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Stories from our groups of women traveling to France, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland. Plus info and travel tips about the countries we travel to.

Archive for the ‘Brussels’

Over a million bugs on Royal Palace ceiling in Brussels

September 11, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Brussels, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Jac's Travel diary, painting workshops No Comments →

Today we visited the capital of Belgium:  Brussels.

We took the train from Bruges to Brussels. At the train station, some of us had a hard time reading the signs without their glasses so Linda gave us a tip: Close one eye and look through your fingers with the other. It sounds odd but it works. Everyone tried it!!!!!



We started the day with a visit of the Palace of the King. This is not where our King, Albert II, and the queen, Paola, live but where he works. Since the king is on vacation, the palace is open to the public.


The Palace is of course very luxurious but maybe not always at our taste. We had a hard time with the ceiling of the mirror room decorated with 1 million 500 thousands beetles from Thailand!! Yes, real beetles (dead of course!!!). It makes it all blue and green. Even the chandelier was all covered with those bugs. It was maybe in fashion under the reign of  King Leopold II (the second King of Belgium at the end of the 19th century) but it was for sure not ours. Wish we could have taken pictures…

While we were walking in Brussels, Bonnie stayed at our accommodation near Bruges and painted all day. Here are some of her paintings:



During that time, we were still wandering around and of course eating some Belgian waffles. Actually there is not such a thing as A Belgian waffle in Belgium. There are two types of waffles: the Liege waffle or the Brussel Waffle. The Liege waffle is harder and has more sugar than the Brussel waffle. The shape is also a bit different (oval for Liege, rectangular for Brussels).


Here is the Brussel waffle (with powder sugar and whipped cream ):


And here is the Liege waffle:


You can of course have them plain or with whipped cream, chocolate, strawberries, etc…

The day ended with a great dinner at our hotel, served by Monique who is a real delight. To characterize Monique, I will just say: “Ask and you shall receive.”


Teresa was cold one day and Monique prepared her a hot bath with candles for the ambiance. Sandy can’t eat sugar, so Monique would bring her an alternative dessert. Teresa wanted to take a pic of her chocolate pralines and Monique brought her a plate and arrange them for the picture to make sure it looked nice. It wouldn’t be the same without her. That is a big reason that made me choose her accommodation.

The evening ended with some of us dancing in the dining room (Teresa and Catherine on the picture)!!!!!


Tomorrow, I will post some of the paintings made by the group. Make sure to check again.

Join us next year on this fabulous trip: check our site at

50% OFF on our trip to Belgium in August 2009 !

July 11, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Brussels, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Customs and Traditions, history 1 Comment →

For the past 2 years I have been escorting visitors in Belgium, on painting workshops and cultural tours.


It has been a special treat for me, a native from  Belgium, to introduce Americans and French people to the culture, the history and the traditions of my country. Designing the tour was  an enlightning experience for myself, as I learnt a lot of things about my own roots, my fellow-citizens and most of all, about the essence of what makes Belgium so special.

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                                          Pictures:  fine dining or sharing pastries at the home of a local

We started in April 2008 with a “Guinea pig” tour with French people (friends and family, as we always do when we have new tours). France is a neighbour and cousin of Belgium, but it was still very exotic for them when it came to speaking Belgian-French or eating “French” fries which are not French. We then had a cultural tour for Americans in August 2008. They loved learning about history (from medieval castles to WWII battle fields), tasting the incredible Belgian beers and chocolate, and meeting locals ( baking with a local baker or sharing memories at WWII survivor’s home).

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                                                               Pictures: local festivals

Indeed, our tour of Belgium offers a great deal of diverse attractions. On our cultural tour, you have the opportunity to discover both Wallonia and Flanders, as well as Brussels. First of all, our goal is to introduce you to authentic  local activities that you could not do on other tours:

  • attending a local street festival in a small Wallonia town
  • baking speculoos (cinamon cookies) with a local baker
  • chocolate tasting in a small family-owned chocolate factory
  • having tea at the home of a WWII survivor

We also want to show  Belgium through history, architecture and gastronomy; here are samples of our daily trips:

  • Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge Memorial
  • the medieval city of Bruges with its canals and romantic atmosphere
  • the beaches and harbour of Ostend by the North Sea
  • Brussels: the  Grand Place, Manneken Pis and its world famous museums

We are offering 3 tours this summer / fall 2009: 2 painting trips and 1 cultural trip. Only 4 spots remain available out of 18 overall. Our stays are 8 days, for 8 guests only, fully escorted by bilingual guide from your arrival at Brussels airport to your departure at Brussels airport. Comfortable van and quaint guesthouse.

We hope to see you in Belgium ! For our next availabilities and discount, check

What is the Secret of Belgian Chocolate?

May 18, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Brussels, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Customs and Traditions, Food and Recipe 3 Comments →

                             pralines 2

Visit Belgium and you will understand why chocolate is essential in the life of this tiny country: you will find a chocolatier in every village, in every main street, and in big cities such as Liege, Brussels or Bruges, there will be an infinite choice of  chocolate makers displaying their beautiful pralines all around you!

