[top photo: Market Square in Antwerp, Belgium. The market square also has a fabulous renaissance town hall and a 15th-century cathedral, which is one of the tallest towers in Belgium and considered one of the most refined Gothic cathedrals in northern Europe.]
By Deepika Shetty
The Belgian city of Antwerp is known as the "world's leading diamond city" but there is more to this place than diamond trading.
Guy Coolen, director of theatre company, Muziektheater Transparant and artistic director of Operadays Rotterdam, says Antwerp is a relatively small town with 500,000 residents.
Guy coolen, director of theatre company, Muziektheater Transparant and artistic director of Operadays Rotterdam.
The city is home to several theatre and musical groups and hosts concerts and shows throughout the year.
Coolen, 42, will be presenting RUHE (Silence) at the Singapore Arts Festival in May. This is a theatrical production based on interviews with Belgians, who collaborated with the Nazi invaders during World War II.
Through songs, monologues and videos, it explores issues of beauty and brutality and is a reminder that evil is never far away.
Coolen may travel around the world with his productions but he says Antwerp will always be home.
"Antwerp is peaceful, it is quiet, yet it is lively enough for me," he says. Here are his tips to make the most of your visit there.
The market square has a fabulous renaissance town hall and a 15th-century cathedral.
The cathedral has one of the tallest towers in Belgium and is one of the most refined Gothic cathedrals in northern Europe.
It also displays several paintings by renowned Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens.
Rubens House-Museum (Wapper 9-11, 2000 Antwerpen, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org), where the artist lived and died in 1640, is a must visit, says Coolen.
It was here that Rubens' splendid Baroque paintings were created. After his death, the house was sold. In 1937, the severely damaged house was bought by the city, which then restored it and turned it into the museum.
Now, you can see some of the artist's works as well as works created by his contemporaries.
To fully appreciate the beauty of this place, Coolen suggests setting aside at least half a day to explore it fully.
THE ROYAL MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
Another must-see for art lovers is the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Antwerp (Leopold De Waelplaats, B-2000 Antwerp, web: www.kmska.be).
Founded in 1810, this museum houses a fabulous collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings from the 14th to the 20th century. This collection is representative of the artistic production and taste of art enthusiasts in Belgium and the Netherlands since the 15th century.
GO WITH THE FLOW
Antwerp has a great mix of buildings dating back to the Middle Ages as well as recent ones. You can find bars housed in 16th-century buildings or small museums with remarkable art collections.
The mediaeval part of the city is full of small cafes and restaurants. Towards the south of the city, you can find a 19thcentury area full of beautiful art nouveau-style houses, some of which have been converted into trendy bars and restaurants.
The best way to see them is by walking through the town and taking breaks at the restaurants and bars.
"One of the main attractions for me is the Cogels-Osylei. Several artists live in this area and they have made this a very colourful and vibrant part of town.
"Walking in this area and looking at the bright houses is really a feast for the eyes," says Coolen.
The shopping areas are located in the cultural and historic sections of the city and shopping here means strolling around the pedestrian streets, past historic houses and modern shopping centres.
Depending on your taste, you can choose to go antique-hunting in Kloosterstraat or look out for designer clothes.
For over 20 years, Antwerp has been a major attraction for fashion followers. Famous designers who retail here include Dries van Noten, who dressed a very pregnant Cate Blanchett for the 2008 Academy Awards.
He trained in Antwerp and helped to turn this Belgian city into the unlikely epicentre of fashion, says Coolen.
Coolen recommends Sir Anthony van Dijck (Vlaeykensgang, Oude Koornmarkt 16, Oude Stad).
People dining in the historically rich surroundings of Bourla Theater in Antwerp, Belgium.
This restaurant has a great setting and the food is exquisite. The restaurant had two Michelin stars but they returned the stars so that they could continue to offer good food at economical prices.
The menu, which changes every month, offers brasserie fare such as salad liegeoise with beans, boiled potatoes and bacon and tuna steak.
Dome (Grote Hondstraat 2, Zurenborg) and Dome-sur-Mer (1 Arendstraat, web: www.domeweb.be) are two exquisite restaurants located in old buildings. Dome is known for its French cuisine while Dome-sur-Mer is famous for its fish.
"Of course, when you visit Belgium, you have to eat steak. There are several steak restaurants, particularly in the Old Abattoir area, but the one you should try is Pietrain (Lange Lobroekstraat 25-27, 2060 Antwerp)," says Coolen.
He says the steaks here are always good and the cosy ambience makes this a very popular stop with locals.
RUHE BY MUZIEKTHEATER
Where: The Salon, National Museum of
When: May 26 to 29, 8pm
Admission: $36, call 6348-5555 or
This article was first published in The Straits Times