New hotels accommodate interest in up-and-comer Ghent

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GHENT, Belgium -- Its not easy being one of the most underrated cities in one of the most underrated countries in all Europe.

Long bypassed even by tour operators that do think to include Belgium on Europe itineraries, undervisited Ghent -- ignored in favor of Bruges, Antwerp and even Brussels -- is now attracting its fair share of attention from abroad.

With a slew of hotel openings added to a healthy existing stock of attractions both historical and epicurean, Ghent looks set to accommodate a new visitor boom.

While Ghent is in many ways typically Belgian, boasting chocolate shops, specialty beers and even a Bruges-like network of canals, it puts its own unique spin on standard national fare.

And in very un-Belgian fashion, its most famous sweet shop, Temmerman, isnt noted for chocolates. Visitors instead clog the confectioners on the Kraanlei canal for cuberdons, nose-shaped cones filled with raspberry jam.

Ghents other culinary calling card is mustard. Grocer Tierenteyn-Verlent makes an extra-strong, preservative-free mustard according to a 1790 recipe.

Gourmet tours of Ghent are now popular. Vizit (www.vizit.be) offers walking dinner and tasting tours; the official tour guides' group for the city (www.gidsenbond-gent.be) can also be hired. 

The towns picturesque canals, lined with gabled warehouses reminiscent of Amsterdam, can be cruised with several operators, including Gent Watertoerist.

On view from on deck: Ghents city-center, canalside castle, the Gravensteen, and the three towers of the Belfry, St. Nicholas Church and St. Bavos Cathedral, home to priceless 15th century  painting The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, by Jan van Eyck.

New digs in town

Ghent currently boasts four four-star hotels: Holiday Inn, NH Gent, Sofitel Gent Belfort and Ghent River Hotel; a fifth, Hotel Flanders, is under construction.

On the boutique end of the market, family-run Hotel Harmony (www.hotel-harmony.be) opened on Sept. 10 in two 19th century buildings on the Kraanlei canal, offering 17 posh guest units of four types: cozy, luxurious room, luxurious room with city view and junior suite.

Seven more units will open by Jan. 31, bumping the room count to 24. Rates range from about $145 to $235; notably, the hotel pays up to 20% commission.

A 150-room Marriott -- Ghents first five-star hotel -- will open on the Korenlei canal in 2006, housed in four renovated 15th century gabled townhouses.

The town also boasts more than 75 bed-and-breakfasts, such as the charming and chic three-room Chambreplus (www.chambreplus.be), where nightly rates with breakfast start at $88.

For more, contact Ghents tourism office at (011) 32-9 266-5232 or www.visitgent.be. The Belgian Tourist Office can be reached at (212) 758-8130 or www.visitbelgium.com.

To contact Destinations editor Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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