So why is it so delicious? Well, the best ingredients are used and the traditional techniques still prevail. Most belgian chocolates are made by hand in small workshops, by people who love their job and are very proud of their specialties. They receive their chocolate paste still warm and liquid in heated tanker truck and not in solid cold paste like in other countries. This way, it keeps its original flavor longer.


Why is it different? Well, Belgian chocolate became internationally known thanks to the invention of   “pralines” (not the same as the sweet treats found in the States). This technique was invented in 1912 by Jean Neuhaus, a swiss man who had moved to Brussels. Praline-making consists in moulding a cold chocolate shell that can then be filled with any flavored chocolate or other ingredients (nougat, creams..). Neuhaus were also the first to use “ballotins”, the chic box to carefully wrap pralines.

Our favorite Belgian chocolate?


  • Neuhaus -   The original Boutique in Galleries de la Reine in Brussels.
  • Leonidas - check here to order some from the States
  • And many small chocolatier like Bouvier, in Anseremme near Dinant.

Chocolate bars

  • Galler, made in Namur.  Check here to order some in the USA

For tours of Belgium including chocolate tasting and praline-making demonstration, check (50% off on August trip to Belgium).

The video below is a praline-making demonstration from Planète Chocolat.

My 5 top info about spring 2009 in Brussels, Belgium

April 17, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: "How to" Tips, Art, Belgian Escapades, Belgian news, Brussels, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Women 2 Comments →


                           Jackie, your travel guide and specialist about Belgium, France and California

                                                                         (see bottom  of article for latest trip discounts)

  • The new Magritte museum is opening soon! On June 2, its doors will open on the magic world of the most famous Belgian surrealist painter. Located next to the Art Museum on Place Royale in Brussels, and not to be confused with the former Magritte museum, located in the painter’s home. While the old one focuses on the artist’s life, the new one will exhibit some 170 paintings by Magritte. Not to be missed! Tickets are for sale online.


  • The royal greenhouse of Laeken are only open to the public in spring. This year, you will be able to admire the huge collection of rare plants in the superb 19th century greenhouses designed by Balat from Friday, April 17 to May 10 (closed on Mondays). It is a short window and therefore a privilege to enter this magical  space located in the King’ s palace gardens.


  • The Foundation for Architecture is presenting its 2009 exhibition " the Time of the Boutiques" , from booths to ebay, ongoing until October 18, 2009. You will be immersed in the experience of window-shopping through ages. The foundation is located rue de l’ Hermitage, 105 – Brussels 1050. Closed on Mondays.


  • On Saturday, May 16, 2009, you will be able to join the Belgian Gay Pride March in Brussels, with around 20,000 people walking the Streets of the Belgian capital. The parade is free and starts at 2 pm at the Bourse. It will end with the Rainbow Party at the Ancienne Belgique.


  • Brussels public transportation are varied and convenient: 5 train stations, an easy train access to the airport and a great subway network in addition to a large bus and tram network. On April 4 , 2009, new metro lines were added.

Practical info: the Brussels subways (Metro)  run from 5am to 1am / Trains are every 7 minutes / a single ticket costs 1.70 euros  and a Day pass 4.50 euros / a 3-Day pass 9.50 euros.


To and from the airport, trains run every 15 minutes (Central station, Bruxelles Midi, Airport station located  in the basement – level – 1)

And because Belgians are unpredictable, watch this video taken at the Antwerp train station on March 23.  Public transport can be art!"



So to all of you who will be in Belgium this spring, enjoy!

If you want to join us on our August tour of Belgium with a special 50% off discount, check our website . It is a women-only 8-day trip in Wallonia and the  Flanders in a small group of 8, escorted by bilingual guides with a real knowledge of the country. I will be there!


All pictures were taken on French Escapade tours in Belgium.

Painting in Belgium: a full palette of colors!

February 20, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Art, Belgian Escapades, Brussels, Cultural Tours to Belgium 3 Comments →

Belgium is a land of painters. Famous artists  (Bruegel, Van Eyck, Rubens, Memling, James Ensor, Magritte…) are Belgian. Here are 3 different cities to illustrate 3 painting styles.



The technique of the oil painting was invented in Bruges, the romantic  Belgian  town built on the water, where many artists lived in the heart of the wealthiest 15th century communauty.

Bruges is associated to the Flemish Primitives (such as Van Eyck) which refer to the painting school and the painting style of the Southern Netherlands (now Belgium) in the 15th century. The name only started to be used in the 19th century. The name ‘Flemish’ (adjective for Flanders, the area running from Northern France to the Southern Netherlands) is used to cover the entire group of 15th century painters living in Bruges and its surrounding area. The word Primitive only mean they were the first to use new painting techniques, which were far from being primitive!

  • In Bruge, visit the Groeninge Museum, with its collection of paintings from the 14th to the 20 th century (mainly by artists who lived in the Bruges area ) : Van Eyck, Memling, Pieter Bruegel…


    Horse carriage in Bruges  by Sonja Hamilton                          Medieval houses by canals in Bruges

© Photo Credit: Painting by Sonja Hamilton SWA


Ostende was the Queen of the Belgian seashore resorts in the second half  of the 19th century. King Leopold II transformed the little fisherman port into a prestigious aristocratic town – eclectic and cosmopolitan.

Marine painters found there a perfect subject for their plein air vignettes.

However, Ostende is mainly associated to James Ensor, the impressionist painter who dared to use avant-garde expressionist effects in his work, which resulted in the fact that he was never well-accepted during his lifetime. He also enjoyed depicting his contemporaries in a very critical way (grotesque masks, snares …) which alienated him from the general public. He is now seen as a major precursor of modern painting and his work is displayed in major museums (Getty museum of California for instance).

  • In Ostende, visit the James Ensor House; it does not contain any of his work but it shows the  bizarre   environment in which Ensor lived and worked for the last 32 years of his life. The place is crammed with objects he used as models in his colorful paintings.



Brussels is an art laboratory. While walking around the city, you are constantly facing architectural splendors (sometimes horrors, I have to admit): Art Nouveau buildings, medieval shops, gothic facades , next to the ugliest 20th century condominums or the impressive glass building of the European Parliament. The king Palace is neo-classic but the nearby cafés and restaurants boast the most high-tech deco ! To put it in a nutshell, Belgian are daring and crazy when it comes to architecture.

As for painting, you do not need to enter a museum to admire beautiful murals: the city is the capital of comic strips, and you will meet many comic heroes on the walls of Brussels

But if you are not keen on Comics, and do not wish to visit the Comic Strip center, Brussels has many art museums, and the New Magritte museum is to open on June 2, 2009; you can also visit the old Rene Magritte museum (his house in Brussels) which is a different museum.

For more Magritte information, read our previous article dated January 5, 2009.

Painting tours and cultural tours are offered in these three cities with French Escapade.


Links (click on title):

Videos (click on title):

Who said "This is not a pipe"?

January 05, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Art, Belgian news, Brussels, Cultural Tours to Belgium 1 Comment →


In 1929, the most celebrated surrealist Belgian painter wrote this caption on his oil painting representing a pipe, and called his piece: “the Betrayal of Images”.

His name? René Magritte.

On June 2, 2009 , Brussels will open a new Magritte Museum. Located by the Art museum on Place Royale, within walking distance from the famous Grand Place,  the museum will hold 200 works, the largest collection of Magritte paintings, plus archival material, letters written by the painter, photographs and drawings.

Born in 1898 in Lessines, Belgium, Magritte firts studied art at the Belgian  Academy of Fine arts. He later met  the French and Spanish surrealists in Paris in the 20s and  joined their cultural and political movement . His first American exhibit was organized in New York in 1936, but he  only set foot in the States  in 1965, for a retrospective of his works at the Chicago MOMA. Magritte died in 1967 in Brussels.

Inspired by both the bizarre and the absurd, Magritte evokes a wide spectrum of themes to entice the observer.

Visits of the museum are available on French Escapade tours to Belgium in 2009: August 22-29 (Cultural tour), August 14- 21 and September 5-12 (Painting tours).

Useful links for Magritte in Brussels

Illustration 1: the new Magritte Museum in Brussels

Illustration 2: Oil on canvas from

Brussels Jewish Heritage

December 13, 2008 By: jgrandchamps Category: Art, Belgian Escapades, Brussels, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Customs and Traditions 6 Comments →

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Photos of the Great Synagogue of Brussels,  posted with the kind authorization of the Jewish Consistory of Belgium

As the Jewish community is about to celebrate Hanukkah on Dec.21 all over the world, let’s take some time to visit the Jewish Brussels  .

Jews settled in Belgium between the 13th and 15th centuries., after being expelled from France, England, Spain and Portugal. In the Lowlands, especially in Antwerp, the Jewish community played an important economic and financial role.

When Belgium beame a country in 1831, the new regime recognized judaism as an official religion. By the end of the 19th century, both Sephardic and Ashkenazic jews were well implanted in the country. In 1939, an estimated 65,000 jews lived in Belgium, mainly in Brussels. After WWII, 40,000 had perished under the nazi regime.

Today, the Jewish community is about42,000, the majority living in Brussels and Antwerp. Belgium is the 4th largest community in Europe.

Jewish Landmarks in Brussels:

  • The Belgian Jewish Museum
  • The Great Synagogue. Built in 1878, it was not destroyed during WWII. Located 32 rue de la Regence, Brussels
  • The Liberal Synagogue (Reform) : many Americans attend services there (96 avenue de Kersbeek, a 20-minute taxi ride from downtown)
  • The National Monument to the Jewish Martyrs of Belgium. An  impressive monument with 23, 838 names located in the district of Anderlecht.


  • The International Jewish Center organizes cultural and religious activities in English . 

Happy Hanukkah to all our Jewish friends!