Belgian Flanders is home to some well-guarded treasures, and Ghent (Gent in Dutch), the port city at the confluence of the Leie and Scheldt rivers and capital of East Flanders, is a fine example of this. The beauty of the historic centre of Ghent, illuminated in the evening, is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of this province. The city is full of museums, cathedrals and restaurants (many of which are vegetarian). Outside Ghent, the Flemish Ardennes offer beautiful hilly landscapes where it is good to walk. Oudenaarde, known for its goldsmiths and tapestries, and Ronse, famous for its textile museum.
Whether it is for its simply exceptional heritage or for its dynamism and creativity, the city of Ghent is hard to describe other than as a favourite! The beautiful Flemish city where Charles V was born has a rich historical past, which is reflected in its many museums and monuments. The most famous is the Saint Bavo Cathedral. This Brabantine Gothic cathedral with its white stone façade is the pride of Ghent. It was here that Charles V was baptised in 1500. Only the crypt, with its 22 altars, bears witness to the original Romanesque style. Its multi-storey tower rises to 89 m, but the spire that originally extended it has been destroyed. The interior is surprising for the black and white checkerboard floor in moiré marble added in the 18th century. In addition to theAdoration of the Mystic Lamb, the cathedral houses paintings by De Crayer, Frans Pourbus, a painting by Rubens(The Entry of Saint Bavo into the Monastery, 1623), the funerary monuments of four bishops sculpted in the 17th and 18th centuries in the choir..
Not far away, between Place Saint-Bavon and Rue du Marché-au-Beurre, the belfry, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dominates the town from the top of its 91 metres. With its gothic architecture, it was a symbol of communal freedom and prosperity, but also of power. It set the rhythm of the inhabitants' lives with the various sounds of its bells. To visit the belfry, you must enter the "cloth market" which adjoins it, a magnificent late Gothic building erected in the 15th century. It bears witness to the importance of the cloth industry in medieval times, although this trade was already in decline when the building site was started. The hall remained unfinished until the dawn of the 20th century. Admire the huge chimney and its hearth, the windows and the arches decorated with stone foliage as well as the wall paintings of 1903. But while there is still plenty to see, this does not mean that Ghent has the museum-town feel that you sometimes find elsewhere. It is full of charm and its student community makes it a modern, lively and multicultural city. On the shopping avenues, a young crowd strolls from shop to shop and, in the evening, as the city's illuminations make it even more beautiful, the cafés, restaurants and theatres fill up with an eclectic audience. Try the Flemish way of life, Ghent is so pretty!
Ghent also offers a rich cultural life and is home to one of Europe's most renowned contemporary art museums: the SMAK. Under the rigorous direction of Jan Hoet, one of Europe's most renowned curators, this museum has become a must in the country for lovers of contemporary art. The most important artistic trends since 1945 are represented here. The museum owes its high reputation to the quality of its temporary exhibitions, which are added to the (rotating) exhibition of the permanent collection. Among others, works by Beuys, Schütte, Muñoz, Panamarenko, Broodthaers, Bacon, Warhol... This autumn, from 27 November 2021 until 8 May 2022, the superb exhibition 'Pop art: From Warhol to Panamarenko' awaits the lucky visitor.
Directly opposite the SMAK is the MSK, the Museum of Modern Art. This Museum of Fine Arts (Voor Schone Kunsten) is housed in a beautiful 19th century building designed as a classical temple to art. A temple that houses theMystic Lamb, the polyptych (12 panels) painted by the Van Eyck brothers in 1432, and the masterpiece of the City painted by the Van Eyck brothers in the 15th century. In 2020, after years of restoration, the main panel was returned to Sant Bavo Cathedral, but ten other remaining panels of this polyptych are still being restored for visitors to see. The restoration is taking place in a workshop behind a glass case in the museum.
The STAM (Stadsmuseum), which may well shake things up by combining history and technology to evoke the city, or the Design Museum Gent, which is expanding in 2021 and will be presenting the superb exhibition "10th Anniversary of Muller Van Severen: A Dialogue with the Collection" from 9 October 2021 to 6 March 2022.
The Festival of Light, a magical event
This autumn, Ghent is organising a Festival of Light in its streets with light installations and performances that transform the city's monuments and buildings into a surprising setting, just as in Lyon in France. The historical centre of Ghent, and in particular its most important monuments, starting with the fortified ramparts of the Castle of the Counts and St Bavo's Cathedral, but also the Church of St Nicholas and the Belfry, are a perfect setting for light shows. From Wednesday 10 to Sunday 14 November, the fifth edition of this festival will be held. With some forty illuminated works of art spread out along a 7.2 km route, this is a perfect opportunity to put down your bags in the Belgian city.
Finally, take the opportunity to explore the countryside around the city. You will discover superb landscapes, a paradise for walkers and cyclists. You should also make a stopover in Oudenaarde, a thousand-year-old town along the Scheldt. The city has developed a remarkable history over the centuries. Its past is visible in its rich architectural and artistic heritage. Charles V, passing through the city, fell in love with a weaver's daughter and bore her a child, the famous Margaret of Parma, who later ruled the Netherlands for her half-brother, Philip of Spain. The most beautiful pearl of the city is certainly the town hall, a superb example of the Brabant gothic style. The belfry in the centre overlooks the Grand Place.
Finally, in the heart of the Flemish Ardennes, Ronse is a city that is not lacking in tourist and cultural attractions. A stopover is almost compulsory to discover a lively city with a certain art of living. The Textile Museum puts the city of Ronse back in the past as a textile town. You can also visit the Romanesque underground crypt in the Saint-Hermès church. This small town on the language border is also an ideal base for cyclists and hikers.
When is the best time to visit? The best time to visit Ghent is between June and October, when the temperatures are pleasant. In autumn, the city is also full of charm, especially during the Festival of Light. December, with its Christmas markets and events, is also a good time to visit. Temperatures warm up in May and spring is a pleasant season.
Getting there. By plane (Brussels airport is less than an hour away), by train (connection with the TGV to Brussels-Midi, Antwerp or Lille) or by car (3h30 from Paris).
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