Ghent, Belgium - a 2 day Flemish trip
Living in London has its perks and one of them is that a weekend European road trip is never limited to the realm of imagination. This is especially true when you have a car and friends who are as eager as you to travel :)
So here we were, deciding to take the Eurotunnel into Calais, France and venture a couple of hours up to the Northern coast of Belgium to a charming location, home to the stunning B&B de Lievde a few kilometres outside of Ghent (honestly, I cannot stress how beautiful this place is. See for yourself!).
With the weather gods gently smiling upon us, we enjoyed a bit of time by the pool, having indulged in a home-cooked cornucopia served with a genuine smile by our hospitable host, Kathleen. Naturally, the smile was accompanied by lots and lots of champagne...
When you go to explore the town (we drove in and parked centrally, but depending on where you're coming from you can get a train or fly in), the first thing you notice is the buoyant architecture; it has something of an ancient flair to it with the pedestrian streets adorned by the multicoloured flower baskets hanging from the windows and the shiny canals reflecting the old stories of Flemish traders.
Apparently, back in the 11th century, the town of Ghent was the second largest in Europe after Paris due to its cloth production and trade. You can learn all about it on a pleasant canal cruise where the entertaining guides will be sure to enrich your knowledge and experience with fun historical facts. This was possibly the nicest thing we did here and there are lots of them on offer throughout the town. Be sure not to miss it!
The gem of the town, emerging majestic at its core, is the moated Gravensteen castle (translated as the Castle of Counts), built in the 12th century and home to a contemporary torture museum, whilst offering beautiful views from its roof (no connection between the two I would say). Another one worth a trip even if to see it on the outside only.
In the city, there is lots to see starting with the romantic St Michael's Bridge, one of the best photographic spots for all the main towers of Ghent (St Nicholas Church, the Belfry of Ghent and St Bavo's Cathedral), to a 12th century Friday Market, (the Vrijdagmarkt) and especially the world-famous Van Eyck altarpiece in St Bavo's cathedral, but perhaps the most exciting part is getting lost in the picturesque areas and indulging in local beers, chocolate and delicious home-cooked pub meals.
Also a student town, Ghent hosts a yearly Jazz festival where the city is invaded by thousands of tourists dining and immersing themselves into the medieval ambience for 10 days without stop - apparently Lady Gaga was spotted a few years ago. How's that for a jazzy town?
As we only had one full day in Ghent, we headed back on Sunday via the Belgian coast where we followed Kathleen's recommendation and stopped in the charming Knokke and toured the beach spots stopping at Siesta Beach for some Aperol Spritzers in the sun.
Overall, Ghent is a beautiful town and, having seen Bruges, it is a bigger, livelier more real version worth experiencing for its charm and tradition.