1. The word “spa” meaning a place to take baths and so forth does actually come from the town of Spa, which opened its baths in the 16th century. The hot springs are meant to have healing properties.
2. Brussels is reckoned to be home to the highest number of diplomats and foreign media in the world.
(From left: Brussels, the Grand Place; the Manneken Pis)
3. The first railway line in Europe connected Brussels and Mechelen and was in operation in 1835.
4. Frites or chips were invented by either the Belgians or the French and this topic can lead to heated arguments between the two nations. As there is no French GP on the F1 calendar until next year, let’s go with the idea they come from Belgium. The story goes that in the 17th century, one year the weather was too cold to catch tiny fish that were popular when fried, so Belgian women started cutting potatoes into the shape of tiny fish and frying them.
5. It’s not just chips and chocolate that are famous here. Last year UNESCO put Belgian beer culture on its list of “the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.” Brewing beer in Belgium dates back to the 12th Century and today there are approximately 180 breweries in the country. Other nations might produce more beer, but Belgium is famous for its huge range of different types of beer.
6. Back to the subject of chocolate, Zavantem airport in Brussels is the busiest chocolate shop in the world, selling an average of 1.6 kilos of it per minute.
7. When listing interesting things about Belgium, it is pretty much compulsory to mention that the Saxophone was invented in 1840, by Belgian instrument maker, Adolphe Sax.
8. The cassette tape, which helped launch personal stereo players was developed by Philips in Hasselt, Belgium in 1962.
9. The second oldest Casino in Europe (the oldest is in Venice) was built in Spa in 1765.
10. With driver protection in F1 a hot topic just before the summer break, it’s worth noting that a crash at Spa-Francorchamps in the 1966 Belgian Grand Prix was a catalyst for many safety improvements. Jackie Stewart was trapped in his overturned car, covered in petrol with the electrics still on: thanks to Stewart’s efforts, cars soon had to have a removable steering wheel and an electric cut-out switch and a medical truck was brought to all races.
(From left: Jackie Stewart and Jackie Ickx, 1971 – Photo by Evers, Joost / Anefo, [onbekend] (Gahetna in het nationnal archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl]
11. The Belgians clearly enjoy good food, so should you be worried to hear that one of the most famous Belgians is known as “The Cannibal?” It’s okay, you can relax: this is the nickname given to arguably the greatest racing cyclist of all time, Eddie Merckx.
12. And if you think names ending in “ckx” are unusual, then here’s another one and another famous Belgian for you – Jackie Ickx. With eight Formula 1 victories and 13 pole positions, not to mention an amazing 6 wins in the Le Mans 24 Hours, Ickx is undoubtedly the most successful Belgian racing driver of all time.