Pass the Waterzooi: Small Pleasures in Ghent

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Crossroads' associate editor Judy Koutsky departed for a press tour of Belgium on June 4. Armed with a laptop and digital camera, she is chronicling her experiences for close-to-real-time publication on the Web site. Following is her third installment:

YVOIR, Belgium -- Last night we drove to the city of Ghent. Ghent, only thirty minutes from Bruges, often is overlooked by tourists. While not immediately as picturesque as Bruges, Ghent's charm, we discovered, can be found in pockets throughout the city's center. It's best to park immediately upon entering the city (there are many free public parking lots) because although it's small, it's complex to navigate. After checking into the Erasmus Hotel, a cozy little place where each room is uniquely decorated with antiques, we set about exploring the city.

The Canal Cafes and pubs line the main canal while chocolate boutiques and specialty stores can be found in the main square. Although there are a lot of elegant restaurants here, we opted to have dinner at 't Galgenhuisje, an intriguing spot just off the canal. It's Ghent's smallest restaurant (seats 40) situated underneath Ghent's smallest bar (seats 15). The restaurant actually is located under the canal, and diners sit in a small, cave-like stone room. It almost felt like we were in the dungeon of a castle. The bar used to be a holding ground for those sent to the gallows; the restaurant once was a holding place for ships and was only recently renovated.

We tried a local Belgian dish, waterzooi, which is a type of soup/stew made with chicken or fish, potatoes and vegetables. It was delicious and would go quite nicely with any of the 180 different types of beers served on the premises. (The waiters speak English and eagerly recommend brews.) This place is not well known except among the locals, but it shouldn't be missed for a memorable dining experience.

Town CrierWe then headed to the docks where we joined a tour group ready to embark on a pub crawl with the Town Crier, a unionized guild that takes tourists on boat rides along the canal, pointing out the many pubs and gin bars in the area. After disembarking the boat, the Town Crier accompanies the group to the establishments of its choice. It's a great way to get a feel for the nightlife of Ghent, as well as a bit of background history. After the pub crawl, we strolled around the city, which is beautifully illuminated at night. Crime is very low here, and we noticed many women walking the late-night streets alone.

The next morning was spent visiting two of Ghent's most prominent attractions, Saint Bavo's Cathedral and the Gravensteen castle.

From Ghent we drove to the Ardennes, the southern, French-speaking part of Belgium, an area not often explored by American tourists. We drove down to Dinant, a small, town nestled among cliffs along the Meuse river. The drive down to Dinant was very scenic, the last stretch taking us along the waterfront. Dinant is a quiet town, perfect for walking or cycling, especially along its canal. We had lunch at Villa Mouchenne, a upscale yet friendly restaurant on the opposite side of the canal from the city, affording diners a view of the waterway and Dinant's cafes.

Ghent at night We then headed to the Veves castle, a well preserved fortress just outside Dinant. Our last stop was Yvoir-Anhee, where we checked into our charming hotel (Hostellerie Vachter) located right on the river. The evening was spent enjoying dinner on the veranda, watching the boats lazily making their way along the waterway while children splashed and played along the river's edge. The cuisine that night, much like every night, was a multicourse delight.

Beer and Chocolate: A Great First Day in Belgium

Downpours Don't Dampen Bruges' Appeal

Pass the Waterzooi: Small Pleasures in Ghent

The Battle of the (Abdominal) Bulge

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