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Ghent appears almost magical the first time you see its architecture. My partner and I were in a dreamlike trance as our eyes moved from one beautiful building to the next. And we had just experienced the beautiful canals of Amsterdam the previous day! Insiders tip: most definitely take a canal boat tour for the best up-close views of Ghent's stunning architecture! Other pictures from the cruise precede this original post.
As Canadian expat in Belgium, one thing I miss is the sea (and good lobster), so when I saw "Lobster Six Ways" on the menu at the House of Eliott in Ghent, I had to try it. Far from the traditional 'crack it open and dig in' style lobster I was used to, this was still a wonderful meal. The varieties included a curry lobster and a more traditional herb and garlic sauce. Even if lobster isn't your thing, this quirky restaurant is worth visiting. It's a bit like dining in your crazy Aunt Nelly's attic. The homage to Coco Chanel in the lady's room is worth the trip on its own.
Some locals call cuberdons “priest hats” and others refer to them as “little noses.” Hard on the outside and gooey on the inside, the conical, raspberry-flavored treats slow-cook for five days in a 131°F room. Stock up at Temmerman, Ghent’s oldest sweets shop, which has been in the same family of confectioners for eight generations. Kraanlei 79, 32/(0) 9-224-00-41. Photo by Andreea Gulacsi. This appeared in the September/October 2010 issue.
Jenever is a juniper flavored liquor from which gin evolved. Today it’s only made in the Netherlands and Belgium and is a strong and popular drink. While the straight stuff may be a bit harsh, jenever bars also feature a wide range of flavored shots from mango to vanilla and everything in between. In Ghent the place to go is ‘t Dreupelkot, run by the usualy grumpy proprieter Pol. The drink is served in tall shot glasses and is a great way to start an evening or just spend some time chatting with friends.
Chocolate seems to be a Belgian obsession and many areas of the country have their own specialties and unique approaches to this popular sweet. Ghent is no different and I found a wide variety of chocolates from the traditional to the modern. My favorite chocolate shop was Van Hecke’s, operating for more than 70 years through three generations of chocolatiers. Pralines are their specialty, but they have a wide range of chocolate to suit most tastes. My favorite was a chocolate coated with a thin layer of sugar adding crunch and texture to the bite.
Going here and seeing all the instruments of torture really put shivers down my spine. Very cool to see but in a really creepy way, like the Human Body Exhibit :). From the top you get very nice views of Gent. Worth a visit if you are in Gent.
Centrally located, the sumptuous Hôtel Verhaegen is a mine of local history. Formerly a private mansion inhabited by barons and counts, the five room hotel has been carefully restored by its current owners, a pair of interior designers. Original details include ornate fireplaces and canvases by the 18th century Ghent painter Pieter Norbert van Reijsschoot. From $240, Oude Houtlei 110, 32/(0) 9-265-07-60. Photo courtesy of Hotel Verhaegen. This appeared in the September/October 2010 issue.
I’m a weird guy, so when I tell people I enjoy eating foods named for destinations most people don’t even bat an eye. Sometimes the food is great, sometimes it’s not, but one of my favorite eponymous culinary delights is the Belgian waffle. Before my first trip to Belgium I thought that surely this was an American creation, there’s no way waffles are that popular in Belgium. And I was horribly, horribly wrong. Waffles aren’t just found in Belgium, they’re everywhere. Granted this is probably in part due to the tourist trade, but it’s also a part of the Belgian culinary culture. There are many variations of this doughy treat, but two kinds in particular are found throughout the country. The Brussels waffle is most similar to what we enjoy here in the U.S. It’s a light, deceptively so, dough cooked into a rectangular shape featuring large pockets. My favorite though was the Liège waffle, something I had never even heard of before my trip to Belgium. What makes the Liège version different is that it’s richer, denser and sweeter than the Brussels variety. It’s also in a less uniform shape and when topped with Nutella makes for a delicious snack or dessert. Waffles are found everywhere from food trucks to sit down restaurants, but one of my favorite places to enjoy waffles is at the Etablissement Max in Ghent. Located near St. Bavo Cathedral, the brasserie-style restaurant is a delicious and traditional take on this tasty snack, dessert or even meal.
I went to visit Ghent in March. The warm spring weather brought students to the canal for lunch and socializing. I'm surprised Ghent isn't as popular as Antwerp or Bruges, it has such a funky, youthful vibe.
Went over to Brugge the other day to see the ice sculptures and also had a walk through the city. The main square was lit up very nicely and there was an ice rink right in the center. The weather was cold but the atmosphere was poetic.
