Stylist’s digital editor Kayleigh Dray explores the historic beauty of Belgium’s neglected weekend getaway: Ghent.
Steaming mugs of tea, clean sheets, unexpected tax rebates… all are undeniably brilliant, but none come close to the thrill that comes from arriving in an unfamiliar city. Especially when that city is Ghent.
Often overlooked by travellers – who seem keener to visit its famous cousin, Bruges – Ghent, in northwest Belgium, is quietly beautiful. A labyrinth of Venetian-style cobbled streets spirit you away to any number of tiny bars and bustling restaurants, but you’ll eventually wind your way back to the Leie river running through the lovely Korenmarkt Square. It’s here that locals sit sipping cool beers and watching the world go by. And right in the middle of this gorgeous scene is my hotel, 1898 The Post.
Formerly the city’s post office, built in 1898 (explaining the name), the hotel is as stunning on its grand, gothic outside as it is on its darkly romantic interior. You enter through a tiny flower garden, climb a swirling staircase and wander to reception via the hotel’s famous bar, The Cobbler. Be sure to drop in for a drink: the atmosphere and views of historic spires are unrivalled, while the cocktails are seriously good (I wholeheartedly recommend The Cobbler’s Cobbler, which muddles coriander and wheat beer with Tio Pepe Fino Sherry and Cointreau).
The bedrooms are lavish. Mine – a spacious “Letter” duplex – is decorated in soothing sombre hues and kitted out with many quirky extras: think bell jars filled with dried butterflies, varnished tortoise shells and an antique writing desk. The stellar minibar includes everything you need to make a gin martini (with a fresh citrus twist), and the impossibly fluffy bed dares you to cancel your plans.
Thankfully, the buffet breakfast does all it can to tempt you out of your room. I feast on freshly baked bread and pastries, before ordering a platter of eggs and bacon, too: adventures are always better on a full belly, after all.
Ghent rewards aimless wanderers: head in any direction and you’ll soon find a stunning church, lovely square or tranquil stretch of riverside. For those who prefer an itinerary, though, I suggest the following: start with Plantentuin, the university’s botanical gardens; followed by Museum Dr Guislain, a haunting psychiatric hospital filled with curios on the outskirts of town; then The Fallen Angels, a shop selling nostalgic toys, religious images and posters; before ending up at Hot Club de Gand, a buzzing jazz bar hidden down an alley.
Food-wise, Otomat does the most inventive pizzas (toppings include black bean nachos and madras chicken), Madam Bakster is an excellent vegan cafe and Brouwbar is – well, there’s no food to speak of, but it’s one of the city’s nicest tap houses.
I took the Eurostar to Ghent and back. Not only is it a quick trip (London to Belgium in around two hours), but there are few baggage restrictions – which means you can cart home as many beers, chocolates and rode neuzen (a strange local delicacy of red sweets shaped like noses) as you please. I did just that, desperate to take a little piece of Ghent home with me. Santé!