Our three-hour destination limit doesn’t just have to be travel in France. It can include Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Germany and for this month we traveled to Ghent, Belgium.
We took an early morning Thalys train from Paris, Gard du Nord station to Brussels Midi station, which took one hour and twenty minutes. We then switched at the same station for the local train to Ghent, which took 35 minutes.
Our hotel, Hotel de Flandre, was a quick, easy 10-minute tram ride from the train station. The four-star hotel is part of a group named Historic Hotels of Belgium, with three other properties in Ghent and one in Aalst. Built in the neo-classical style in the early 1800s, many of the original architectural details still remain of the two coach houses, five stories each. Hotel de Flandre has had an illustrious guest list, notably Johann Strauss and French writers Chateaubriand and Lamartine, who were members of King Louis XVIII’s entourage.
The room was spacious, even by American standards, with a Queen-sized bed surrounded by lots of floor space, enough to comfortably lay day a yoga mat.
Surrounded by two rivers, the Lys and the Scheldt, which are connected the Ghent–Terneuzen Canal, the waterways proved to be advantageous for commerce, as Ghent was a capital city for textiles between 1,000 and 1550 AD, rivaling London.
The center of the old quarter of Ghent is small enough to navigate on foot. Walking around the city, we couldn’t help but reference Amsterdam, because of the canals and architecture, and also Bruges, although Ghent did not feel as touristy. At night, the canal near the tourist center is beautifully lit with the reflection of the buildings shimmering onto the water.
Dinner that night was at Brasserie Pakhuis, one of the most popular restaurants in Ghent.
A former hardware store and warehouse form the early 1800s, the cavernous space on three levels was transformed into a restaurant in 1991. Elements of the hardware shop are still intact, giving it an industrial but hip vibe. The brasserie also had a lively bar and lounge.
After dinner we had a drink at The Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof, the most luxurious hotel in Ghent, with 158 rooms and suites and also long stay apartments, a wellness center and pool, and a gym. The Sandton also boasts the trendsetting Restaurant Lof, with top chef Joris Korsten, creating lots of buzz with his eclectic tasting lunches and dinners, and also including a vegetarian menu.
It was mid-fall, so the foliage colors of brick, mustard and brown of the trees reflected on the waterways, giving off a gorgeous hue. We took a boat tour around the city and got glimpses of old brick houses with their gardens facing out onto the water.
There’s an impressive number of Gothic and Romanesque churches, some dating as far back as the 1200s. The Saint Bavo Cathedral, built in 942 and expanded in the Gothic style between the 14th and 16th centuries, contains the Ghent Altarpiece (or the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb). Painted by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck, it’s a series of twelve biblical reliefs from the 1420s and 30s.
The next morning we visited the oldest coffee house in Ghent, Mokabon. A far cry from mundane, institutional Starbucks, there are bins of fresh roasted coffee beans and an old-fashioned roaster in the window. Inside, it’s old school all the way, with dim lighting, bentwood chairs and, of course, the arousing aroma of good, strong coffee. Down the street we found a delightful cheese monger, with a vast array of fine cheeses from Belgium, France, and Switzerland, and tasted his heavenly award winning Gouda cheese.
Trains from Paris to Brussels are on the Thalys train network, leaving from Gard du Nord station arriving at Brussels Midi station.
Trains leave at least once an hour daily. https://www.thalys.com/fr/en/
Trains from Brussels to Gent/St. Pieter leave from Brussels Midi station twice an hour. https://www.trainline.eu/
Hotel de Flandre
Poel 1, 9000 Gent
Design Museum Ghent
Jan Breydelstraat 5, 9000
Schuurkenstraat 4, 9000
The Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof
Hoogstraat 36, 9000