This view overlooking Ghent is a common one in Belgium. Many Belgium cities feature bell towers centrally located, some of which visitors can still climb to the top, like this one. For a nominal fee, visitors can wind their way up the stairs, or take an elevator to the top. A self-guided tour of the belfry includes learning about how bells go from concept to ringing throughout a city.
Poor Ghent often gets overlooked, thanks in large part to nearby Bruges. For some reason Bruges has always been labeled as the pretty one, or the one most likely to succeed. What most visitors don’t realize is that Ghent also enjoys many of the same features that have made Bruges so famous. One of my favorite things to do in Ghent is to enjoy evening drinks with friends alongside the canals. Flemish design is easy to spot, the gables and unique style giving it away every time. Ghent looks more like Amsterdam than a Belgian city and it’s easy to lose oneself in the romance that waterside views necessarily evoke. For a great drink head to any of the canal side restaurants and order the only beer made locally, Gruut. The brewster, Annick De Splenter, spent years researching medieval methods of creating gruut beer that is made without hops and has created a delicious line of beers that are true to the history of the region and of course taste amazing.
Waterzooi (VAT-ter-zo-ey) is a traditional Flemish stew made with chicken, vegetables, cream, and egg yolks. (In years past, chicken was omitted in favor of fish plucked from the city’s waterways.) In the trendy Patershol quarter, order a much-lauded version of waterzooi at Bij den Wijzen en den Zot, a restaurant housed in a guildhall built in the 16th century. Hertogstraat 42, 32/(0) 9-223-42-30. Photo courtesy of JTB Photo/Age Fotostock. This appeared in the September/October 2010 issue.
On the Groentenmarkt in Ghent you'll find this wonderful shop that sells its own freshly made mustard. All you have to do is pick out your favorite container and they will fill it from a barrel standing beside the counter. Their mustard is strong and pairs well with meats and cheeses (beer too!), plus it makes a great reminder of your trip when you get home. Bonus: a cuberdon (local jelly candy) cart is typically nearby the store entrance too.
Housed in the old meat market is an innovative shop and cafe, the Het Groot Vleeshuis. Here visitors can sample a variety of Ghent and Flemish foods, learning about the region along the way. One of the highlights of the restaurant is the famous Ganda Ham. Ganda (an archaic term for Ghent) hams are dry cured and aged for anywhere from nine to fourteen months. The taste is a little salty but otherwise mild. I was surprised at the distinct differences between the longer aged hams and found a little bit of perfection when they were paired with a spicy Ghent mustard.
Belgium is known for a lot of things and fine beer is near the top of that list. Given how popular beer is I was surprised to learn that there’s only one operating brewery in Ghent itself, but what a brewery it is. The Gruut Brewery is relatively new, but it has quickly become a culinary staple. The brewster, Annick De Splenter, spent years researching medieval methods of creating gruut beer that is made without hops and has created a delicious line of beers that are true to the history of the region and of course taste amazing.
This area along Graslei is one of the most popular areas of the city, just a few blocks from Gravensteen Castle and Vrijdagmarkt. This area of the canal is lined with beer cafes and restaurants overlooking the river, with boats gingerly cruising by frequently. I would often grab a bottle of wine and sandwich and sit on the canal wall.
Art-lovers should not miss the Museum of Fine Arts (Museum voor Schone Kunsten) or MSK, in Ghent, Belgium. This bite-sized museum offers a great overview of of European art, particularly Belgian, from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century. Currently, the MSK is undertaking the restoration of Ghent’s most famous artwork, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, by the Van Eyck brothers. Visitors can watch the entire process as it takes place behind glass. The architecture of the building is as lovely as the art contained inside, as seen in the photo above. The Mub’art Brasserie has a lovely terrace and is a great place for a bite to eat when you tire of admiring the art.
Sivan Askayo visited Flanders as a guest of Visit Flanders. The Design Museum of Ghent is located in a beautiful 18th-century house that belonged to a rich Flemish family. The original parquet floors and the decorated walls and ceiling are well kept and indicate the wealth of the family. Furniture and interior collections from the 17th and 18th centuries are on display in the “old” section of the museum. A new and modern section was added to the museum in 1992 and has more contemporary design pieces from the 70s and the 80’s. The museum is well known for the largest Art Nouveau collection in the country, and represents the work of important Belgian artists alongside foreign designers. The museum has a marvelous courtyard to enjoy if you need a rest. Closed on Mondays.
No wonder I love Gent so much, every time I go it offers me a different set of photos :). And no matter the season, it's always beautiful, always welcoming, always full of life and always abundant with great restaurants, sightseeing, shopping and the all delicious chocolate.
