Belgium
Flanders

Here you’ll find travel reports about Flanders. Discover travel destinations in Belgium of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.

276 travelers at this place:

  • Day785

    We've reached Belgium! Tonight's stopover is another place we are familiar with; Oud-Rekem on the Zuid-Willemsvaart canal. We stayed here back in November as part of a month touring the country. This official stellplatz is out of town but close to a bridge whose road is busy. The sound of traffic contends with the mechanical noises emanating from a factory a little way down the canal on the opposite bank. Neither of these disturb us too much though.

    We started off this morning in Germany, 10km from the border with The Netherlands, so it wasn't long before we flew past the blue sign with its ring of gold stars announcing our entry to the country. Parking overnight outside official stopovers is illegal in The Netherlands and so far we only know of one free place to stay, so we haven't slept over since having a run in with the authorities back in the years when we had no idea of these regulations.

    A while later, we crossed the border into Belgium; a country far more friendly towards us motorhomers. First on the list was a visit to Aldi. Will had been given specific instructions on what he could and couldn't eat in the run up to his colonoscopy and it felt like all the things we usually eat were on the 'Don't' list. After stocking up with low fibre foods we were standing in the queue and Will was smiling his most ingratiating smile at Vicky. She soon put two and two together and granted him permission to fetch frites from the Frituur over the road. Chips are one of the things that is banned, so we made the most of the time before his diet began. Besides, the Belgian's really do produce the best frites! Vicky had unpacked by the time Will returned with the paper bag, stapled shut and with a carefully placed tear to make sure the contents didn't get soggy with steam. They were as good as we remember them to be and to her delight, Poppy even got treated to the few leftovers in the bag.

    Vicky was especially grateful to pull into the stellplatz we knew. For some reason it is a lot more relaxing than somewhere new. We relaxed and got on with jobs from the rest of the day. Before going to bed Vicky noticed a few little ants on the internal step and used the brush to flick them outside. Poppy woke her at around 5am to be taken out, but as she was reaching for the lead she saw dozens of ants crawling on the worktop 😫 It was still dark when she began ejecting them from the van with a range of brushes, but light when she returned to bed. The same task was repeated a short while later when she got up, but there were hundreds of the little critters and it was like trying to stop the tide coming in, so we left soon after Will got up.
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  • Day795

    Brasschaat Park near Antwerp

    August 30 in Belgium

    We are stationed at an official stopover just 11km from Antwerp. A line of mature oaks, thick bushes and a cycle track seperate us from a busy main road, but with the woodland behind us, the site feels more rural than it actually is. We could stay hear for up to 72 hours and were pleased to see it has all the facilities, including recycling; something we've found difficult to source of late.

    It was a later start than usual this morning as we took advantage of the sunshine and looked around the town we'd stayed in. A short drive took us to Aldi, whose car park we lunched in, before making our way up the motorway. When we hit traffic jams the sat nav suggested a different route. Unfortunately we didn't realise until it was too late that this new route took us through central Antwerp; Belgian's 2nd city. We'd visited in November and it seemed like half the streets had roadworks on them. Sadly this was still the case and we spent goodness knows how long inching our way along with the rest of the nose to tail traffic. We were therefore very relieved to arrive at our destination and put the kettle on!

    The stellplatz was adjacent to a city park in which there were a myriad of tracks. On an evening stroll we discovered mature deciduous woodland, a small lake and an open stretch of well mown grassland, at the head of which was Brasschaat Castle; a country home currently hosting a wedding reception. It was a lovely location and we were very happy to be given access to the grounds on our free overnight stay!
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  • Day794

    Gistel, Belgium

    August 29 in Belgium

    We're back! Martha is keeping the three of us snug, as plump raindrops lazily dribble from a featureless sky. We are parked in a brick paved stellplatz at the back of a sports, games and cultural centre in Gistel, Belgium. A Belgian Hymer van is stationed alongside us and a screen of Buddleia bushes, some with a few purple flowers, provides a green backdrop for the front window. Although the water droplets falling on our roof are noisy, they've driven everyone indoors, so the place is pleasantly undisturbed.

    We spent a total of five nights at our sister and brother in law's house in Orpington, enabling Will to have a Colonoscopy at Croydon University Hospital. We are really pleased the procedure went well and that the doctors found nothing that to worry about. Big thanks to Sue and John for putting us up and sharing the delicious sweetcorn, tomatoes, grapes, parsley and cooking apples from their garden!

