A Love Letter to Belgium

By alison - February 7, 2014 (Updated: November 18, 2014)

Belgium, I love you

Belgium, I love you

Dear Belgium,

We’ve been together now for almost nine years, and it’s occurred to me I’ve never really told you how I feel about you. Oh sure, I brag about you to all of my friends, like any love-sick fool would do, but I’ve never taken the time to put down in words just how much our relationship means to me.

When we met, way back in 2004, I had no idea we would become friends, let alone become involved in a long-term relationship. Now I can’t imagine you not being a part of my life. Even though I left Canada to be with you, it remains in my heart, just as you will, wherever I go in the world. Being with you has influenced the person I’ve become and I will be forever changed by our relationship.

But it hasn’t always been easy between you and me.

I would love to say our eyes locked across a crowded room and it was love at first sight. But you and I both know our relationship was far rockier than that.

In fact, the first two times we met, I was with my first European love, the Netherlands, and her flashy beauty overshadowed your somber, grey, seriousness. It was winter and you were in your usual funk. You barely smiled at me and I left with no idea of the depths buried under your gloomy facade.

I was influenced by the rumors I had heard about you as well. “Belgium is boring. Don’t bother,” they said, and I’m ashamed to say, I listened.

Despite my initial misgivings, in 2005, we moved in together. It was meant to be a two year deal…roommates you could say. You accepted my husband, Andrew, and me into your borders on a temporary basis. I had my doubts this trial period would last, in the end, you surprised me Belgium.

You weren’t so easy to get along with, and honestly neither was I. You snubbed me with your language, cut me off from my friends and family, and kept Andrew far from home, stuck in your traffic jams; (I suspected you were jealous, but I assure you, there’s room enough in my heart for both of you.)

I’ll admit I was scared to get to know you. I was afraid to put myself out there and take risks. I spent a long time fighting with my own emotional baggage, and not enough time trying to get beneath your surface. You have to understand, the place I was in was not a pretty one. I had given up my career, lost my identity, and I felt alone and resentful. I was drawn to the idea of an exciting new relationship, but had little to give of myself at that point. I needed to find me, before I could truly love again.

Your endless gloomy moods depressed me, but then, just when I’d be on the brink of giving up, you’d open up and show me some wonderful side of you. You never revealed your secrets easily; a hidden castle here, a beautiful garden there. I had to work hard to encourage you to open up to me. But an incredible meal or a hint of hospitality would be all I’d need to stick it out with you a little while longer.

In 2007, we decided to take our relationship to the next level. I was terrified to move into your heart, Brussels, but I knew it had to be done, if our relationship was to survive.

That was when I realized I was falling in love with you. You, in turn, began to reveal yourself to me even more. Like the shy girl next door, who everyone overlooks, you put on your party dress and we saw the diva within. I was hooked.

As our bond grew stronger, I wanted to explore every inch of you. Instead of always racing off to visit our glamorous neighbors: France, Germany, the Netherlands; I stayed home and travelled within your borders. I discovered a level of complexity and diversity I had no idea you possessed. I saw the humble passions of your people and the beauty of your tiny frontiers.

There was so much more to you than the beer, chocolate, waffle stereotypes (but of course, you know I love you for those too). In fact, it was your talent for food that drew me in; from Michelin stared extravagance to eating shrimp croquettes on the street. You knew they way to this girls heart, was through her taste-buds.

Your appreciation for art surprised me, as did your love of music and theatre. Who knew you were such a festival buff? I had no idea how many artists, authors and inventors you influenced. You definitely aren’t one to brag.

So I did the bragging for you. I couldn’t stop talking about you. I’m sure I drove our friends crazy with ‘Belgium this’ and ‘Belgium that.’ But you know how it is with a new love; you just can’t get enough. I became your biggest fan and have spent 8 years writing about you to anyone who would listen.

Last year, we decided to tie the knot and make our relationship official. You were hesitant at first, throwing up your defenses of paperwork and bureaucracy. I saw through your games and knew if I persisted you’d let me in.

Things between us are good now. Oh sure, you still get on my nerves occasionally with your split personality – one day Flanders, one day Wallonia; your need to overcomplicate everything with your layers of government; and your interminable moody periods – seriously do you have to be grey and moody so often?

But what long-term relationship doesn’t have its struggles? I know I do things to annoy you too. I insist on butchering your languages and I’m always popping off to spend time in other countries. But here’s the thing; just as I have the capacity to love other countries in the world, you too have a heart big enough to welcome countless other foreigners. Whether they stay with you for a few days or a lifetime, you welcome them, quietly, humbly and in your own understated way. If they are patient and take the time to get to know you, they can’t help but love you like I do.

We’ve forged a love that will remain, despite the odds. You’ve made me a better, stronger, more confident person. Meeting you has changed my life in ways I never could have dreamed. You will always be part of me.

Belgium, I love you.

This post was originally published on



Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She is currently slow travelling through Europe in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+


  1. Comment by Pascale Sztum

    Pascale Sztum February 8, 2014 at 12:53

    Thanks for writing so beautifully about my country!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison February 10, 2014 at 09:09

      My pleasure Pascale! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Comment by Anne

    Anne February 11, 2014 at 20:45

    Un grand merci pour votre perspicacité pour découvrir notre Belgique, qui, c’est vrai, à première vue, peut sembler si “boring”. Grâce à votre blog, j’ai redécouvert mon pays et j’ai envie de faire certaines visites que vous nous avez proposées.vos photos sont magnifiques et sont toujours un plus.
    Longue vie à cheeseweb!

