Leuven, the capital city (and beer capital) of Flemish Brabant, is a small university town right on the doorstep of Brussels. It's the kind of place that punches well above its weight, though. It might only have 90,000 souls living within its municipal border, but that border also encloses the oldest and largest university in the Low Countries – the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven – and the largest brewing company in the world – AB InBev of Stella Artois fame.
Leuven is also considered one of the prettiest – and liveliest – of Belgium's small cities. As a thriving student town, gifted with ancient colleges, ringed by science parks and plagued by hordes of cycling graduates, it could be a Belgian version of Oxford or Cambridge. Just arguably with a nicer food, better beer (and a thick Flemish accent). Its small-town (and yet decidedly cosmopolitan) historical charm is all the more surprising, when you remember that Leuven is one of the places to have suffered most from the heavy hand of Germany's 'schrecklichkeit' (terror or 'hard measures'), in the First World War. Hundreds of civilians were killed, and the University library burnt to the ground, as the German Army sought to punish resistance (real or imagined) by the town's citizens in 1914.
The unlucky library was, however, rebuilt and restocked, and similarly much of the architectural glory of Leuven remains intact for the visitor's viewing pleasure.
Also very much laid out for the visitor is a friendly welcome, especially for those partial to a sip or three of Belgium's amber nectar. But while Leuven's big corporate brewer – and its Stella, Leffe and Hoegaarden brands – may dominate the bars and cafés, there's plenty else to distract and savour for the beer connoisseur.
And there's much else to watch and do, too, with beer in hand. This is city that has to keep its students entertained, after all. But the first visitors who came to this spot on the Dijle River, 1,200 years ago, didn't receive quite such a warm welcome.
In fact, that Viking army came very much to regret its trip to Leuven-to-be.