The Best of the Belgian Coast
Belgium has only 43 miles of coastline but, as with everything here, good things come in small packages. From vibrant coastal cities like Oostende to quieter villages like Blankenberge, the highlight is watching the traditional horse fishermen haul in their catches of gray shrimp. The best way to explore the area is on the world’s longest tramline, which stretches the length of the Belgian coast.
Oostduinkerke, 8670 Koksijde, Belgium
Visit any good seafood restaurant in Belgium, and you’ll see gray shrimp on the menu. In fact, you may even be offered a bowl of these small, sweet delicacies to nibble while you decide on your main course. These days, the majority of the gray shrimp are harvested by modern fishing techniques, but there is still one place, on the Belgian coast, where you can step back in time. In the town of Oostduinkerke, in Koksijde, a small group of souwester-clad fisherman take to the frigid sea on horseback. You can watch them bring in their catch and, if you’re lucky, you can even sample a few. The fishermen drag nets behind their heavy horses, normally sturdy Belgian breeds. This form of fishing doesn’t disturb the sea floor like modern day trawling, but it is much harder work. Make sure you see this magical spectacle before it’s gone forever. For more information and a photo essay of the Shrimp Fishermen of Oostduinkerke, follow the link: http://cheeseweb.eu/2013/05/shrimp-fishing-horseback-oostduinkerke-belgium/
De Panne, Belgium
On a recent trip up and down the Belgian coast, as the sun was setting on one of the beaches NOT in front of a town, I saw in the distance several horses and riders coming up the beach. When they passed, on the horizon a ship was also passing in the opposite direction. This picture is the result. The Belgian coast runs from De Panne on the French border right up to Knokke-Heist, on the Dutch border. For convenience, and the fact that it gets very congested in the warm months, there is a tram that runs the entire coastal distance.
Zeelaan 139, 8660 De Panne, Belgium
There are no shortages of places to eat and drink in the Belgian coastal town of De Panne. If you’re looking for a snack and a good deal, head to Patisserie Antoine, just a couple blocks from the North Sea. You can get a couple of croissants with a coffee for about $5. Of course, there are many other enticing things on the menu as well as a mouthwatering selection of cakes and tarts.
Duinkerkelaan 83, 8660 De Panne, Belgium
Being a guy from the Jersey Shore (which has nothing to do with that television show!), I love the sea front. The seaside resort of De Panne in Belgium is a place worth visiting. Sure, Belgium is usually rainy and cold but there are hot sunny days too, so it is advisable to hit the coast and check out De Panne. Its a typical Belgian seaside resort with lots of cafes and restaurants and a very big sandy beach. What I like about De Panne is the old style mobile cabanas, which were once popular along the Jersey Shore going back a century. The town was also the home of Belgium’s King Albert during WWI, since it was the only area that was not occupied by the Germans.
Kon. Astridlaan 6048, 8400 Oostende, Belgium
You’ll be hard pressed to find it in any of the tourism literature, but just off Oostende’s bustling beach promenade is a tiny oasis of tranquillity. In the middle of the Konings Park is a beautiful Japanese Garden. The garden was created in the ‘Kaiyusschiki’ style and includes water features, bamboo, statues and a rock garden. Wander the winding paths or simply relax and enjoy the peace and quiet with your own personal moment of zen. The garden is free to the public but is only open on weekends. It’s well worth tearing yourself away from the beach to enjoy.
8400 Ostend, Belgium
First thing when we got out from the underground parking was to be hit by the smell and sight of street food, in the harbor area. They only take cash so I could not wait to find an ATM to get some of the delicious looking food. I have never had sea snails so they were the obvious choice for me and boy was I right to make that choice. They are delicious. Large and a bit chewy cooked like a soup with lots of vegetables. A bit salty and spicy, nothing crazy, just enough to give it a good kick, really yummy. I love trying new things and it looked like everybody was going for them too. There are two options of cooked snails, natur - in a clear soup - and in a tomato soup. The ingredients look the same and the spice is in both options. The only thing is, make sure the seagulls keep a safe distance, they are extremely bold and will come close enough to take it from your bowl, yes, from your bowl.
Going to the beach at the North Sea in fall/winter is one of my favorite things to do in Belgium. I love the miles of empty, clean beach. Yes, it’s cold and the wind is blowing like mad, but then you get to run inside a restaurant and have a nice hot meal. That is exactly what we did today. After walking around on the boardwalk, renting an electric car for the kids to drive around, we chose the brasserie Le Bord’Eau for lunch hoping it will be nice. Their fish and potatoes stew is delicious and hot. I loved the presentation too. It comes to the table in the cast iron pot they cooked it in. It is steaming hot and smelling incredible. It kinda looks like fish waterzooi, a Flanders specialty. This dish had three different kinds of fish, boiled potatoes and vegetables in a superb cream sauce. Very pleased with my choice and will have it again next time I feel like bracing the elements at the beach, in winter.
1 Leon Spilliaertstraat
To see everything there is to see in Oostende, I highly recommend spending an entire weekend (or longer) in the city. For a good night’s sleep, try the Mondo Hotel, located minutes from the Promenade, in a quiet corner of the city centre. Our hotel room included a mini-kitchen (although minus a fridge which we found a bit odd) and a vast bathroom with a tub and shower. We enjoyed the champagne breakfast buffet, complete with Belgian waffles, in the artsy dining room. There are 28 ‘Cosy Rooms,’ 18 ‘Superior Rooms,’ 2 suites and 14 ‘Family Rooms,’ with extra bedrooms for the kids.
Several people had recommended Oostende’s art museum, Mu.ZEE, to us, over the years. Still, I expected a small gallery we could visit in an hour or so. How wrong I was. We had over two hours to explore the collections, before our lunch reservation, and we barely scratched the surface. The museum is deceptively large, with corridors snaking off in all directions. The permanent collection focuses on Belgian art from 1850 to the present. Highlights include works by James Ensor, Léon Spilliaert and Constant Permeke. Mu.Zee also host large temporary exhibitions of both international and Belgian artists. More Information on things to do in Oostende: http://cheeseweb.eu/2013/10/10-reasons-visit-oostende-beach/
Wellingtonstraat 15, 8400 Oostende, Belgium
Belgium may have one of the shortest coastlines in the world (69km), but it’s home to the world’s longest tram line. The Belgian Coast Tram (De Kusttram, in Dutch) runs the entire length of the coast, from De Panne, near France, to Knokke-Heist, near the Netherlands. You can ride the entire 68km, or hop on and off at the 70 stops along the way. There are 1, 3, 5 and 7 day passes available for you to enjoy throughout your holiday on the coast.