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Day out: The Bulletin's guide to the Belgian coast
There’s no better place to unwind and revive the senses than at the Belgian coast. With pristine sandy beaches and handsome seaside towns extending from Knokke-Heist in the northeast to De Panne in the southwest, the area offers something for everyone whatever the season – from thrill-seeking water sports fanatics to those who prefer sipping cocktails at a beachside café after a day of shopping.
The coastal tram makes exploring Belgium’s seaside comfortable and affordable. Don’t worry about traffic jams or finding a place to park your car – the 67km tramline, the longest in the world, departs from 68 locations between Knokke-Heist and De Panne every 10 minutes during the high season and stops at all the resort towns. Tickets are available at tram stations, kiosks and supermarkets for only €5, and for €7 in the tram.
Though all the resorts are worth a visit, make sure you take time to revel in the opulence of Knokke, also known as the Saint-Tropez of the North Sea. Here, the elegantly dressed and well-coiffed stroll through streets dotted with high-end boutiques, art galleries and trendy restaurants. Many wealthy Belgians own luxury weekend mansions in Knokke. It’s definitely a place to see, and be seen.
Want to sunbathe undisturbed, challenge the waves on a surfboard or go for a zen-inducing walk? De Panne not only boasts the widest beach on the Belgian coast, it’s also surrounded by four nature reserves. In the sandy dunes of the Westhoek you can peacefully wander for hours, clearing your head and admiring myriad plants and wildlife as you go. Ever tried land yachting? De Panne is where this adventurous sport first evolved.
A visit to the coast is the perfect opportunity to sample the region’s fantastic seafood. At ’t Kantientje in Knokke, chef Dominique Pille will delight you with his culinary expertise. Start your meal with oysters, follow with one of his lobster specialities and end with a mouthwatering dessert. For mussels, Resto de Rimini in Sint-Idesbald (Koksijde) is sure to please. Bear in mind, however, that mussels aren’t usually served out of season (between April and July). But Rimini’s other seafood choices – such as prawn croquettes – will not disappoint.
For the ultimate indulgence, stay at Hotel Manoir du Dragon in Knokke-Heist. Set in a beautifully restored villa dating to 1927, the four-star hotel offers 16 rooms, most with private jacuzzi and a view of the Royal Zoute golf course. In the morning, enjoy a sumptuous breakfast that includes fresh fruit, eggs, homemade preserves and Belgian specialities. Another excellent choice is Esprit de Mer in De Panne. The cosy bed and breakfast has three tastefully decorated rooms and is just 400m from the beach.
This article was first published in the Bulletin's Best of Belgium 2015