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st.vincent Gent - A travel report by Clive
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Gent,  Belgium - flag Belgium -  Oost-Vlaanderen
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st.vincent's travel reports

Gent - Go there - Drink beer

  22 votes
Whilst not exactly going back in time, history oozes from every pore of Gent, from the well preserved guild houses on Graslei, to the old harbour area, to the magnificent buildings like St Baaf's Kathedral and the Belfry.

The River Leie with the Waterhuis aan de Bierkant on the right
The River Leie with the Waterhuis aan de Bierkant on the right
Having recently returned from a beerhunting trip to Gent with some friends, it is now on my list of favourite cities and I definitely want to return. I haven't travelled extensively in Belgium but I would say that Gent is similar in style to Brugge but with a slower pace of life and less tourists. It also delights in its own particular character unlike Brussels, which is a lot more cosmopolitan and for political reasons often struggles with its identity. Gent itself has a convenient location for the visitor being around 35 minutes by train from Brussels. If using Eurostar, your ticket will also cover the journey from Brussels to Gent on some trains. On arrival at St. Pieters train station you have three choices for getting to the centre.

By Tram, follow signs to the tram station and catch the number 1 tram getting off at Korenmarkt. Single trip tickets cost 1 Euro and need to be bought beforehand at machines in the tram station and validated at one of the automatic machines on board. If you are in a hurry or have a lot of luggage just follow the signs for the main exit and get a taxi, the cost to the centre will be around 8-10 Euro. If you fancy a walk it is very direct and will take around 25-30 minutes to get to the centre. Go past the taxi stand and cross the small square, head up Kortriksesteenweg, and follow the main road and you will eventually arrive in Korenmarkt. I would not suggest you take this option if you are carrying or wheeling large luggage as much of it is through uneven and busy streets.

One of the best things about Gent is the ease with which you can move about once you are there. It is very compact and once you get your bearings it is quite easy to see all of the main sights on foot. Like many cities, Gent has a river that runs through it, the River Leie. However this is not a large imposing river like the Thames or the Seine, it is more like a canal and can be criss-crossed when out walking by use of the many bridges.

Favourite spots:
Mediaeval guild houses on Graslei
Mediaeval guild houses on Graslei
If you want to get a feel for the old Gent take a stroll along Graslei (street of the herbs and vegetables) that runs alongside the river in the old harbour area near St Michael's Bridge. You will see some wonderful mediaeval guild houses that were once the focus for the city's traders. The grey building with the arched openings and stepped roof to the right of the accompanying picture is the Spijker, which is the oldest house on Graslei. It dates back to the early 13th century and held a special licence for the storage of grain in case of famine.

On the opposite bank of the river is Koornlei (street of the wheat). The names are a reminder of the products that were both stored and traded in the harbour many years ago.

What's really great:
One of my favourite beers, Duchesse de Bourgogne
One of my favourite beers, Duchesse de Bourgogne
What's great? Well I'm going to be controversial and say the beer. Although Belgium brews around 450 different beers it is the Trappist and Abbey beers that are among the strongest and most popular. There are six Trappist breweries in Belgium, Westmalle, Westvleteren, Chimay, Rochefort, Orval and Achel. The oldest is Orval having been founded in the 11th Century by Benedictine monks. No other brewery is allowed by law to use the term Trappist in relation to their beer. Abbey beers are similar to Trappist beers in style and strength but they are not brewed in monasteries.

One notable thing about Belgian beer is the presentation, each beer comes in a branded glass that is shaped to enhance the flavour or aroma of the beer. The Belgians certainly take their beer seriously and, wishing to embrace local culture, we took full advantage of the range on offer during our stay. We didn't get through the full 450 but we certainly found enough to satisfy both our thirst and our curiosity.

St Baaf's Kathedral / St Bavo's Cathedral
St Baaf's Kathedral / St Bavo's Cathedral
There are two tall towers that dominate the Gent skyline and stand a little like protective parents looking down on the activities of their offspring below.

The first is the tower of St Baaf's Kathedral, named after a 7th Century nobleman who became a Saint after he gave all of his possessions to the poor and entered the monastery. Internally the Cathedral was going through some major restoration work on our visit so not all areas were accessible. At the time we visited a service was taking place in the crypt and we were a bit too early to view the famous Adoration of the Mystic Lamb painting which is in a separate chapel. However the wonderful baroque pulpit could still be seen and with the other beautiful works of art and sculptures it was still well worth the visit.

The Belfry Tower
The Belfry Tower
Sitting on the other side of Sint Baafsplein, and providing the other "parent" is the picturesque Belfry Tower. It was primarily a watchtower and on each of the four top corners of the tower stands a stone soldier, although those on the current building are copies. The last surviving original stone soldier is now in the treasury room to preserve it from further deterioration. The treasury room, or "secret" as it was known, held all the important city documents and was protected by two large doors, each with three locks. The keys of these locks were held by the different guilds of the city meaning that the secret could only be opened in their joint presence. The peal of the bells in the Belfry is unusually tuneful.

The Tourist Information Centre is situated on the ground floor of the Cloth Hall which sits alongside the Belfry.

Novotel Gent Centrum
Novotel Gent Centrum
A good piece of accommodation advice to anyone about to visit Gent is not to worry too much about location. Provided you are staying within reasonable walking distance of Korenmarkt, which is generally considered to be the centre, then you are within walking distance of most of the main sights and attractions.

