A weekend in Ghent

GhentGhent is a delightful university town teeming with all ages from students through to ‘silver travellers’.

It is easily accessible, just a couple of hours by car from Calais, and makes the perfect short break all year round.

We arrived at lunchtime in mid March and were lucky to enjoy a sunny weekend in this beautiful city. We couldn’t fit everything in but here is a sample of what we did manage to achieve.

Our base was the luxurious Sandton Hotel Reylof situated just minutes from the main plaza. The hotel has a welcoming atmosphere with friendly staff and imaginative décor.

Before you embark on sightseeing, my first tip is to buy a Gent City Card. This not only saves you money but also saves time, as it gives free entrance to so many attractions.

GhentDay 1
After a delicious lunch sitting alongside the river in the historic de Graslei, our first priority was a boat trip. For 45 minutes we meandered along the pretty canals and waterways, learning about the architecture and city history along the way. It really is a must do activity in Gent and a good way to get your bearings.

Time for coffee and a freshly baked waffle – a speciality of Flanders. Max’s is the place to go, this pretty bakery has a long history of waffle and pancake making and the sweet smell is intoxicating.

Walk off the waffles by following a route laid out by the tourist office around the historic area known as ‘kulp’. You can download directions from here.

Dinner just has to be fish – there are so many authentic Flemish restaurants to choose from but once again the riverside de Graslei area beckons. Even in March you can sit outside under a heated lamp, covered in a cosy throw, to enjoy fresh seafood of every description. The shrimp croquettes are a local delicacy and delicious.

Be sure to take an evening walk to admire ‘Ghent by light’. Thousand of lights illuminate the wonderful architecture and give an entirely different feel to the city.

GhentDay 2
Next day, after a leisurely buffet breakfast at the Hotel Reylof, join citizens and tourists alike at the Sunday flower market at Kouter. Wander through stunning displays of plants and flowers and grab a strong coffee, a glass of wine or plate of oysters at the adjacent De Blauwe kiosk.

The recent George Clooney film “Monument Men’ has drawn attention to one of Ghent's most famous art works – The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.” Painted in 1432 by the Van Eyck brothers and hanging in St Bavo’s Cathedral. It is currently undergoing renovation work but a visit to the STAM museum explains the perilous journey the painting has undertaken over the years.

The STAM is the city museum of Ghent and housed in a 14th century abbey and 17th century monastery. Today it blends high tech exhibitions with original architecture, as the story of the city is unfolded before you. It is an easy walk, but quite a way from the centre of the city so you can hop on a tram with your city card. The museum has a modern café for a snack lunch.

Prominent from almost anywhere in the city is the fairy tale Castle of the Counts perched on its battlements with flags flying in the breeze from its four turrets. The extensive views from the top of the castle are well worth the climb. At weekends there are often special events with knights in attendance!

ghentAll to soon it was time to leave, just time to pop into one of the many chocolate shops and stock up for the journey home.

I felt we just scratched the surface of this vibrant city but will hope to return in the future to carry on exploring.

For more information on all that Ghent has to offer go to www.visitgent.be/en/ghent-0 and you will also find plenty of information on the area at www.visitflanders.co.uk/.

Travel to Ghent is quick and easy with Eurotunnel,  who operate a frequent shuttle service between Folkestone and Calais.

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Sally Dowling

Travel writer

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