    PS! Bientôt dans la région liegeoise?

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison February 11, 2014 at 20:59

      Merci beaucoup Anne! J’aime bien Liege donc peut-etre nous retournons bientôt!

  3. Comment by Yves

    Yves February 15, 2014 at 15:19

    Thank you for such a nice introspection into relationship between a person and a country. Many of the discovert you described explain why Belgians don’t immigrate, and most of them don’t even leave their country for vacation. It is still a well kept secret. I am from Belgium and for the last 35 years lived in the USA. I wish I could tell a loving fable like yours.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison February 18, 2014 at 13:21

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it Yves! Being an expat in any country is a very special relationship.

  4. Comment by Sofie

    Sofie February 27, 2014 at 16:17

    Absolutely love this post!

    I found your blog thanks to Deb and Dave from The PlanetD. I told them that I didn’t know a lot of other Belgian travel bloggers and they guided me to you.
    This is the first post I read on here, but I’m certain I’ll be coming back for more!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison February 28, 2014 at 09:52

      Hi Sofie. I’m so glad you enjoyed my post! There are a few travel blogger based in Belgium but most of us writing in English are expats. I’m glad you found me!

  5. Comment by Lene

    Lene March 10, 2014 at 12:25

    I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for having ever written this. It brings joy to my heart and even some tears to my eyes.

    If all goes as planned and my dutch improves enough I will be setting tiny viking sails towards Belgium and a certain gentleman there. Knowing that all my worldly belongings will have to fit in the back of a van in less than 18 months, and that I must leave everything that made me what I am today behind scares me more than I dare admit to anyone. CheeseWeb softens my fears and increases my newfound love of Belgium into something worth facing with with my head held high.

    Yours sincerely,

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison March 10, 2014 at 13:06

      Thank you so much for your kind words Lene. I’m so glad this post and CheeseWeb have been a positive force for you. Moving abroad is a scary, life-altering event, but the rewards can be so wonderful and enriching. All the best of luck with your language classes and your move and if we can ever help in any way, don’t hesitate to email us!

  6. Comment by Jeroen Ingels

    Jeroen Ingels March 19, 2014 at 13:37

    That is just awesome, I moved to the UK last year, and as a Gentenaar I miss Belgium dearly for all the things you describe so aptly. I will be following your writings from now on, in recognition, wonderment and pride of my little country and its hidden diversity! Perhaps I will comment on your posts to add to the discoveries it brings to many. Thank you.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison March 19, 2014 at 15:14

      I’m so glad you liked it Jeroen. We always love getting feedback from Belgians about CheeseWeb, and we’d be honoured if you’d comment and share your tips and secrets. We love Gent!

  7. Comment by Jess (JessOnThames)

    Jess (JessOnThames) April 5, 2014 at 14:19

    Alison this is so lovely :) And SO TRUE. I spent the first few years in Belgium not really paying attention or getting to know it. I was thinking about how I was going to get out. And now that I’ve actually left I really miss it, grey moods, infuriating traffic jams (I hear yesterday’s was out of control!), unnecessary bureaucracy and all. Just love this. xx

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 5, 2014 at 14:38

      Thanks Jess! Yes Belgium can definitely be infuriating! That protest yesterday was just around the corner from us… But of all the places we’ve travelled there’s just nowhere else like it. It’s so easy to be here and discovering the hidden charms this country has is always so exciting. I love how understated it is about everything. And really, there’s so much here to be proud of. :)

  8. Comment by dennis

    dennis April 10, 2014 at 20:28

    As a (half) Dutch person living in Belgium I’ve never understand people who like the Netherlands more than Belgium (like you initially). It must be because the Netherlands can ‘sell itself’ a lot better. Belgium is more modest, but it’s so, so much more interesting and unique. The landscapes in Holland are all the same: flat. (talking about boring…) In Belgium it goes from the flat Polders to the really beautiful hills of the Ardennes with the little rivers, beautiful villages, etc. To me, the Ardennes are one of the most beautiful regions of Europe. But so few people know this. And then there are the cities Ghent, Antwerp, Bruges, Leuven, Mechelen, Namur, Tournai,… and even Brussels 😉 Splendid architecture and a great vibe (especially Antwerp). And I haven’t even mentioned the food. Or the many music festivals in the summer, many of them even elected as ‘best in the world’! (Rock Werchter, Tomorrowland) I love Belgium too :)

  9. Comment by cathy @ ma vie trouvee

    cathy @ ma vie trouvee June 27, 2014 at 03:42

    I love this piece! So many parts I can relate to…however, I was easy – I fell in love with Brussels from day one and I do so miss it – some days more than others. But easy girl that I am – I also love singapore : ) but soooooo different.

    Congratulations on getting your dual-citizenship Alison – how existing and I always heard this was near impossible so kudos to you.

    Does this mean you might stay forever?????/

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison June 27, 2014 at 09:01

      Glad you liked it Cathy! Nothing is forever and we certainly never want to stop travelling and exploring the world, but Belgium will always be one our ‘homes.’

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