Godfrey Hall explores the Belgian coast and beyond.
The Belgian coastline has always fascinated me and along with the endless excursions from this part of the country it is an ideal location for a short break. Whilst there has been extensive shoreline developments there are still long stretches of sandy beaches, nature reserves, fascinating resorts and plenty to see. Destinations such as Ostend and Knokke Heist are excellent jumping off points and with an excellent public transport system, Belgium has a fascinating history and some unusual sights. Over the past few years the food and drink scene has changed enormously and the country now has a wide range of world class restaurants, many of which are combining new fusion with traditional Belgian cuisine.
A picturesque destination in this area is the village of Lissewege with its impressive church and square. Said by many to be the prettiest village in Flanders it certainly lives up to this claim. It is full of tiny houses and narrow waterways. There are several cafés in the centre and an impressive church. However, one of its most outstanding architectural features, an incredible oak beamed barn dating from 1280, is located just outside the main centre of the village. Combined with a few smaller buildings, this is all that remains of a farm which was linked with a medieval abbey, founded in 1388 and situated on the Belgian coast near to the Paul Delvaux Museum, south of Ostend. The barn is a five-minute ride from the centre of Lissewege or a fifteen-minute walk. Look out for the signs to Ter Doest just off the main square. A statue of Jesus is carried in a special Rococo chair annually from the Church of Our Lady in Lissewege to the ancient barn on the first Sunday in May. The village was one of the first stops on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
What to eat and where
Lebanese restaurants and those serving Middle Eastern food have started popping up in Belgian cities and towns. You may also like to sample some Belgian endives wrapped in ham and served in a cheese sauce or their wonderful vol au vents which should be available in cafes and restaurants around this region. Belgian chips are exceptional and should be available from outdoor takeaways in many of the towns and cities. Usually cooked three times they are great with mayonnaise or a selection of sauces. Other favourites include chocolate desserts, waffles and for the more adventurous eels in various sauces. Belgian beers are world famous and some of the fruit beers are quite spectacular. Do take note however that they tend to be very strong compared to beers elsewhere. Belgian lambic beers produced in and around Brussels since the 13th century can be an acquired taste.
If you are in Kortrijk, try Huyze Begga for some unusual combinations and in Sluis, just over the border in Holland they serve delicious omelettes at Petrus and Paulis. In Ostend it has to be Lizette and Lucien. For a delicious, sweet treat then Knokke Heist has an excellent Australian Ice Cream outlet just off the main street.
There is an excellent tram service along the coast as well as a very impressive rail network which has some excellent offers and discounted tickets. Ostend is a good place to base yourself as it has excellent rail and train links.
If you are over a certain age and using the train, make sure you ask about the senior day return ticket which will let you travel anywhere in the country for a very low cost. Brussels is ideal for a day trip as is Bruges, Ghent and Kortrijk which has some delightful ancient streets and an amazing interpretative experience at the Church of our Lady. This takes you back to the Battle of the Golden Spurs between the French and the Flemish. Also in the town are some delightful backstreets full of tiny houses which were once occupied by single females. Look out as well for the ‘window poetry’ which can be found all over the city.
Whilst in Brussels search out some of the amazing Tintin murals on many of the buildings or visit the famous tiny statue of the Manneken Pis in the centre.
One resort favoured by many along the coast is Knokke Heist with its exclusive shops, cafes and restaurants.
Whilst in the region you should also visit the Dutch town of Sluis with its windmill, eating places and shops.
Ostend is a delight with its James Ensor connections, casino and excellent shops. Close by is the Paul Delvaux Foundation and nearby a chance to see some local seals (check with the local tourist office on the best times) and experience some of the last horse-riding fishermen in the world.
Access to the area can be by ferry or through the Channel Tunnel. The DFDS Dover to Dunkerque crossing is ideal as it is closer to the region, and it is very easy to exit the port and get onto the impressive Belgian motorway network. The motorways in Belgium can get very busy and so it is advisable to use the main roads and some of the many back routes that cross the region. There are plenty of places to stay along the coast however for somewhere different you could try the Art Deco Thermae Palace just outside Ostend.
Our Silver Travel Advisors can assist with booking a trip to Belgium, call them on 0800 412 5678.