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Shopping in the Benelux

Shopping in the Benelux can mean the satisfying hunt for your favorite chocolate, a search for the most avant-garde fashion you dare to wear, a tasting tour of smoky charcuterie from the Ardennes, or choosing which piece of crystal or antique pottery belongs at your house.

Holland is big shopping fun, whether you’re happiest communing with antiques or you get energized seeing the bright inventiveness of modern wares. "Shopping in Amsterdam is not just an exercise in retail therapy, more a voyage of discovery!” Investigate the Nine Streets to find your favorite off-beat boutique, or head for the Dam and Bijenkorf, Holland’s answer to Herrods or Macy’s. Breathe in sweet fragrance and dazzle your eyes at the Singel flower market, a vast array of blooms presented on floating barges.

Travel to Delft to buy a bit of the blue and white porcelain made famous during Holland’s Golden Age and still going strong. In Leerdam, learn how rainbows are made from glass at the Royal Leerdam crystal factory, and then stop by the outlet store in The Hague. Anywhere in Holland you’ll find clogs, cute and kitschy but irresistible, small enough to be a on keychain or large enough to wear on your feet – for fun.

Comestibles abound: Holland is a dairy country and famous for its sturdy cheeses, such as Edam, Gouda, and Leiden. In Alkmaar you can see the old fashioned cheese market reenacted, with strapping men carrying enormous globes of cheese on wooden trays. Specialist shops can vacuum-wrap cheeses so you can take them home, but do check customs regulations for your country before you buy, just to be sure. And yes, you can try cannabis legally in Holland, but it is a souvenir you can transport only as a memory, not as a memento.

If your thumb is any shade or green or you have a gardener among friends or family, take home some tulip bulbs to see a little bit of Holland at home.

Treasure hunters sharpen your eyes, Belgium is full of antique shops and brocantes, a mix between antique fair and flea market. How about some old chocolate or cookie molds? Lover of comic strips, are you? Then prepare yourself; you’re in Tintin territory, among other heroes. Look for “bd” shops – for bande dessinee, which means comic strip, and see what you can find.

For gracious atmosphere you can’t do better than the elegant, glass-roofed shopping arcade of Gallerie St. Hubert, built in 1847, just off the Grand’Place. Here you’ll find top-notch book, music, home décor, jewelry, and chocolate shops alongside inviting cafés. Take a peek in the Delvaux windows to see Belgium’s most legendary and luxurious handbags. Thanks to its design school, Anwterp is spilling over with cutting edge fashion and great shopping. Pop into the Jewish quarter for a little chunk of carbon; this is the world’s largest diamond market, after all. Lace and tapestry shops abound in Brussels, Gent, and Bruges. Don’t think it’s all “grandma”, some of the new designs are ultra-contemporary.

Ah, the food in Belgium. It’s easy to take chocolate home as gifts, the question is, where to buy it? Take yourself on the choco-challenge and see how many you can taste to determine your favorites: Côte d’Or, Corné, Galler, Godiva, Guylian, Leonidas, Passion Chocolat, Pierre Marcolini, Mary, Neuhaus, and Wittamer will get you started.

The same goes for Belgian beers, not as easy to take home but very easy to try in between shopping runs. While you’re at it, sample the coordinating “Trappiste” cheese to accompany it; buy some in the airport duty free to take home or pick some up for a picnic en route to your next destination.

Luxembourg is a little shopping gem. The arts scene is active not only for gallery gazing but also for acquiring. If you enjoy visiting artists’ workshops (ateliers), you’ll love the opportunities in Luxembourg where you’ll find metals smiths, sculptors, ceramicists, jewelers, textile artists, glass blowers, potters, and blacksmiths all in an easy day’s travel. The enticing streets of Luxembourg City are great for shopping, filled with one-of-a-kind boutiques as well as high street names you’ll recognize. The café-lined squares welcome you to recharge while you eye the other shoppers and look at their bags to see where they’ve been.

Luxembourg produces great gifts for the table, too. You can visit the original Villeroy and Boch porcelain factory to see where this famous brand got going, or buy some in one of several shops in Luxembourg. But what to put on those pretty plates? Look for the “Marque Nationale” label on brandy, honey, pork, cured meats and wine, to be assured of the best Luxembourg has to offer. The smoked hams and sausages in particular are well-known favorites. Watch for homemade plum jam in the autumn, often sold by youth groups to raise money for their charitable activities.

To quaff your inevitable thirst, or that of the host to whom you give a bottle, “Crémant de Luxembourg” is a delightful sparkling wine made using the champagne method with grapes grown along the Mosel River. Luxembourg also produces still wines and a variety of liqueurs based on plant extracts. Père Blanc is made from a carefully guarded Luxembourg recipe over 100 years old, and how can you not try Dännespözendrëpp, to find out how a pine needle-based liqueur tastes?

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