Extend yourself in Ostend

When I think of Belgium I usually think of chocolates and beer, which the Belgians have certainly mastered the art of making; in fact, it’s probably fair to say that Belgian chocolates and beer are about the best you can get anywhere.

One of the things I don’t normally associate with Belgium is beaches. I know they have beaches, because Belgium is a coastal country, but I live in a place where drop dead gorgeous beaches are the norm. However, I now know that Belgium does indeed have good beaches, which are situated near the town of Ostend.

In fact, Ostend has been a magnet for beach goers for a very long time, and Belgian royalty, in particular used to spend their summers soaking up the sun and sand at Ostend.

One thing which Ostend does differently is the way they decorate the fringes of their beaches. I’m used to palm trees and Norfolk pines shading the hot sand, but in Ostend they build huge monuments to delineate where the town stops and the beaches begin.

These monuments are a legacy from the time when Ostend was a stylish resort the King Leopolds I and II wished to impress other gentry.

Ostend in part of Flanders, and dates back to 1265 when it was first declared a village. Fishing was a major industry back then, but its strategic position on the North Sea saw it be invaded many times, particularly by Ostend pesky neighbours the Dutch. In fact, the Siege of Ostend, during which the Spanish attacked the Dutch occupiers, lasted from 1601 until 1604 and was one of the bloodiest battles of all time.

These days, Ostend is a lot more peaceful, and the Dutch still invade, but it’s usually just to soak up the summer sun.

During summer Belgians from the inland and many foreigners tend to arrive in Ostend by train. They normally head for the closest beach area from the station, which is called Kleinstrand. The locals tend to avoid this tourist beach, opting instead to occupy the larger beach called Grootstrand.

As with most seaside resorts, there is much to do in Ostend. The town has a casino, the North Sea Aquarium is very interesting, and you can walk around the Atlantic Wall, which is two kilometres of open air and underground tunnels which represent the horrors of war.

One of the newest attractions is Earth Explorer, a scientific adventure which introduces you to all the forces of nature.

Perhaps the most economical way to enjoy the town is to get an Ostend City Pass, which gives you discounts to many of the museums and attractions in the area.

Ostend has some of the best beaches on the North Sea, and it is well known for the quality of its seafood, and for having a very active nightlife. Now that many Europeans are discovering new resorts, thanks to cheap airfares, it may just be the time to re-discover Ostend and get right away from those other holiday crowds.

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