Antwerp is Proud and Stylish
Story and images by Ed Salvato; above: handsome dancers at Antwerp's White Party, held during Pride.
Antwerp, Belgium recently began to court the LGBT travelers. A couple of years ago, the city hosted a familiarization tour with the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association. This past week, they hosted the IGLTA's annual conference. In conjunction, they invited 50 LGBT journalists from Europe and the U.S. (including yours truly) to show the world their gay-friendly destination. Antwerp, indeed Belgium, is typically not on the top of gay Americans must-visit list. That's too bad.
This country, with its Dutch-speaking, Germanic-yet-Catholic Flemish region and its French-parlant section Wallonia, offer all sorts of attractions, from the culinary (yummy beer and chocolate, waffles, delicious seafood) to the cultural and historical, and gay and lesbians are equal to their straight countryman in the eyes of the law. Gay marriage is the law of the land.
Antwerp or Anvers en français, is a compact metropolis of 500,000 souls, which is entirely walkable but also offers a system of trams and buses. It boasts a range of architectural styles though late-19th century styles, including marvelous examples of Art Nouveau, predominate. The detail of a building in the photo to the right ("summer") is an example of Art Nouveau, which as the name implies was a brand-new, exciting architectural form that celebrated modern life at the turn of the last century with its use of new materials, curvilinear lines, and a celebration of nature.
Antwerp is justifiably known for its beer (try Duvel, named for the devil, with its higher degree of alcohol than American beers) and chocolate (the best I tried was Chocolate Line with its incredibly diverse and surprising selections like tequila or wasabi chocolates), but it's also a world-class capital of fashion, with beautiful, interesting fashion for both men and women. Window displays are a refined art form here.
Plan a trip to Antwerp next year for Pride or August 3-11, 2013 for the Antwerp 3rd World Out Games. Stay at this fab hotel I checked out called Leopold Hotel. It's comfortable, clean, very boutique-y and within walking distance to everything. It offers free WiFi, and it's also across from a lovey park that's kind of cruise at night.
It is so easy to get here. Brussels is a major center of Europe and it's only 45 minutes by train to Antwerp from there. Brussels itself is an hour away from Paris by the high-speed Thalys train service with its 8 daily trains and speeds reaching 190 miles per hour.