Belgium // Flanders //

The coast east of Ostend

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Heading east along the coast from Ostend, the undoubted highlight is De Haan, the prettiest and the most appealing seaside resort of them all. Beyond lie kiss-me-quick Blankenberge and the heavily industrialized port of Zeebrugge, both of which are best avoided – as is sprawling Knokke-Heist, though you might be drawn here by one of its many festivals, most notably the Internationaal Cartoonfestival (whttp://www.cartoonfestival.be), which runs from the end of June to the middle of September.

Established at the end of the nineteenth century, DE HAAN was conceived as an exclusive seaside village in a rustic Gothic Revival style known as Style Normand. The building plots were irregularly dispersed between the tram station and the sea, with the whole caboodle set around a pattern of winding streets reminiscent of – and influenced by – contemporaneous English suburbs such as Liverpool’s Sefton Park. The only formality was provided by a central circus with a casino plonked in the middle, though this was demolished in 1929. Casino apart, De Haan has survived pretty much intact, a welcome relief from the surrounding high-rise development. Flanked by empty sand dunes, it’s become a popular family resort, with an excellent beach and pleasant seafront promenade.