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Ester Depret, mum of two, reports:

Zeebrugge: Far more going than you would have been led to believe

Ester Depret, delighted to make your acquaintances!

I am 28 years of age and proud mum of Jules (5 years old) and Alixe (4 years old) and work and live in Gent, together with my partner, even though the two of us hail from the queen of seaside resorts: Oostende. No better excuse to take the family there any time the weather is halfway decent! Quite simply because there’s always something going on, the heat is more bearable there and the atmosphere in Oostende is always just right (instant holiday mood, I’ll have you know). I could list 1001 reasons why our Belgian Coast is worth a visit.

On 27 and 28 April, my family and I stayed in Zeebrugge and I am going to prove to you that you won’t be stuck for things to do at the Belgian Coast during the low season either! That time of the year, you have the added bonus that the hordes of tourists haven’t descended on the Belgian Coast yet, hooray!

By now, you’ve probably caught on to the fact that Depret & Co. are hooked on the seaside. A fondness I would like to pass on to my children. I’ve always loved the seaside and, by extension, all the hustle and bustle that comes with it, for starters, during summertime, when the heat inland has become too much to bear. But it’s equally fantastic during the low season, when the tourists haven’t made their way to the coast yet. The high and low season couldn’t be more different but, to me, they both have their charm. Especially because I notice that most Belgian seaside resorts are pulling out all the stops to entertain their visitors during the low season too.

In sum, a major love for the seaside, whatever the time of the year. Of all the towns along the 67-kilometre long Belgian coastline, I can safely say that I know Oostende like the back of my hand. To my shame however, I have to admit that my knowledge doesn’t really extend beyond the queen of seaside resorts. That’s why I didn’t think twice about accepting Westtoer’s invitation to enrich my knowledge of the Belgian Coast in Zeebrugge. A coastal town one wouldn’t exactly associate with a great tourist destination. So, I was all the more intrigued!

Seafront

The fish auction hall, where the Zeebrugge fishermen used to sell their fresh catch up to some 30 years ago, was converted to Seafront, an interactive museum where you can learn everything about life in and around the sea. It not only covers the ins and outs of the fishing industry but also goes into Zeebrugge’s function as port of refuge during the war and how that port of refuge transformed itself into Belgium’s (one but) largest industrial port.

Franlis port cruises

Fancy discovering the Port of Zeebrugge in all its glory? Shipping company Franlis organises cruises that show you the works: from gigantic cargo ships to ferries and cruisers, including the fishing industry and the Belgian naval base. Unfortunately, the winds were too high that weekend, so the boat couldn’t sail out. So, it’s been put on our to-do list for the next time we’re in the area. In my book, there’s nothing more educational and fascinating than watching all the industry of a gigantic port such as this from the water.

Restaurant Tijdok

After our visit to Seafront and the port we hung around the old fishermen’s wharf. We decided to go for a meal in one of Zeebrugge’s best fish restaurants: Tijdok. It’s run by a fisherman’s family that only serves local fish, supplied by the boats that drop off their catch at the fish auction house 500 metres down the road. Fish does not get any fresher. The fact that most of the patrons seemed to be locals, put our minds at ease. Always an excellent sign of a place! And, yes, the food was stupendously delicious.

Zeebrugge beach

Because most of Zeebrugge is taken up by the port and its industry, the promenade is quite small and rather unknown. The main advantage of a peaceful beach at our Belgian Coast? Plenty of space for all kinds of water sports! Zeebrugge beach is home to (kite) surf club Icarus. Read: a cool beach bar, delicious cocktails, a playground for the children, kite initiation for the bravehearts and, before I forget, drop-dead gorgeous surfers galore! What’s stopping you?

 

The Zwin

I was determined to conclude our weekend at the seaside with a visit to the Zwin. Fair enough, the nature park is not exactly in Zeebrugge, it’s nearer to Knokke-Heist in fact. The last time I visited the Zwin, I was still in primary school. Since then, the Zwin (and especially the visitor centre) has undergone a serious makeover. No more animals kept in captivity. These days, all the birds live in complete freedom and the seasons dictate what animals you get to see or not. I particularly loved the stork tower. An elevated viewing hut from where we had a perfect view of a number of hatching storks. Jules adored the freshwater lab where a guide told him everything about the tiny water creatures and he was able to watch them through a microscope clear as day. In short, a really educational and stunning nature reserve!

Conclusion

Zeebrugge mightn’t strike you as destination for a traditional beach holiday. IMHO, it shouldn’t have to be. Each coastal town stands on its own merits, and the industry in Zeebrugge oozes a certain energy. Add to that, the many kitesurfers, the huge blue cranes in the distance, the odd few cargo ships filling the horizon.

Does Zeebrugge have the potential to become a tourist hotspot? Most certainly, but there is still some work to be done. I hope that the local policy makers will do more to put Zeebrugge on the map as a tourist destination. It doesn’t have to become a 2nd Oostende, but certainly in terms of the hospitality sector and attractions, there are opportunities for the taking.

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