This past year, our very own Head of Research & Trip-Planning, Casey Cogan headed to IMEX 2019 in Frankfurt, Germany. IMEX is the largest convention for travel professionals, bringing vendors all corners of the world. After spending time there scouting new destinations and ideas for our clients, Casey jetted off for 3 days in Belgium. Thus giving us insight into the on-the-ground experience for future incentive & retreat groups. Take a look at the recount of her experience in the blog post below.
Why You Should Consider Belgium for Your Next Retreat or Incentive
With its cobblestone streets, bright and colorful houses with gabbled façades, and beautiful canals winding their way through each city like a wandering traveler, Belgium is a breath of fresh air – adding new life to the European MICE scene. This gem of a destination is hidden in plain sight, often overshadowed by the big names of bordering countries like The Netherlands and France. Yet, as a growing number of people have “been there” and “done that”, it’s Belgium’s time to shine. I recently had the incredible opportunity to visit this Western European treasure with Global DMC Partners and, let me tell you, it took a lot of will power to get on that flight back home.
Our adventure kicked-off in Leuven – an ancient academic town with about as many breweries as it has students. Strolling down the quaint roads, it was almost impossible to keep my eyes forward – choosing instead to gaze in awe at the classic architecture and seemingly endless array of statues overhead. We eventually made our way to Tafelrond – our dinner venue for that evening located in a grand medieval building. In keeping with Flanders tradition, here, we were greeted by a spectacular welcome performance by a band of flag throwers. The next time you bring a group to Belgium, make sure this is on your Welcome Night agenda! Things only got better from there – with the meal and wine selection leaving our taste buds tantalized well beyond the dinner table.
Bruges, Nicknamed the ‘Venice of the North’
Next up was Bruges, looking like something right out of your favorite fairy-tale. What can be described as a “mini Amsterdam” but is, no doubt, a destination in its own right, this city is well-poised to host groups from both near and far. Spend your days on a boat with cocktails drifting through the dreamy canals, enjoying a historical walking tour, or exploring the city on a scavenger hunt – the choice is yours and options are endless. We spent the night at an elegant 4-star accommodation – Hôtel Oud Huis de Peellaert. Perfect for small groups seeking a buyout, the 50-room property is as majestic as the city it calls home.
What Makes Antwerp & Ghent Special
After Bruges came Ghent – a quaint little town that has always been on my bucket list and definitely did not disappoint. With university students posing as a unique contrast to the medieval architecture, what stuck out the most was the selection of venues scattered throughout the area. Want to host your Welcome Reception in a 10th- Century castle? No problem. How about at an all-windows restaurant on a canal? Sure thing. In a distillery in the old port? Of course! We had the pleasure of enjoying our meal at Pakhuis – an impressive, open-concept brasserie with a menu matched only by décor and impeccable service. Spanning two floors and featuring an outdoor terrace, it is an ideal restaurant to add to your dine-around itinerary. A horse-drawn carriage paraded us through the streets back to our bus, where we set off from Belgium’s best-kept secret to our next destination.
Living up to its distinction as the diamond capital, Antwerp was an absolute gem to visit. The city’s top drawcards are its vibrant entertainment scene, breathtaking venues, and a multitude of hotel options. Even in the rain, a walk through the city is something special. Cafés and shops dot the streets finding comfort under the towering cathedral, while the vintage tram serves as a unique locale for pre-dinner cocktails. We spent the night at the sleek Lindner Hotel – a contemporary property located an easy 10-minute walk from the city’s central station (which, for the record, can also host special events). With its incredible rooftop terrace and vibrant meeting spaces with ample natural lighting, any business-oriented group would feel right at home here.
Chocolate tastings in Brussels
Closing out our trip was Brussels, the capital of Belgium or, as I like to call it, Belg-yum. Here, chocolate shops are scattered as far as the eye can see, waffle houses run at pretty much a 1:1 ratio with the population and restaurants seem to be brimming with guests 24/7. Seriously, if you leave Brussels hungry, you’re doing it wrong. Of course, not all chocolates are created equal. If you want to treat your guests to something really memorable, take a trip to Mary – the official chocolatier to the Royal Family. One bite of these delicious artisan truffles will have you overlooking their steep price tag, for chocolate’s sake.
After eating our way through the city, we arrived at our hotel – the glamorous Hôtel le Plaza, where we were surprised with violin lessons. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m rather tone deaf, however after an hour, our maestros had us playing like the pros (if you ignore all the screeching and missed notes, that is). If you’re looking for some unique and authentic team-building, look no further. It was then that we were guided to our final evening dinner venue, a beautiful theatre lit up with candles and a family-style table in the heart of the orchestra. To say we were wined and dined that evening would be an understatement. A magnificent pianist performed through each course – each somehow even more delicious than the last – while the service staff worked their way around the table like a well-rehearsed ensemble. I think it’s safe to say we all went to bed that night with both our stomachs and our hearts full.
Hospitality in Belgium Cannot be Understated
Last, I would be remiss to not mention the incredible hospitality we experienced over the course of our stay. From the moment we stepped foot in Belgium, everyone we had the pleasure of interacting with was an absolute delight. Although Belgians might fly under the radar when most think of “Europeans”, they are a small but proud nation with a warmth about them that is evident to all who visit. Laymen and service staff alike, there is no doubt Belgians appreciate the finer things in life, and take great satisfaction in showing off everything their amazing country has to offer.
From the people to the pastries, the architecture to the activities, and the food to the festivities, Belgium has an undeniable charm you do not want to miss!