We were very pleased with our stay at the Novotel Gent Centrum (see travel tip for details). It has a good central location right next to St Nicholas' Church and just a few minutes walk from St Baaf's Kathedral and Korenmarkt. The rooms are comfortable and quite spacious. There is internet access and even a Playstation game in the reception area. It has a well stocked bar, a pleasant restaurant and a good continental breakfast. We got a special deal on the website at 82 euro per room per night (Feb 06) which was very good for the quality of the hotel. Other hotels close to this location include the Ibis and the Sofitel.

The Dulle Griet, which is also the name of a cannon that can be seen near the bar
The Dulle Griet, which is also the name of a cannon that can be seen near the bar
Proving that Belgians have a sense of both humour and irony, one of the best places to drink beer in Gent is the Waterhuis aan de Bierkant which translates as the Waterhouse on the Beerfront. It is of course the opposite, a beerhouse on the waterfront. It is perhaps both helped and hindered by being mentioned in all the tourist guides but it still attracts the serious drinking locals who tolerate the hoards of tourists with good humour.

Another popular bar for the beer tourist is the Dulle Griet. It is superbly decorated with brewerania, mirrors, posters etc, and you can hardly see the ceiling for the number of hanging bits and pieces including some macabre effigies of people hanging by their necks. It has a very attractive brick bar and large barrel tables and the beer list is one of the most extensive I have seen. The star attraction for visitors is the MAX house beer which comes in a special glass for which you have to leave a shoe behind the bar as a deposit (see travel tip)

The Brooderie
The Brooderie
The best place to find good restaurants is in the Patershol area of the city. We ate in two, both of which can be found at The first was the Spare Rib Caffee, Kraanlei 19, opposite the Waterhuis aan de Bierkant. There is a reasonably priced menu that includes the eponymous spare rib all-you-can-eat dish, they just keep bringing more and more.

The other was the Brasserie 't Klokhuys Corduwaniersstraat 65 which is a bit more comfortable and upmarket. It is nicely decorated with hops hanging from the ceiling, and has a typical Flemish menu with specials on a blackboard. The friendly staff are happy to help with suggestions, and the warm apple pie and ice cream was the perfect finish to a good meal

For a morning coffee and pastry whilst out for a stroll around the city try the Brooderie at Jan Breydelstraat 8 opposite the Design Museum. They also have a few rooms available for bed & breakfast.

Other recommendations:
Gravensteen, looking across Veerleplein
Gravensteen, looking across Veerleplein
Close to the Belfry is a wonderful 13th Century church, St Nicholas'. It has an unusual architectural style, it seems gothic but a lot simpler. St Nicholas is the patron Saint of traders and the church once belonged to the traders of the old harbour area that is nearby.

Another popular historic site is the Gravensteen or the Castle of the Counts. This 12th Century castle is probably the most intact of the many built around Flanders by the travelling Counts. In its time it has also served as a mint, a prison and a cotton mill but has now been restored and you can have a look around the grounds and museum for about 7 Euro. Next to the castle is Veerleplein which has some interesting architectural features and is where public executions once took place.

Published on Saturday April 1th, 2006

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Tue, Feb 13 2007 - 07:25 PM rating by travler

Clive I happen to enjoy Duchesse de Bourgogne beer as well

Mon, Jan 01 2007 - 05:24 PM rating by mrscanada

Very interesting.

Sat, Apr 08 2006 - 10:14 PM rating by tokyomike

Fantastic report. I like your writing style, AND your priorities: beer! Haha. I was in Gent (and Brugge) back in about 1985 and loved both, although Brugge topped the scales for me. But next time I'm back in Europe, I'll try to swing by Gent and the Waterhuis! Thanks for the great report!

Wed, Apr 05 2006 - 02:28 PM rating by isaacmolina

After reading you lovely report I feel thirsty of beer!

Tue, Apr 04 2006 - 03:07 PM rating by jesusferro

I like your report very much, and I like beers very much!

Mon, Apr 03 2006 - 02:59 AM rating by terje

Very well written. The enthusiasm you show in this text is the confirmation of travelling being a important part of ones life. Beer tourist, or wine tourist..... is nothing but cultural learning. I am more into the wine myself... :-)

Sun, Apr 02 2006 - 12:52 PM rating by marianne

What a joy to read. You give excellent information and it is well-written. You will have to return if you want to taste all beers, which will be no punishment, I suppose.

Sat, Apr 01 2006 - 10:56 PM rating by rangutan

Another full-bodied and excellently written report. Cheers!

Sat, Apr 01 2006 - 12:09 PM rating by davidx

Fine report on a great place. Unhappily I'm restricted on alcohol intake for health reasons but I loved the beer I had. I stayed at the Brooderie - what marvellous smells!

Sat, Apr 01 2006 - 11:47 AM rating by vbx000

Great report, very interested to read and informative. Not controversial, but creative! I want to be a beer tourist, I didn't know you could be a beer tourist... Good job! Especially considering its your first report

Sat, Apr 01 2006 - 11:42 AM rating by mistybleu

Nice report which is very informative. 'What's really great' is not controversial at all. We all travel for different reasons and find enjoyment in different areas; this is what makes each report different and appealing to read.

Take care

Sat, Apr 01 2006 - 11:04 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Wow! and that is your first report! Congratulations, it is perfect!

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