Sivan Askayo visited Flanders as a guest of Visit Flanders. It is quite interesting to learn about the history of Max Waffels, founded by Pierre Max Consael in 1839. It is a sixth-generation family business that started by selling treats and waffles from mobile carts to carnival crowds. Today Max is a cafe with a beautiful Art Nouveau décor. I had the opportunity to visit the kitchen and see the owner, Yves Van Maldeghem, in action as he flipped the sweet dough in cast-iron molds. You can't believe how fast he works to make fresh waffles with fruit and whipped cream. And here is a secret (or a trivia fact): The Brussels waffles we know are originally from Ghent. The family added the word Brussels just because it sells well.
While many may think of the likes of Brugge and Amsterdam when it comes to cities teeming with canals, Ghent has much of the same charm, but without the swarms of tourists. The buildings reflecting off the water and boats docked in the canal are a frequent sight, but rarely are the colors at sunset as vibrant as this evening.
I am really impressed with the city of Gent for putting together such an outstanding Christmas market. It is the best we've see so far. Very diverse street food, the decorations are amazing, there is a huge ice skating rink, merry-go-rounds for the little ones, a huge ferris wheel, even the weather has been incredible.
Sivan Askayo visited Flanders as a guest of Visit Flanders. A winning concept of a launderette combined with a cafe is now getting a twist and raising its functional appeal with the addition of a hairdresser. It’s all under one roof in a well-designed space called WasBar. The founders of WasBar are two young guys who live in Ghent and who used to take their laundry to their mothers. Their concept won a TV competition for young entrepreneurs (the Flemish version of The Apprentice), and they opened the space in October 2012. The design studio PinkEye created a colorful space for students and young professionals in Ghent, which is a university city. I loved the graphic identity of the place, from a clothespin crossed with a bottle opener logo to the pink/light blue/mint green color palette, not to mention that each laundry machine has a name! The space is open until 10 p.m., and there is no better thing than overhearing two young guys in their 20s discussing their laundry.
Ah Gent, my favorite of all the Belgian cities! This city has all a traveler might need, great sightseeing, amazing food, fabulous shopping, Belgian chocolate, nice hotels and hostels. If you visit Belgium do not miss Gent.
Sivan Askayo visited Flanders as a guest of Visit Flanders. What perfect timing to arrive in Ghent in the midst of the Gentse Feesten festival. This music and theater festival starts on the Saturday before July 21st and lasts for 10 days. If you get to Ghent in the morning, don't let the quiet streets fool you. It’s probably because all the partygoers are still asleep from the previous night's celebrations. The city becomes more alive during the afternoon, when people fill the streets, drinking beer and cruising from one stage to another. The festival originated in 1843, when the municipality of Ghent decided to do something “for the people.” The festivities have always been free of charge, and everyone celebrated for days without being forced to get back to work on Monday. Throughout the years, Gentse Feesten attracts celebrants and performers from all over the world. If you visit Ghent during this time, bear in mind that not all stores are open because people take advantage of this time to go on holiday.
My mouth was on fire and nothing would put it out. I was careful, I only tried a small bit of the famous mustard but my taste buds instantly recoiled in shock. It was my first taste of a distinctive mustard found only in Ghent and is a taste that I’ll never forget. Located near the heart of the city, the Tierenteyn-Verlent mustard shop has been producing its distinctive condiment for more than two hundred years without change. The small shop is almost always crowded with a mix of tourists and locals, all admiring the apothecary bottles lining the old fashioned store. In the corner is a huge barrel of freshly made product and a gigantic ladle used to dole out the spicy mustard. The mustard is made on site, in the basement to be exact, and is the only place in the world where you can buy it. Since the initial shock of the mustard, I’ve come to enjoy it and even crave the sharp taste. Even if you’re not a mustard fan you have to at least try this distinctive taste that truly is a part of Ghent culture.
Sivan Askayo visited Flanders as a guest of Visit Flanders. de Vitrine (The Window) is one of the newer restaurants everyone is talking about in Ghent these days. It is located in an old butcher shop in the southern quarter of the city, which is also known as the red-light district. The name de Vitrine not only refers to the big window overlooking the street but also to the windows of the working girls in the neighborhood. The place is a combination bistro bar (where the butcher shop used to be) and restaurant (where the kitchen and the meat refrigerators used to be). The restaurant is an urbanized and younger version of In de Wulf (a Michelin star restaurant) that keeps the same philosophy of serving high end cuisine based on local high quality products. The restaurant opened two years ago and is run by three chefs in their 20’s. The space is small and can accommodate only 28 people. There are two dinner services, at 6:30 p.m. and 9.p.m. Reservations required.
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