Zoned in: Ghent, Belgium
Sneak off for a romantic weekend in this seductive Belgian city
Conde Nast Traveller, 2012
As picturesque as Bruges, but with the creative vibrancy of Antwerp, Ghent is Belgium’s most beguiling short break. Half an hour from Brussels, this once-sleepy city is turning heads, thanks to a raft of young chefs, bartenders, artists and fashionistas sending 21st-century shock waves through the medieval streets and misty canals.
De Waterzooi B&B
Tucked above tiny, cobbled Vismarkt Square, this three-suite boutique B&, right in the middle of Ghent, benefits from direct views of the Castle of the Counts, a private courtyard and a romance-friendly kids-free policy. Voted Belgium’s Best B&B 2011, 18th-century architecture – exposed beams and brick walls – provide the backdrop to plush white sofas, concealed big-screen TVs and sink-into memory-foam mattresses. The daily changing breakfast is so vast, you’ll want to skip lunch.
Sint-Veerleplein 2 (00 32 (0)4 75 436111; www.dewaterzooi.be). Doubles from €160
Gastronomic change is afoot in Ghent, led by the Flemish Foodies www.flemishfoodies.be), a collective of three award-winning young chefs eschewing traditional French-Belgian formality in favour of casual dining and experimental cuisine. Having won a Michelin star while at C-Jean in Ghent, Flemish Foodie Jason Blanckaert has now opened his own modern bistro, JEF. The daily-changing menu makes the most of less-common seafood, cuts of meat and local vegetables. When avaialble, try the barbecued pork belly or vegetable vichysoisse, or go late on Friday night, when it’s open until 1am, serving small-bite dining – five courses for €20 (£16). Mains from €22
Lange Steenstraat 16 (00 32 (0)9 336 8058; www.j-e-f.be)
An old canal-side warehouse given an Art Nouveau make-over provides the backdrop to beautifully made Belgian classics. A curvaceous bar, round-backed wooden chairs and pistachio-green accents warm up the space, while an aperitif of Roomer – local artisanal elderflower liqueur – warms the cockles. Try the fennel soup, rock oysters or beefsteak tartar. Mains from €14.50.
Schuurkenstraat 4 (00 32 (0)9 223 5555; www.pakhuis.be)
Café Theatre bar The city’s beautiful people come to this bar, attached to the opera house, even when a show isn’t on, thanks to the concocting wizardry of Olivier Jacobs, awarded Best Belgian Bartender at the Diageo Reserve World Class Finals 2011. Sample the cocktail that earned him the honour, the Ménage À Trois – gin, cherry, crème de violette, lemon, raspberries and basil – but don’t leave with trying a bottle of Gruut, a unique herb-based, hop-free beer made locally by one of the country’s few women brewers.
Schouwburgstraat 5-7 (00 32 (0)9 265 0550; www.cafetheatre.be)
This unassuming space is the city’s in-the-know place to find the latest men’s and women’s fashions from the country’s high-end designers. Pick up an eccentric Dries Van Noten trench or a floaty Ann Demeulemeester blouse, but don’t expect to find a bargain. Belgian designers are at the top of their game right now, thanks to wearable styles with a hint of a quirky twist.
Meerseniersstraat 4 (00 32 (0)9 233 8269; www.obius.be)
Rabotstraat 1 (00 32 (0)4 73 462381; www.be-angeled.com)
Although geographically small, Belgium has long been a big player in the fields of art and design, especially during the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, as showcased in this 18th-century former hotel. Don’t be put off by glimpses from the lobby of antique-filled Rococo rooms. Upstairs are three bright white and airy floors with iconic 20th-century homewares, from teapots to chairs by the likes of Horta, van de Velde and Corbusier. Entry €5 (£4).
Jan Breydelstraat 5 (00 32 (0)9 267 9999; www.designmuseumgent.be)
26-29 January 2012
Ghent Light Festival
Luminous art installations cast an atmospheric glow over the city’s misty canals and streets, brightening up this late January weekend. (www.lichtfestivalgent.be)
12 May to 16 September 2012
Track Art Installations
Sculptures and installations by 30 Belgian and international artists will be on display in public spaces and hidden corners throughout the city centre for the summer-long event. (www.track.be)