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Introducing Western Flanders

Belgians love this region for its extensive, if heavily commercialised, sandy beaches. But for foreigners it’s the fabulous medieval city centres, belfries and begijnhoven that really appeal. Bruges and Ghent top the bill, but even lesser-known towns such as Oudenaarde and Veurne retain wonderfully picturesque town squares. Ypres and Diksmuide are charming, too, and all the more extraordinary for having been meticulously rebuilt following WWI. Scars and souvenirs of the Great War remain poignant attractions in the surrounding countryside, which also grows hops for some of Belgium’s trademark beers. This is not a place of spectacular scenery. Belgian chansonnier Jacques Brel described it as le plat pays, the flat country with ‘cathedrals the only mountains’ beneath skies ‘so low that canals get lost in them’. But even in brooding blankets of fog or howling February gales, the canalsides have a certain mesmerising charm.