I have a dirty little secret. You might even share it. You see, I love Belgium. And in particular, Ghent. Butt of all those jokes about naming famous Belgians and never as hip as the Netherlands, Belgium has so many charms to offer. How can you not love a country that purposefully failed to elect a leader for a year and got by just fine. Perhaps we should try it.
My Love of Ghent, Belgium
Now of all the places in Belgium that have captured my heart, it’s sweet, friendly, beautiful, vibrant Ghent that tops the list. Think Bruges without so many tourists, a little less lace, almost as much chocolate and a little more attitude, and you’ve found Ghent. Nestling on a network of canals, and with a large river port, Ghent keeps dragging me back time after time. I swore I would never be one of those people to keep returning somewhere. But Ghent keeps calling, and I keep being seduced by her siren charms.
Ghent is full of history everywhere you go. From the medieval towers and castle to the quayside and winding cobbled streets, you could almost believe you’ve entered a time slip. One memorable morning, I woke up early and peeped out of our room to see a cloaked woman battling uphill against a snow storm. Were it not for the overhead trolleybus lines, I’d have sworn we’d gone back five hundred years.
More reasons to Love Ghent
Yet it’s not all about the history. Ghent’s full of vegetarian eating, stylish shopping and a lively selection of bars and venues. If you are looking for Belgian beer, there are plenty of opportunities. Dulle Griet has the most enormous beer menu while the teeny Galgenhuis is the place where condemned prisoners awaited their fate. Even the names are brilliant; try het Waterhuis on der Bier Kant (the water house on the beer canal).
Art is also a big thing in Ghent. From stores with copious art supplies to unexpected installations, Ghent’s a treasure trove of the unexpected. You’ll spot a Cow Parade stray down one of the little side streets, and the installation below appeared unexpectedly one late night to my great delight.
The World’s Forgotten Boy Iggy Pop – Search and Destroy on the Leie, Ghent, Belgium
Messing About On The River
There are many, many things to do on the Ghent travel list, but here’s one that always lulls me into a Zen-like state: taking the river boat to St Martens-Latem. The Lys or Leie is known as the Golden River and is described as the most beautiful river in Flanders. It undulates its way through spectacular countryside, full of wildlife and bordered by the kind of houses that generate a bad case of house-envy.
Laughter on the river leie
There is plenty of people watching to enjoy too. Trips on the river seem to be a big deal if you live locally. There are groups of women laughing over glasses of iced tea and beer. Whole families settle in on deck with a kaas plat or two, complete with celery salt and the famous Ghent mustard, then a steaming plate of stoverij to enjoy. It seems as though this is some regular ritual for the Gentse people, and I think it may have become one of mine.
On the Leie, heading to St Martens
St Martens is known as the Artists’ village, full of sculpture and galleries. You can see a lot of the sculpture in the riverside gardens en route. An hour there is never quite enough, especially if you have lingered at the boat to watch the ritual feeding of the ducks. As soon as the boat docks and the gangway is lowered, a choir of quacking begins. Solo voices blend as the river swells with the black and white stripers, moorhens, an occasional goose, more species of duck than I have ever seen before. Then a window opens in the galley, and the leftover bread emerges to feed the hungry flock. I tried counting, but gave up at 47 participants in the feeding frenzy.
The journey back is equally Zen-like. The gentle undulations of the river. The vast numbers of pleasure craft of all types and sizes. A heron, insolently viewing us while flexing his wings, perched on a rotting post. Messing about on the river: so quintessentially Belgian.
The Graslei, described as the prettiest quay in Europe, bathed in February sun
The longer river trips only run in the summer, but you can satisfy your desire to see Ghent from the water as shorter trips run all year round.