Friday, April 15, 2011

Ghent: Europe's Well-Kept Secrect

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.

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. Here are a few places to visit next time you’re in the city of Ghent:


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 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.


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.


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. To watch a video of this Michelin-starred restaurant click here.

Anyone looking for cuisine and culture should consider travelling to Ghent. For travel suggestions click here.
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