Adoration Of The Mystic GhentAugust 12th, 2011
Belgium. It is officially time to rethink your preconceptions about the unofficial Capital of Europe. Brussels, especially at weekends, is proving it has a lot more to offer than suits and European politics with architectural wonders from the Medieval to Art Deco, some fine museums, and some exceptional recreational drinking in either traditional beer houses or contemporary bars. But it’s the less renowned alternative city of Ghent that is charging ahead in the reshuffle.
There is of course Bruges, but Bruges seems to be becoming a victim of its own success, and unless you feel like marvelling at the fine medievalness of it all while battling through the thousands of other tourists all pointing their 10 megapixels at the same things, generally standing around in the middle of the Grand Place, being seduced into some chocolatier or Belgian lace shop, or being duped into some kind of kitsch traditional Flemish eatery for some stew and chips; then I suggest leaving Bruges to the rest of them, or at least until you are retired, or have developed a lace fetish, which I suppose, is entirely feasible.
In the 14th Century, Ghent was one of the biggest cities in Europe and this legacy ensures that it’s home to a wealth of ancient architecture with its medieval core surrounded by the looping River Leie. To the north is Petershol which houses many of the city’s best restaurants and a cultural quarter to the south where you are likely to find the hum of 50,000 students hanging out being studious, bohemian and cool. To the east is the red light district, which has been smartened up and has some stylish bars and cafés. We ate on the terrace at Pakhuis a designer brasserie in the old town and were impressed with cuisine and service. Later we sank a well prepared and well served mojito at Limonada, a bar you will never find on your own but is worth hunting out. There is some excellent pedestrianised shopping along the Veldstraat, mostly of the generic High Street variety but Ghent has some great independent boutiques and a thriving second hand sector too, ideal for releasing the vintage and antique hunter in you.
For the more culturally inclined there are several museums including SMAK Museum of Contemporary Art and the Design Museum Ghent both of which curate thoughtful and internationally reputed exhibitions throughout the year. There is an abundance of churches and the un-missable Sint-Baafskathedraal. This cathedral, consecrated in 942 and expanded in Romanesque and Gothic styles in subsequent centuries until being considered complete in 1569, is home to perhaps one of Belgium’s and the 15th Century’s finest works of art. Van Eyck’s ‘Adoration of The Mystic Lamb’ described as a ‘strange, mesmeric altarpiece of astonishing imagination and detail’ with a spectacular history to boot. Stolen by Napoleon, seized by the Nazis, hidden in an Austrian salt mine and almost blown to bits. Definitely worth a quick look then.
We feature a range of hotels in the city including the 4*Marriott Ghent, great location on the riverbank, stunning elevated atrium and the number one Marriott hotel in guest satisfaction for 2009/2010, that’s out of 2800 Mariott hotels and resorts worldwide, which should give you a fair indication of the quality of service at this property. It plays host to the Film Festival in October if you feel like some celebrity spotting. As a personal recommendation I would suggest the 4* NH Ghent Belfort, recently renovated with rooms that are fresh, bright and stylishly finished. The hotel has a live pianist to entertain in their small but comfortable jazz bar. Speaking of jazz, the city is also renowned for its international jazz festival in mid July. Expect tens of thousands of guests over the 12 days and a mix of mainstream, avant-garde and jazz fusion.
With more historic sights than Antwerp, and better eating and drinking than Bruges, Ghent is without doubt an excellent destination for a city break and I advise getting there soon before everyone else finds out how good it really is.