Georges Rouzeau - 2011-02-21
Less pretentious than Antwerp, less museum oriented than Bruges, Ghent is a town which cultivates its contrasts, from its gabled houses to its Design Museum. It’s a well-kept secret for a weekend change of scenery in an authentic and easily accessible location.
Ghent, a living painting by Bruegel!
Walking through the streets of Ghent, you have the feeling you’re living in a Flemish master’s painting, accompanied by a carillon of 52 bells... And when the snow falls heavily, Bruegel the Elder also comes to mingle at the party, transforming the cobblestoned streets into a medieval scene. It seems that travellers don’t often stop here in the home town of Charles Quint. Instead they head hurriedly to Bruges. However, this city of Ghent, brimming with history and monuments, has never fallen behind its sister...
Our tailor-made programme
The canals are lined with beautiful houses with step-gables. There are churches galore, a large square and a belfry. This spiritual citadel of Flanders is also well worth its epithet of Venice of the North – even though the name is overworked! From Saint-Michel bridge which straddles the Lys, the view of the old city’s façades and monuments is almost overwhelming. At night, the monuments are lit up, which adds to the fairytale atmosphere... As far as the Arts, galleries and artistic traditions are concerned Ghent almost rivals Antwerp. It also fares quite well for its shopping with major brands found at Veldstraat, whilst boutiques abound in the adjacent streets. Even better, the city has a dynamic energy that has almost as big a buzz as Brussels, with its 65,000 students (making it Belgium’s largest university town) and its 500 pubs, bars and cafes. With an eye on sustainable development and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (including the ones generously emitted by our cattle friends), the town has launched a “vegetarian Thursday” in its canteens and several restaurants have followed suit, now offering meatless menus.
Here are a few travel tips and some tried and tested addresses for an enjoyable weekend in Ghent: a hotel overlooking the Quai aux Herbes, an Ensor exhibition and a starred restaurant!
A successful exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts: Hareng Saur - Ensor and contemporary art
As part of a series of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the birth of James Ensor, Ghent’s MSK and SMAK (Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art) are hosting a successful exhibition with the pun title of Hareng Saur - Ensor and contemporary art, which is a humorous reference to one of his most famous paintings, Skeletons fighting over a pickled herring. The Ostend master is contrasted here with his contemporary descendants. His influence, especially in the Nordic countries but also in the United States, has been much larger than one might initially suspect. The walls of the gallery feature a figure of the Californian punk movement, Raymond Pettibon - the painter and illustrator of Black Flag, Sonic Youth and the Minutemen album covers. Ensor also remains an essential reference for all young Belgian artists. The highly successful montage immerses the works of Ensor amongst his many admirers, creating a stimulating dialogue.
Newly Opened: the STAM
Recently opened in the autumn of 2010, the Stadsmuseum Gent is, as its name suggests, the new museum dedicated to the history of the city of Ghent. Its modern building has now been added to the famous site of the Bijloke Museum, a remarkable complex of 14th to 17th century brick buildings which are the legacy of an ancient Cistercian abbey founded in 13th century by Joan of Constantinople. The white, immaculate pathways of the modern annex designed by the architect Koen Van Nieuwenhuyse, lead towards the original red brick buildings.
The museum’s contemporary rooms have put a huge emphasis on interactive and multimedia displays like the gigantic map of Ghent in silkscreen printing on a glass floor. But perhaps, rather than the modern city, it is the opulent Ghent of the Middle Ages, enriched by cloth and cereal commerce that is of greater interest. During this era Ghent was the second largest town in Europe after Paris. Numerous archaeological finds as well as paintings, decorative and applied arts from ancient times to the 19th century have resurrected the past of this flamboyant Flemish city. In the ancient abbey of Bijloke, the most beautiful room is the 14th century dining-room (on the 1st floor), with its large panelled ceiling and its frescoes, which include a representation of the Last Supper. In the centre stands a recumbent statue of a Ghent Lord lying dead in 1232. No other decorative ornamentation disturbs the solemnity of the place. The Bijlokesite, as the locals like to call it, is a permanent home to numerous cultural activities. This is also where the Ghent choreographer Alain Platel and his troupe, Les Ballets C. de la B give regular performances.
