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Belgian coast best enjoyed in the off-season

11:02 24/01/2013

Autumn and winter are when the Belgian seaside is at its best, according to Evening Standard food critic Charles Campion. “Out of season there are the same small towns, the same bars, the same restaurants, the same chocolatiers, the same hotels, the same breweries, the same seafood: the only difference being that you get them all to yourself,” he writes. “The charm of the coast is its variety, each town has its own character. Check in to one of the many simple and comfortable hotels, and when you have a base camp established you could either hire bicycles or take the coastal tram. The tram line is set back from the beach and runs the whole length of the coast, with 70 stops along the way. Wherever you are you will be in the next town in 15 minutes, there’s a good service and the trams run until nearly midnight. If you ask Belgians what they do for recreation, they look at you rather surprised and answer that they love eating out. For anyone interested in restaurants, Belgium has a great many to offer – from stunning takeaway chip shops to smart, classical, three-Michelin-starred restaurants that take pride in serving local produce. For a winning combination of a great terrace overlooking the sea and simple but good fish, try the Aguadelmar at Ostend – the shrimp croquettes are outstanding. Or try a restaurant such as Apropos in Koksijde, with a menu that changes with the seasons and the kind of cuisine we class as French – langoustines, lobster and turbot. In De Panne is Le Fox, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant where Stephane Buyens is cooking up a storm – fresh local produce meets real talent. Note the cheese trolley with fifty Belgian cheeses. Towards the southern end of the coast is Oostduinkerke, home of the peerdevisschers – shrimp fishermen on horseback. Sturdy Brabant horses pull the nets through the shallows at low tide before the little grey shrimps are taken back to the fishermen’s clubhouse – the Estaminet de peerdevisschers – where they are promptly boiled in fresh water. The fishermen maintain that trawler-caught shrimp are inferior because they are cooked in sea water but it’s hard to tell the difference as they are both magnificent – the shrimps may be fiddly to peel but a joy to eat.”

Written by The Bulletin editorial team