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Make the most of the Flemish Coast...
Sea, sand, shopping, dining. So far, so good, but the coast has so much more to entice you with. From De Panne on the French border to Knokke-Heist on the Dutch border, each coastal resort has its distinctive character.
There’s lots happening in each of the coastal towns, from shopping and dining to festivals and exhibitions, but there are also ample opportunities to get away from the crowds. Take a walk on the dunes, lose yourself in one of the nature reserves or embrace the Belgian love of cycling and explore inland, on one of the many marked cycle routes.
As you may know, De Panne is the most southerly seaside town on our coast. Its nonchalant atmosphere and infectious friendliness are reminiscent of nearby France. The centre, which has been beautifully updated, is now a delightful splash of colour with its well tended flowerbeds.
Spend the day at Plopsaland, an outdoor amusement park where a wonderful day for children and their parents is guaranteed. Or simply enjoy the pleasures of sand and dunes, by strolling through the Westhoek nature reserve. Six way-marked routes criss-cross this huge area so no need to peer at maps or compasses!
Koksijde, Oostduinkerke and Sint-Idesbald will appeal to even the most demanding visitor. Between the three of them they have a huge amount to offer. Here you can climb the highest dune on the Belgian coast, watch shrimp fishermen at work and catch a glimpse of a colony of seals.
Those who want to truly understand the elegant trio of Koksijde, Oostduinkerke and Sint-Idesbald – to look at them with different eyes, so to speak – should purchase one of the attractive guided heritage walks. These present the ideal opportunity to study the façades with an eye for detail, smile at the anecdotes or gaze around you in wonder.
There are two main features competing for your attention in Nieuwpoort. These are the river IJzer, as it flows into the sea and the headstrong sea itself. To make sure that visitors can enjoy them both, the town has built an impressive pedestrian and cycle promenade which guides you conveniently and stylishly from Nieuwpoort-Stad (Town) to Nieuwpoort-Bad (Beach).
For a more intense encounter with the sea and the IJzer estuary, you can board the free ferry that links the two sides of the IJzer and crosses the harbour entrance. It is only a short trip around the harbour, but it is still just long enough to enjoy the perfect view and spend some great quality time.
There are some seaside towns where the beach attracts all the attention. Middelkerke is just such a place. Take a trip to nearby well-preserved Westende and take in the atmosphere of elegant bourgeois holidays of former times.
The interactive museum Villa Les Zéphyrs in Westende offers a good view of what things were like here at the time of the Belle Epoque. Another guaranteed hit for young and old is the Drunken Well, unfortunately crooked water tank which guarantees instant loss of balance and plenty of laughs.
The City by the Sea is a unique mix of historic elegance, the ambiance of a fishing community, fine art and big-city atmosphere. The variety of Ostend often puts visitors in a whirl, it constantly catches you off-guard but afterwards it rewards you with the very best of its many different worlds.
The open-air fish market at the Visserskaai (“Fishermen’s Quay”) is spread along the quayside and is open almost every day. However, you will not be served on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day or when there is a storm at sea and the boats are safely stored at the quayside. One of these boats is Amandine, a now retired Icelandic fishing boat turned in to a floating museum.
The town has an unspoiled belt of dunes and respects its natural surroundings; as a result it offers wonderful peace and quiet, something of a rarity in our hectic lives. So this is not a place to come for hustle and bustle. There is an additional attraction: Bredene is Belgium’s only seaside town with its own naturist beach.
Bredene is the exception to the rule on the coast, and the list of local accommodation makes this abundantly clear. There are only five hotels and no less than 25 campsites! Camping ’t Minnepark and Veld en Duin are both well respected, which proves that camping does not mean sacrificing comfort.
De Haan has many fans, they have all fallen in love with this place, and who can blame them? Visitors to this seaside town will be charmed by the unspoiled character and its authentic, beautifully restored Belle Epoque neighbourhood, where time seems to stand still. It is a peaceful place of sometimes breathtaking beauty.
If you want to give your children a gentle introduction to the Belle Epoque glories of De Haan, one starting point might be to take a seat in the pavement café at La Potinière, which is the great heart of the Concession district. Ready for a little more action? Family Park De Sierk, located in Vosseslag, is a suitably wild alternative for those who do not like the crowds at the theme parks.
This seaside town has popular appeal and is the ideal place to make discoveries. From a wonderful pub perched high above a foaming sea, to enthusiastic seals and a host of hidden jewels of the Belle Epoque.
The marine attraction park Sea Life Blankenberge is a great outing, and educational as well. Hotel Alfa Inn is a great family hotel, with its large lounge comfortably stocked with armchairs, scattered sofas and a central play area for the little ones. The youngsters can run off to the games room which has a pool table, table football and billiards.
You will find that Zeebrugge is so much more than the port that gave this seaside town its international reputation and its extraordinary skyline. There are traditional fishermen’s cafes where they serve shrimps with your beer, a delightful marina where yachts and fishing boats bob peacefully alongside each other.
If you want to find out more about life in this impressive global port, you should board the Franlis passenger ferry that takes you not only terrifying close to the immense super-tankers. Resolute walkers can strike out along the canal to Lissewege. In the middle of this white village in the polders is a church like a cathedral.
There is no disputing Knokke-Heist’s jet set appeal; it has a reputation for being a town that has expensive boutiques and innovative art galleries, while still caring for its interesting heritage and natural beauty. This is one seaside town that cannot be fitted into any category.
The Zwin, Belgium’s very first nature reserve, is caught between het Zoute on the one hand and the Dutch border on the other. Experience the cutting edge of nature here, where the wind bites at its bitterest and the sun shines at its strongest. Afterwards, as a reward step by the world famous waffle house Marie Siska for a delicious mouth-watering Belgian waffle.
For more information visit visitflanders.co.uk