Tour of Flanders: Discover the charms of the region’s lesser-known towns and cities
Flanders boasts a rich collection of contrasting cities that attract a discerning public. Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels are buzzing destinations that enjoy an international reputation for their medieval treasures and other heritage delights. Now it’s the turn of smaller cities and towns to come under the spotlight, thanks to the launch of a new tourism initiative.
The series Tour of Flanders features 15 places in Flanders that are full of cultural, quaint and quirky surprises. First up is Lier in Antwerp province, a historically significant town that is brimming with folklore traditions and an infectious pride in local life.
Each month, a new city portrait will be published on the low countries, an English-language website dedicated to arts, history, literature, language and society in Flanders and the Netherlands. The site of Flemish-Dutch institute Ons Erfdeel builds bridges between English-language speakers around the world and everyone with a keen interest in the culture of the Low Countries.
All the articles for the series are written by renowned Brussels-based British journalist Derek Blyth, the author of the bestselling Hidden Secrets series of books on Belgium. He delves into the history, character and atmosphere of each of the 15 places, presenting little-known facts, unique events and offbeat personalities.
The focus is on the identity of the selected towns and small cities, says the low countries editor Tom Christiaens: “These places form the DNA of Flanders, and they each have their own unique story to tell. For example, Ypres and World War One, Geel and its treatment of psychiatric patients and Aalst and its folklore carnival.”
The city portraits go beyond the tourism clichés, adds Christiaens. “We show these cities through the eyes of the open-minded but critical observer Derek Blyth. In his typical tongue-in-cheek style, he writes well-researched travel essays showing that there’s much more to discover in each one. Even local inhabitants can learn new things about their town.”
Targeted at the low countries’ readers, mainly UK and US visitors, as well as expats in Belgium, the series aims to stimulate cultural tourism. “It will help visitors, especially during the pandemic, prepare their city trips or short breaks to the region and also strengthen the international reputation of Flanders as a centre of culture and heritage,” he points out.
Three towns from each of Flanders’ five provinces are featured in the series: Kortrijk, Ostend, Ypres, Aalst, Oudenaarde, Sint-Niklaas, Leuven, Vilvoorde, Halle, Lier, Mechelen, Geel, Tongeren, Genk and Hasselt.
The Tour of Flanders series receives support from the Flemish government.
Photos: The Zimmer Clock Tower © Visit Lier; River Lys, Kortrijk © Kattoo Hillewaere; Menin Gate last post ceremony © Andrew P Clarke; Genk C Mine © Visit Limburg