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Antwerp: an old soul reborn as edgy cool Add to ...

Right on the edge of this district, tucked away behind narrow streets, is the late Gothic Sint Andrieskerk. In between weddings, I slipped quietly into this busy church and saw its famous carved pulpit and appraised the centuries-old statue of the Virgin Mary, whose controversial dress was designed by Ann Demeulemeester in 2001. It didn’t strike me as sacreligious – there are echoes of the New World in the feathers and beads – but rather, somehow, respectful.

While the dining scene in Antwerp is varied and excellent, it tends to be either classic or campy. I loved the Antwerp stew, served with a bolleke of De Koninck beer, at Appelman’s Brasserie near the old cathedral. I was especially charmed by Villa Villekulla, the Pippi Longstocking dining experience that is staged in the Ra Kitchen on Friday nights. The three-course meal is served in a room that has bunk beds, mismatched chairs and tables and overstuffed sofas. The food was good – but the light-hearted atmosphere was the highlight.

End your Antwerp evening with a flight of flavoured jenevers, the potent Belgian liquor similar to gin, in a pub such as De Vagant. And, of course, indulge in chocolate. It is always a good day if it ends with Belgian chocolate.

Where to Shop

Dries Van Noten’s Het Modepaleis This well-known designer is one of the Antwerp Six, who helped establish the city as a fashion and design centre. His elegant shop on Nationalestraat has his latest designs. Expensive, yes, but this is investment dressing. The designer is set to open a new atelier in the Eilandje District. Nationalestraat 16; driesvannoten.be

Philip’s Biscuits You see hands everywhere: It’s the symbol of Antwerp. At Philip’s Biscuits, you can get a bag of the delicious butter biscuit version of the hand, as well as their famous spekuloos cookies, honey cakes and gingerbread. Korte Gasthuisstraat 11, philipsbiscuits.be

Graanmarkt 13 This concept store has decor objects, clothing, shoes and fine art pieces, as well as a good restaurant on the lower level. Graanmarkt 13, graanmarkt13.be

Gunther Watte A chocolate and coffee shop in the Fashion District, this is a chic little place for excellent coffee or tea, single-source artisanal chocolate and decadent cakes and cookies. Steenhouwersvest 30; watte.be

Filippa K The Scandinavian fashion house specializes in urban elegance for men and women. Steenhouwersvest 65; filippa-k.com

Maison Anna Heylen Heylen’s shop is worth visiting just to enjoy the visuals. She specializes in small series and made-to-measure couture. Lombardenstraat 16; annaheylen.be

What to See

Cathedral of Our Lady This ancient Gothic cathedral is the anchor for the old part of Antwerp. It contains important paintings from Rubens – look especially at The Raising of the Cross and The Descent from the Cross to see how the artist’s style changed after he visited Italy. Groenplaats 21; dekathedraal.be

Central Station You can’t really classify the style of architecture of this railway cathedral, but it is awesomely beautiful. Have coffee in the Royal Café or just stand under the vast dome and watch the pedestrian traffic. Koning Astridplein

Rubens House Museum This beautiful museum gives a glimpse into the life and times of the great painter. The house and galleries are very attractive, but the formal garden may well be the best part. Wapperplein 9; rubenshuis.be

Plantin-Moretus Museum The former home of two printers, the Plantin-Moretus affords a look at the intellectual life of 16th-century Belgium. Ancient books, art, an architecturally special mansion and a walled garden make this an enjoyable visit. Vrijdagmarkt 22; museumplantinmoretus.be

St Andrew’s Church (Sint Andries Kerk) This small church is a hidden gem. It is home to the statue of the Virgin Mary of the Brotherhood of Succour and Victory that was dressed by designer Ann Demeulemeester, and of the 1821 carved pulpit depicting Jesus calling the fishermen to follow him. Sint-Andriesstraat 5

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