Flanders special

Simon Calder: Why Go Now?

'Widescreen skies provide constantly changing aerial scenery'

From a distance, the wedge of territory that sits prettily across the North Sea from South-east England may look strictly two-dimensional. Look more closely, though, and you discover Flanders has many more facets to it. Widescreen skies provide constantly changing aerial scenery, as clouds ripple high above the meadows, woods and waterways that make up Flanders' tranquil landscapes. The horizon is punctuated by church steeples: continuity with a past when the region provided economic and cultural dynamism for much of Europe.

The Belgian coast, at first glance, appears to be the Continent's longest unbroken stretch of sand – yet slowly reveals itself to be much more than a beguiling beach. From picturesque fishing ports to spectacular modern architecture, the shore is embroidered with intrigue. In summer, it is a well-provisioned playground; while winter visitors find the Flanders shore exquisitely moody.

For further elation, just head for the nearest metropolis. Flanders is endowed with half-a-dozen very different cities, each rewarding exploration.

Ostend is the gateway to urban Flanders, and offers everything you would expect from a bustling port: excellent seafood, historic ships and a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Bruges is just 20 minutes inland, yet the city could be a world away, thanks to its miraculously preserved character. This compact compendium of medieval architecture feels intensely human – and is a strong contender as the most rewarding destination on the planet for the beer lover. Ghent, the third link in the chain as you head inland, shares a similar alluring network of canals and cobbled streets, but is firmly focused on the future. This is epitomised at SMAK, the city's modern art museum, startling and stimulating in equal measure.

Eastern Flanders has its own trio of cities. Leuven benefits from a large student population, which ensures constant cultural replenishment – and plenty of good, cheap places to eat. Delicious diversity continues in Mechelen, where historic properties have had makeovers to turn them into cutting-edge places to eat, drink and sleep.

The brilliant finale for the urban explorer is, of course, Antwerp. Recent upgrades to the city's magnificent railway station have placed it firmly astride one of Europe's transportation arteries – but Antwerp has long been a hub for style and sparkle. Energy and imagination provide the power for the young designers who place the city at the forefront of fashion; and it remains the diamond capital of Europe.

Mountaineers and skiers may have to seek their thrills elsewhere. But for the rest of us – Flanders fulfils.



For the Sound of Flanders, listen to The Independent's new audio podcast: 3 x 3 x 3, a nine-minute programme free to download: www.independent.co.uk/flanderspod

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
Arts and Entertainment
James Dean on the set of 'Rebel without a Cause', 1955
photographyHe brought documentary photojournalism to Tinseltown, and in doing so, changed the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing