Introduction

The archetypal vision of Belgium's rural North Sea coast is of paardevissers, shrimp fishermen riding their stocky Brabant horses into the sea, dragging triangular nets through the low-tide shallows. These days shrimp catches are minimal, but the age-old tradition is maintained at Astridplein beach in Oostduinkerke-Bad. It's now a tourist spectacle that happens fewer than 30 times a year. That's mostly in July and August plus the last weekend of June when the town celebrates its annual garnaalfeesten (shrimp festival).

One of the shrimp fishermen moonlights as a barman serving unique, dark Peerdevisscher beer (€2.10) at Estaminet de Peerdevisscher, a wonderful old-time café 1.5km north of the beach in Oostduikerke's second centre, Oostduinkerke-dorp. The café is beside the entrance to Navigo, an interesting, state-of-the-art fishing museum. Visits walk you through a genuine 19th-century fisherman’s cottage, teach about fish quotas and fishermen’s superstitions, then send you and your audio guide beneath a 1930s fishing smack flanked by aquariums of fish. An accompanying soundtrack of waves and shrieking gulls builds up to a four-minute storm every half-hour. Veurne–Ostend bus 68 stops nearby.

Halfway between village and coast, Sint-Niklaaskerk is an extraordinary 1956 church whose bulky pale-brick tower has an almost medieval look, except for the massive 13m-high crucified Christ hanging on its east wall. Turn east 100m north of the church and continue 700m to find the modern, peacefully located HI hostel De Peerdevisser.