Two New Exhibitions at the Design Museum
When you go to the cafeteria in the STAM (the City Museum), you might find yourself sitting on a “03 chair” with the stamp of the designer Maarten Van Severen, who has also equipped the Café Beaubourg in Paris’ Centre Pompidou. Ghent’s Design Museum has an exhibition dedicated to this chair which has become an international “Design Classic.” Van Severen was a local designer who died prematurely in 2005. With the aid of sketches, prototypes, photographs and films, the exhibition traces the slow creative process that led from the chair No. 1 in 1986 to the latest version in 1998 that was mass produced by Vitra, the famous Swiss company. The quality of the chair with its solidity, sobriety and comfort has contributed to its great commercial success. The 03 Chair has even recently been chosen for the St Bavon Cathedral. Those that are left cold by modern materials can visit the upper floor to find another exhibition currently in progress - Art Nouveau and Art Deco of the Netherlands - a selection from the collection of Drents Museum in Assen. It gives you a good overview of the artistic period often considered the "second golden age of the Dutch" with its unsurpassed flowering of talent and works. Furniture, ceramics and silverware, designed by Hendrik Petrus Berlage, Johan Thorn Prikker, Gerrit Rietveld and Willem Gispen – as well as numerous other artists and craftsmen are waiting to be discovered.
A new restaurant: Bord'eau
Make your way to the old fish market, opposite the Design Museum, where a new restaurant was opened in November 2010. Its name is Bord'eau, yet it has nothing to do with the French town! Under a roof structure resembling the Eiffel tower, a large dining room runs adjacent to a beautiful glass wall overlooking the river Lys. In the kitchen, Frenchman Stephane Toublanc started out with a variety of dishes of luxury brasserie cuisine which is now progressively moving towards 100% fish and seafood. Indeed, the Breton chef is working directly with his own fisherman in North Sea. Specialities include his Seabass, Bomba rice risotto, butternut and veal sauce (28 €); Sole Meunier, fries and salad (32 €) and Brill, mashed potatoes, young spinach served with shellfish (26 €). The details and trimmings are prepared with loving care, as are his large fries cooked in a veal stock. The desserts are particularly well turned out with a Walnut tart, chestnut ice cream and apricot chutney (11 €), or the Tiramisu façon Stéphane Toublanc or the wonderful Mascarpone cream, coffee ice cream and amaretto sabayon (€ 9).
A classic restaurant: Allegro Moderato
At the Korenlei, it’s impossible not to stop in front of the beautiful 18th century mansion, which used to house the guild of boatmen. Inside are two long dining rooms, with wooden panelled walls and parquet floors: the first is illuminated by two large windows enjoying views over the Quai aux Herbes whilst the second one, lit by candles alone, resembles a sweet shop and has a Rococo decor which is a tad overloaded. Fortunately, at the table, you will experience one of Ghent’s finest cuisines, a classic French seasonal gastronomy (with its winter vegetables, mushrooms and game) and a few transalpine excursions. We highly recommend the Turbot with wild mushrooms and mashed potatoes, or the Pan fried Goose liver paté with quince and celeriac chips.
A starred restaurant: C-Jean
Opposite the right flank of St. Nicolas’ church, a discreet facade hides a small soberly decorated dining room which scarcely seats twenty. On the wall hangs a huge photograph, a depiction of a very copious Last Supper which is an omen for the taste buds to have a joyful occasion here. C-Jean
(an abbreviation of the previous shop sign - Chez Jean) is an association of Filip Van Thuyne in the kitchen and Jason Blanckaert in the dining room. Both are from the prestigious hotel school Ter Duinen in Koksijde, on the Belgian coast. In 2008 the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star.
Having looked towards the Mediterranean for a long time, Filip now creates a minimalistic cuisine which is deliberately "poor" and simple yet very technical, using local produce. He ‘s been inspired by the Nordic influence of Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant, and its chef Rene Redzepi, with elements of raw foods, touches of green, roots, a few powders, seafood and fish from the North Sea. There are many bold and surprising matches here!
Marriott Ghent: a room with a view
Located in the heart of town on the banks of the river Lys, the Ghent Marriott hotel opened in 2007. Its ultra-modern architecture is enticing from the very first glance with its monumental glass dome wall, a glass elevator, a cosy lobby with piano bar and large entrance ways to the rooms ... The hotel has a few rooms overlooking the Korenlei and the Quai aux herbes. Ask for one of these at all costs! The view of the quay’s houses is a wonderful spectacle: the 16th century Masons Guild house, the 15th century Grain Measurers Guild house and the Skipper’s Guild house, whose admirable facade crowned by a step-gable roof of Brabant Gothic style dates back to 1531 ... The hotel is three minutes from Bord'eau, is just opposite the Belga Queen (www.belgaqueen.be), and is two minutes from the Design Museum. Rooms from 129 €.
Places to visit
MSK Gent & SMAK (The Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art)
Jan Breydelstraat 5
Places to eat
Oude Visminj / Bord’eau
St. Veerleplein 5,
Tel: +00 32 9 223 20 00
Menus at 35€
Tel: 09 233 23 32
Lunch: 19.5 € - Menu: 48 €/ 58 €.
Cataloniëstraat 3 B
Tel: 0 9 223 30 40
Lunch: 35 € - Menu : 65 €/ 85 €
Where to stay
Ghent Marriott Hotel
9000 Ghent, Belgium
Tel: 09 233 93 93