Visit Ghent for city breaks in Europe with a difference
City breaks in Europe
British travellers considering city breaks in Europe have a tendency to think that Belgium is either the pretty streets of Bruges or the chocolate shops and squares of Brussels. They are missing out on one of northern Europe's most charming cities: Ghent.
The most comfortable way to get there is by train with Eurostar (www.eurostar.com). There is a regular direct train service from London St Pancras to Brussels with fares starting at £69 return. These bargain tickets are non-exchangeable and non-refundable, but if you plan your trip well in advance there is good availability.
Regular onward trains from Brussels Centraal station to Ghent take just 36 minutes. Tickets (www.b-rail.be) cost €8.20 one way.
In its medieval heyday Ghent was the second largest city in Western Europe and much richer than the first, Paris. It was the hub of the Flemish testile trade, and most of those substantial medieval buildings remain, in Ghent's endlessly impressive old town centre, stretching south-eastwards from the Korenmarkt.
St Baaf's Cathedral houses Ghent's masterpiece of religious art, The Adoration Of The Mystic Lamb, a mystery-laden 15th-century altarpiece full of symbols and hidden meanings. You could spend all afternoon trying to figure it out.
Or you could head for the doomy S'Gravensteen Castle, with its gory guided tours of the dungeons, instruments of torture and other bloodthirsty details that kids will love.
Ghent has plenty of cafes to sample those Belgian culinary specialities like chips with mayonnaise, waffles and fine chocolate. For more refined culinary experiences check out the bistros and chic restaurants in the gentrified Patershol quarter
It's a good place to sip an excellent coffee, look around at the dearth of tourist crowds and congratulate yourself on making an inspired choice among all the possible city breaks in Europe.