Forget Paris, Milan and New York and shift your gaze in the direction of Antwerp, Belgium where this fashionably cool city boasts not only cutting edge designers, but also architectural tours that lead a path to the Art Nouveau district of Zurenborg.
My trip in Flanders was all about "state of the art" from to food to fashion to finding some lovely hidden surprises and a bit of history too.
But first and foremost, what about the car to drive while cruising the streets of this fashionable town and beyond. Enter the 2015 Jaguar XJL always chic inside and out and it's sporty in a highbrow sort of way with one heck of a strong engine.
Not one to be fussy, the 2015 Jaguar XJ is pretty much unchanged this year, but this full-size luxury sedan will no doubt please the refined driver who finds his way to this particular type of elegance and style.
The body style and trim options on this five-passenger Jaguar includes first of all choosing from a regular XJ or an XJL with a longer wheelbase. With the XJ you get a base, Supercharged and XJR model trim and with the XJL it is the Portfolio, Supercharged or XJR trim.
On the base XJ expect a supercharged V6 engine with 19-inch wheels, adaptive suspension with a driver-adjustable steering and throttle as well as shift paddles and front and back parking sensors. With automatic wipers and bi-xenon headlights there is also a rearview camera and auto-dimming mirrors with a stunning panoramic sunroof and the standard keyless ignition and entry.
If you want more than the base you can go up from there depending on price with the additions of everything from heated eight-way power front seats and heated rear seats as well as driver seat memory and a power tilt-and-telescoping heated steering wheel. On the XJL Portofolio you will find the XJ option packages with a Rear Seat package option that will give you massaging rear seats, rear seat footrests and a folding rear center armrest too. The Premium Rear Seat package also adds an entertainment system in the backseat.
Under the hood the choices are clear with the XJ or XJL with the supercharged V6, 3.0 engine that gives you 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque on an eight-speed automatic rear-wheel drive, however the all-wheel drive can be had.
For the XJ Supercharged trim the engine ups to a 5.0, V8 that screams 470 horsepower and 424 pound-feet of torque and the super performance comes with the XJR offering 550 horsepower and 502 pound feet of torque.
Of course getting behind the wheel of this power machine and especially in a county like Belgium that appreciate sryle and that is when the real pleasure begins. The Jaguar drives itself with a quiet approach to the road, but expect a great ride that makes this 2015 Jaguar one of the last of the great class acts with the 2015 Jaguar XJL Supercharged price tag at $96,225.
Continuing with the theme of class, in Antwerp for fashion aficionados download the www.fashioninantwerp.be app and go step by step into the best shops then go in for a coffee break to revive at Coffee and Vinyl or Normo for a breather before you keep going.
The exhibition MoMu Now is a selection of masterpieces from recent acquisitions of contemporary silhouettes to the MoMu collection with about 25,000 objects on hand for viewing depending on the time of your visit, then in keeping with the Antwerp Six who put the city on the map for fashion, art is also highly revered in Antwerp so you won't want to miss a few of the biggies there either. There is the city's master painter Peter Paul Rubens, whose design still proudly influences new talent even if he is gone. You will find his work inside its original home at the St. Charles Borromeo's Church boasting a baroque façade and designed by the master himself.
After a few nights in Antwerp take on the stunning city of Bruges where the highlight is easily one of the chocolate shops, like the Chocalatier Sukerbuyc. I am a chocolate lover and in this part of the world everyone knows it does not get any better. Chocalatier Sukerbuyc is a small family business in the center of Bruges and they make the finest chocolate and then you cross over to the tea room for hot chocolate and pastries, its decadent, but worth every minute and calorie.
Bruges also has a Lace Museum so for the fashion seeker this is a must to learn the history since lace began here in the 16th century. The museum is located in an old renovated lace school of the Apostollinnnen sister on Balsraat and focuses on the history and beauty of the fine design.
Keep in mind too that Bruges is located near the water and is linked with the sea -- with that it has also been UNESCO designated, the entire city, as a world heritage site so as you make your way around take a look at the enigmatic canals, veins to the pulse of the city that easily mixes the past with the present.
For a last day I headed to Brussels, a city that is known for comics among so many other things, but finding a theme is key when visiting here and the Comic Walking Tour just can't be passed up followed by a big hamburger and fries at the Comics Café for lunch.
Steeped in history, but clearly with a modern feel Flanders is a part of Europe that is definitely worth a week-long tour to discover the old world heritage along with the latest designs and some of the best menus on the continent.
Where to Dine:
This restaurant won a "brasserie of the year" award a few years ago and I will call it a bistro with class. I tried the liver, kidney Belgian Hare, but the menu offers many daring options for the cuisine lover. The open kitchen affords a place to watch the preparation while sipping on something local from the bar and really, to get the best idea of this place close your eyes and think of the smell of liver sizzling and see the Sous chef putting small herbs from live plants around the plates, enough said.
Graanmarkt 13; Antwerp
Graanmarkt touts itself as the flavor of happiness and one would be hard pressed not to agree. Starting with an aperitif I dug right in as my server brought the plates out from the chanterelle mushrooms to the Bouchot mussels and Flemish cheeses from Schoonvliet -- with a lunch and dinner it's a great location and full of light.
Patrick Devos; Bruges
Here we found a light cuisine, but gastronomic surprises since the biological vegetables coupled with the wine and the meat made this restaurant a hidden surprise all around. There were literally five tables and that was all and you are welcomed at the door like family heading inside for a holiday dinner. After an aperitif the menu begins, for me it was fried scallops with kimchi vegetables, local red deer with parsnips and butter turnip and the finale the apple and pear baked with a mascarpone mousse with honey ice cream. The entire atmosphere is delectable and the chef is a Bruges native using local ingredients when possible and as I was leaving, a full moon to make the experience perfect.