Belgium and its many beaches
A cheap tram service clanks up and down the Flemish coastline of Belgium. It runs 65 kilometres from De Panne, through Dunkirk and Ostend to Zeebrugge and Knokke at the other end of the line.
It passes by kilometre after kilometre of promenade and beach peppered with scores of eating houses ranging from humbles cafes to good restaurants. The café culture is contagious.
Dutch speaking Belgians flock here for their holidays using the seafront to the full for leisure and pleasure.
It offers a good, old fashioned beach holiday and if the unpredictable northern European climate means the sea is not welcoming for swimming and water sports they can always stroll and cycle. When the sun is out the beach huts buzz with chatter.
Ostend – too often bypassed as a port of Belgium to get somewhere else from – has good shopping and nightlife and much has been done to rejuvenate its seafront. The train can take you to no end of resorts, villages, nature reserves and fishing ports.
Blankenberg is a pulsating resort with a marina full of yachts. Nieuwpoort, where the huge King Albert 1 monument looks down on a network of canals which helped protect it from 13 sieges, is favoured by water sports enthusiasts.
De Panne boasts the widest beach on the coastline and is popular with sandyachters. Expanses of dunes and nature reserves can be enjoyed by strollers.
Oosterdunkerke is the only coastal village in the world where shrimps are still caught on horseback and trendy and sophisticated Knokke-Heist is a top destination.
Einstein and De Haan
The pearl is De Haan, a belle époque holiday town still much the same as it was when it was built in the 1890s and 1900s where the unique tram station seems almost to bear a smile of welcome.
There was nothing on this spot before the railway age came along. Then developers saw its potential as a money-spinning seaside resort and moved in. But a great intervention on the part of the town planner created a rule that no new building could be higher than 11 metres so that its dunes would not be spoiled or hidden from view by high-rise construction.
Thus there is no urbanisation whatsoever to spoilt the pleasant nature of the town which is fond of reminding us about its most famous fan – Einstein.
The genius behind the theory of relativity and his wife were on a journey back to Germany from the USA on a Red Star Line steamer when Hitler came to power on March 13, 1933. On hearing the news that the Nazis had confiscated all his possessions and unleashed a witchhunt on the Jews, he cut short the journey in Belgium and was hosted by professors in Antwerp. His wife travelled ahead to De Haan and rented two villas and Einstein joined her by train.
He was fond of a cup of tea in the Grand Hotel Belle Vue, still a social hub, and there is an Einstein trail all over De Haan..
Flanders is probably on the UK tourist map mostly for its military history but tourism bosses are working to change that by laying on concerts and events along the coastline all easily reached by the tram.