Belgium: West

Western Belgium has plenty of famous tourist sights like Ghent and Bruges, as well as the coastal beaches.


Ghent

Ghent: Ghent is maybe my favorite town in Brussels. Take a boat trip along the river, sample the cuberdons (little purple candy that comes from Ghent), and hit up the Gravensteen castle. There’s a pretty interesting troll bar, if you like getting trolled. Note– the boat trips seem to vary in length and quality (I’ve taken the same one a couple times and had different results. It might be inquiring where you go / how long it will be before buying tix).



Bruges

Bruges: Anyone who’s see “In Bruges” knows this city already — total fairy tale. The Basilica of the Holy Blood has a vial of Christ’s blood, which is put on procession in an Ascension Day parade. It’s a great town to wander around and explore the zany architecture. Also I recommend going to the Straffe Hendrik brewery — it’s got great food and a tour in an historic brewery (still operational). As demand grew, they built an underground beer pipeline to a factory outside of town. They also have great views of city from the brewery’s tower. The VIP tasting tour is worth it. There’s also a much larger tower in the city center that offers good views, along with a Dali museum.


Ypres

Ypres is a picturesque town in the Flanders region of Belgium, which is surrounded by several battlefields, cemeteries, and memorials to World War I. The Yorkshire Trench is one of the most famous sights, just north of the city, and provides a glimpse into the horrors of trench warfare.


Atlantic Coast

We took a trip to the Atlantic Coast on a particularly warm day in May, which was very pleasant. We headed to the beaches at the St Laureins Dunes, which were far less crowded than the nearby city beaches. We set up camp at the base of a large white sand-dune and enjoyed watching the waves roll in. The water was quite cold, so I only walked in a few feet before retreating to the warm sand! The town of Middelkerke is a coastal town with plenty of holiday apartment rentals along the beach. It has several good seafood restaurants and cafes, and wasn’t too crowded on the day we went.

Ostend is a pleasant city with plenty of restaurants, but as you might expect, the beaches are more crowded that its rural counterparts. On the northeast coast of Ostend is Fort Napoleon, a large, pentagon-shaped fortress that was built by Napoleon’s army in preparation from an invasion from the UK. While that invasion never happened, it ended up being used by German troop several years later. This was an interesting (and unexpected) find for me– and I recommend it for military history buffs!

Knokke-Heist is another spot that many folks go for summertime beach getaways and I’ve heard that the restaurant Cuines 33 is great — but I haven’t yet been there myself. Note that when you’re on the Atlantic ocean, it’s always going to be a bit windy.


Western Breweries

The western region hosts several amazing trappist and abbey-style breweries. Three that are especially noteworthy are: 1) Westvleteren at St. Sixtus Abbey (famous for brewing “the best beer in the world”); 2) St. Bernardus (very similar to Westvleteren, since they shared the same recipe. They also have an inviting brewers hotel for guests who want to stay a bit longer); and 3) De Struisse — a small craft brewery that makes some really high-octane stouts.

Westvleteren: One of the famous Trappist beers and considered to be the home of “the world’s best beer” (Westvleteren 12), driving out here is a nice road trip through the rural countryside. The abbey has a great restaurant and gift shop, where each person can buy two six-packs of their famous beer, along with other abbey products. If you want to buy more (or one of the cases), you’ll have to dial the beer phone and get an appointment — I’ve heard it’s a challenge.

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