Following on from my Bruges post chronicling the edible delights of our recent trip (read all about it here), we also popped over to Ghent, just 30 minutes from Bruges by train. And we were rather bowled over by the place. Don’t tell anyone from Bruges but Ghent feels like Bruges’ slightly trendier younger sibling. For what it lacks in full technicolour chocolate-box charm, it makes up for in vibrancy – it’s a buzzing university town replete with trendy cafés and bars superimposed on a magnificent medieval city. Like a gorgeous Flemish Salamanca!
Here’s my foodie guide to 24 hours in Ghent:
From Gent Saint Peters train station head straight to the artists’ district in the South of the city and sniff out De Superette (Guldenspoorstraat 29) for a slap up late breakfast / brunch. It’s an achingly hipster bakery-cafe-eatery centred around an open-plan kitchen with a wood-fired oven standing pride of place. Serving up fantastic coffee and wood-fired bread, hearty sharing platters and stone-baked pizza in the evening, it’s the kind of place that makes you want to lounge a little longer. Marginally off the beaten track but worth the effort. Walk-ins only (except for dinner).
Head North towards the centre of town. Five minutes into your walk, you’ll find Yuzu (Walpoortstraat 11A) – a boutique chocolate shop with a cult following. Famous for his flavour alchemy and minimalist aesthetic, chocolatier Nicolas Vanaise’s inspiration is rooted in the seasonal, Japanese and Middle Eastern. Refreshingly different.
Keep walking North (and a bit East) until you hit the wondrous pedestrianised centre of town – just follow the spires and you’ll find yourself there in no time. Stroll along the canal and, for a view-and-a-half, stand on St Michael’s Bridge and you won’t know which way to look – it looks like an already-impressive skyline has been concertinaed, all the sights clambering over each other to meet your gaze.
When you’re fading, grab a hot chocolate next to the belfry from family-run Chocolaterie Van Hoorebeke (Sint-Baafsplein 15). From father and son Luc and Cédric Van Hoorebeke, their top-end classic artisan chocolates are made on-site in their workshop downstairs (look down through the glass ceiling!) and worthy of the hype.
If you’re wondering how the city is so beautifully preserved, hunt out ‘Graffiti Street’ (Werregarenstraat) to see where all the city’s street artists are given leave to let their creative juices flow free. Keep heading up to the Patershol district and get lost in the winding cobbled streets to soak up the olde-worlde medieval feel. Visit Gravensteen Castle (Sint-Veerleplein 11) which dates back to the Middle Ages or, for something a little more modern, have a potter around the Design Museum (Jan Breydelstraat 5). Or follow our lead, skip all this, and head straight for an aperitif…
Proof (Jan Breydelstraat 34) is a new concept store that sells a tantalising selection of spirits, wines and beer and doubles up as a bar and tasting room. Please order their generous platter of local cheeses to soak up all the booze you’re about to consume. The cosy seating area at the back looks out onto the canal and is the perfect place to rest tired feet. I can thank the lovely owners here for introducing me to my new favourite gin, Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin. It’s a super unusual Riesling-infused gin full of herby floral notes and with an ethereal lilac hue.
The ‘Flemish Foodies’ – three friends whose shared philosophy focuses on simple, seasonal, local produce – have caused quite a stir the last few years and revolutionised the foodie scene in Ghent. They are locavore-crazed chefs Jason Blankaert of minimalist bistro J.E.F (Lange Steenstraat 10), Kobe Desramaults of 1* In De Wulf (Dranouter village) and De Vitrine (Brabantdam 134), and Olly Ceulenaere of Volta (Nieuwe Wandeling 2b) housed in a cavernous former electric power plant. Dine at any of their restaurants and you’re bound to agree that this city now pulsates with a mesmeric culinary energy.
We plumped for dinner at De Vitrine, a former butchers in the red light district (hence the name – ‘the window’) with tiled walls and marble counter still in situ. To add to the fun, opt to eat perched on stools around the butchers’ counter-cum-bar at the front of the restaurant. Choose between the 4 or 5 course set menu (excellent value at €40/47 respectively – go for the 5 course, obv), peruse their excellent selection of natural wines, and prepare to be delighted with fresh produce served up in exciting and thoughtful ways. Be sure to book ahead.
We ate: cucumber, cured mackerel, nettle; leek, smoked mussels, lettuce; pork belly, swiss chard, celeriac; Mimolette, fermented carrot, hay brown butter; and Jerusalem artichoke crisps, okka root, whey caramel and white chocolate for dessert. You think that’s creative? The petit-four took the biscuit: oat and sesame seed cookie, purple nasturtium crème patissière, candied nasturtium and verbena powder.
Hit up De Alchemist bar (Rekelingestraat 3) on your way home for a nightcap (or a few – it’s open until 5am…). With a cosy neighbourhood feel and an enticing gin selection, they serve pleasingly gargantuan globes of G&T – Gabriel Boudier saffron gin with hibiscus and elderflower tonic, or Monkey 47 with black pepper and grapefruit anyone? If it’s a lovely evening, why not take a stroll through the old town and admire its award-winning ‘light plan’, all soft shadows and moody corners.
Assuming you’re too full and/or intoxicated to get very far, stay the night at B&B Door10 (Provenierstersstraat 10b) nestled away in the quaint Sainte-Elisabeth Béguinage, a protected UNESCO world heritage site. The building is ancient, with vertiginous staircases, exposed beams and buckets of charm. Book the generous loft-style room in the attic for a luxurious roll-top bath and a night beneath vaulted beams. Meike, the owner, will give you one hell of a feed in the morning that’ll rid you of any hangover.
Source: Words and photos by pip & little blue.