© 2022 Business Travel News Ltd.

Article from BTNews 8 NOVEMBER 2021

ON TOUR: Battlefields and sea air in Belgium *

As thoughts turn to remembering the fallen of two world wars and other conflicts, BTN’s Editor-at-Large, Jeff Mills, suggests a trip to Belgium’s Flanders Fields to explore the battlefields and much more.
A quick trip under the Channel by Eurostar or Shuttle, or across it on one of the plentiful ferries, then head inland towards the town of Ypres (known by British troops during WWI as “Wipers”).

This is at the heart of an area which still bears the scars of the carnage of WWI, which saw this part of Belgium being torn apart, as thousands of Allied and German troops faced each other in some of the most appalling conditions known to man.
It was just outside Ypres, also known locally as Ieper, that poison gas was used in warfare for the first time. It is in the countryside around here, too, known as Flanders Fields, that tens of thousands of troops of both sides, who died on the Western Front, lay buried.

There are more than 160 wartime cemeteries in this area, known as Westhoek (or West Corner). They are clearly marked on the easy-to-follow maps, available through the local tourist office.

They include Tyne Cot Cemetery in Passchendale, named by soldiers of the Northumbrian Regiment because the German blockhouses reminded them of cottages on Tyneside.

Many of those who have no known grave, 54,896 of them, have their names inscribed on the walls of the impressive Menin Gate memorial in Ypres, where every evening at 20:00 the local fire brigade perform that most moving ceremony of all, The Last Post, in their memory, just as they have done virtually every evening since the Great War ended.
It is impossible to visit this part of Flanders without feeling the emotion. It seems to ooze from every building, every mound and valley in the surrounding fields, once the scene of bloody battle.

But even though it may be difficult to avoid signs and memories of war at virtually every turn, this in no way detracts from Westhoek’s charm as a destination. Time has healed some of the scars of battle and in their place there are now charming towns, beautiful buildings, fabulous museums and galleries, good restaurants and some of the most attractive countryside to be found anywhere.

Take time for a stroll round the Dumont quarter on the edge of the town of De Panne to admire the stunning architecture of private houses built in what is known locally as the “Anglo-Norman” style.
But for architecture of a different kind, head off to Koksijde-Oostduinkerke en route to the Paul Delvaux Museum, dedicated to perhaps Belgium’s best-known artist, the 20th century surrealist famous for his joint loves – the female form and railways, both of which he manages to feature in many of his intriguing works.
From here you can follow the map to Nieupoort, best known perhaps as one of the key battlegrounds of WWI. It was here that the German advance was halted when local partisans opened the sluice gates of the Noorvaart Canal, flooding the surrounding fields.      
Then it’s off along the coast again to De Haan, a gem of a belle-époque period piece, much of which is owed to a German town planner, Josef Stubben, who created an intricate web of winding avenues made up of mainly turn of the 20th century villas and grand hotels.

It was in one of these, the stylish old Belle Vue, where one of De Haan’s most famous former temporary residents, Albert Einstein, took his afternoon tea during the six months he lived here after fleeing Hitler’s Germany in 1933.
Further along the coast, the resort of Blankenberge is a must-see destination for fans of art nouveau. The city centre boasts some of the finest buildings of this type to be seen anywhere. Then there is Zeebrugge, known by many locals as the seafood capital of the Flanders coast.

If you are there at lunchtime, head for the harbour and one of the handful of stylish little restaurants to be found here. Grab a table by a window and you’ll have a great view of the nautical scene below, where vessels of all kinds rub shoulders.
And then it is on to yet another jewel of the Flanders coast, the delightful and very smart resort of Knokke-Heist, right over near the border with Holland, thought by many to be the St Tropez, or perhaps Monaco, of northern Europe.
The Flanders Fields area of Belgium can be a heart-wrenching place to visit. Never more so than on a chilly November day when the world remembers.


Index/Home page

OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

Richard Phillips, Hampshire

Jeff, an excellent article. To those yet to visit, may I suggest an intial commercial tour which helps to get your bearings. Then DIY! I did it this way and have now been on 9 occasions. So much so that I joined the Western Front Association! There are numerous local branches around the UK best looked up on the WFA website.There are 6000+ members. So Jeff, join us!!


Visited this area in 1999.Will never forget the emotional experience. The immaculately maintained Commonwealth War Graves are magnificent. Don't forget to visit the Delville Wood battlesite.

Jeff Jones, UK

Great piece by Mr Mills. I shall put the visit down for next year and include Bruges