The quintessential Benelux experience is a city one. Not many foreign visitors come for the Belgian beaches, even fewer for the Dutch mountains, and none at all for Luxembourg's vast empty spaces. On the other hand, Benelux cities -- big and small -- are among Europe's cultural and historical glories. This doesn't mean there are no places of scenic beauty; there are actually more than you might think.

Most important, bring as much time with you as you can afford. You might want to indulge yourself by stepping onboard an occasional slow train rather than always rushing to catch the high-speed Thalys or an InterCity Express; and drive on at least some country roads instead of zipping along on expressways. Even going by bicycle isn't out of the question.

Getting around Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg is a snap, but deciding what to take in and what to leave out is difficult. I hope these suggested itineraries will help you organize your time as you plan your own trip to Benelux.

Taken together, the Benelux nations of Belgium, Holland (the Netherlands), and Luxembourg cover a small area, a mere 75,000 sq. kilometers (29,000 sq. miles) -- around one-fifth the size of neighboring Germany, and not much larger than West Virginia. But arguably, no other comparably sized place in Europe compresses so many points of interest. Topping the list are artistic masterpieces, cultural events, and substantial reminders of a long and colorful history. Space remains for scenery that, while mostly lacking in drama, can still be lyrically beautiful. Then there are the more mundane (but agreeable) advantages of convenience, economy, and friendly populations, not to mention a host of other travel delights -- the exquisite food and drink of Brussels, the exuberant sociability of Amsterdam, and Luxembourg's sidewalk cafes.

For a graphic image of Belgium's two ethnic regions, Dutch-speaking Vlaanderen (Flanders) and French-speaking Wallonie (Wallonia), draw an imaginary east-west line across the country just south of Brussels. North of the line is Flanders, where you find the medieval cities of Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp, and Belgium's North Sea coastline. South of the line is Wallonia. The art cities of Tournai and Mons, and the scenic resort towns of the Meuse River valley and the Ardennes, are the attractions of this region. Then there's Brussels, the capital, roughly in the geographic middle, and going off on a trajectory of its own as the "capital of Europe."

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