Other must-dos include a tour of the Notre-Dame Cathedral and paying a visit to the country’s oldest zoo, Antwerp Zoo.
Radisson Blu Astrid Hotel, Antwerp, Koningin Astridplein 7, 2018 Antwerp, Belgium
t: +32 (0)3 203 1234 e: firstname.lastname@example.org
Once you’ve settled into the hotel, take a tour bus. You’ll get an idea of how the city is laid out and how you want to spend the rest of the trip.
Pack your trainers. If you don’t have any, buy some. The shopping in Antwerp is a force to be reckoned with so ensure you have comfortable footwear.
Gin and tonics are approximately €10 each, so instead turn to what Belgium is famous for: its beers. There’s an incredible variety, and the restaurants and bars in Antwerp offer a huge range to quench your thirst, so why not try them out?
Buy some cycling shorts. They’re a fashion staple of the moment and a must-have for jumping on a bike and cycling around Antwerp. Hiring a bike is also an excellent way to see the sights as the streets are designed with this in mind, plus it’s a great way to burn off those lunchtime mussels, whilst stopping off in between art galleries.
Photographers, get your cameras at the ready – the city is packed full of architecture features, light and lines to capture.