    We set off just after 9am this morning and had a wet drive down to Dover Port. Check-in was simple as we flashed our burgundy passports at the officials and were waved on. Poppy got to check out the new dog exercise area with its astroturf, ramp and jumps. There was a time when she would have relished the obstacle course, but as it was she just had a sniff and a piddle before following the black and white walkway back to the van with Vicky. At 12:05pm we set sail on the P&O ferry, Spirit of France and were docking in Calais before we knew it. The van was parked in pole position and we were first off our deck, whizzing through the corridor of tall, off-white mesh fencing, topped with coils of razor wire. Clear of the fortress-like defences and a little way down the motorway we passed a migrant camp. Small tents pitched within a coppice and a line of rain soaked residents queuing to receive their rations from a Red Cross van.

    After nearly 100km we followed a complicated set of sat nav instructions through a residential estate and pulled in at the stellplatz where we put the kettle on and settled in for the evening.

    Thankfully the night saw the rain pass over and we woke to dappled sunshine filtering through the Poplar leaves. Having looked on Maps.Me we knew there were some small shops nearby, so walked into the centre of Gistel. The village had a friendly feel and a lot of independent businesses, but the best shop was Leonidas chocolatier! Will knows how much Vicky loves good chocolate and persuaded her to go in and choose a selection to fill a small box. Neither of us know Dutch but the person behind the counter spoke excellent English and described each of their handcrafted delights in detail. Vicky had a whale of a time picking out the ones she would like best! A brief stop at one of the half dozen bakeries saw us leaving with a seeded loaf and another sweet treat for Vicky; a slice of Belgian bread pudding!

    It would have been easy to just pack up and set off on our journey, but we are so glad we made the effort to explore Gistel. The overnight spot wasn't memorable in itself but the village seemed to be a warm, accepting place and we left with a feel good glow!
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  • Day514

    Goodbye Belgium

    November 22, 2017 in Belgium

    We spent 5 and a half weeks in Belgium, 10 days of which were on an organic permaculture farm in Flanders.

    As ever, there were many things we liked about the country and a number we didn't. Lets start with the negatives, move on to interesting aspects and end with the positives:

    Things we didn't like:

    Prostitution
    Belgium's neighbour The Netherlands has a famous red light district in Amsterdam but, perhaps naively, we'd never anticipated coming accross them in Belgium. Our first experience was in a small town, the high street of which seemed overtaken with shop windows displaying women whose services were for sale. We encountered it again in Antwerp and although it was by no means widespread, it still left us with a very negative impression.

    Exploitative war tourism
    We appreciate that many people visit Belgium specifically because of the part it played in the World Wars. However, as pacifists, we found much of the commercialisation of this role unsavoury. Ypres in particular had a whole host of outlets making profit from souvenirs of a conflict in which so many people's lives were taken.

    Sprawling urban areas
    Along the coast and around cities such as Brussels and Antwerp, the concrete and glass walls of urbanisation often seemed to be endless. We enjoy visiting cities, but we find ourselves feeling hemmed in if we stay too long and at times it was difficult to find rural areas to relax in.

    Flanders' prefab roads
    A small consideration perhaps, but when you are travelling with all your earthly possessions rattling noisily around you, the road surface really does make a difference. Many roads were narrow, meaning we had to reduce our speed and hold up traffic behind us. Flanders was especially bad for laying down prefabricated concrete strips that Martha Motorhome objected to loudly!

    Recycling
    Concious of the environment, we have a larger recycling bin, than we do for general waste. Belgian councils pick up waste directly from properties and it was remarkably difficult to find any public recycling bins.

    City parking and lack of laybys
    Using the Park4Night app we were usually able to find places to stay easily enough, but the Ardennes and Wallonia in the West were particularly poor for the laybys we like to use for lunch breaks or spontaneous stopovers. Many European cities provide dedicates motorhome aires in city centres, but we found no such things in Belgium. It was difficult getting a place to park on our day trip to Antwerp and our 2 nights in Brussels were very troublesome in the initial stages, although it worked out alright in the end.

    Interesting aspects:
    As people who like to engage with locals using as much of their language as possible, we initally found it disconcerting to be in a country where 3 very different languages were spoken. Unlike in Luxembourg, where residents would often move fluidly between their different tongues, Belgium has areas that speak either Dutch, French or German and we'd read that people didn't like it if, for example, you began speaking French in a Dutch area. Luckily English was widely spoken and we fell back on this when we weren't sure. However, as we moved between different areas we started to get used to picking up clues, such as which languages were used on road signs and shop advertising. There would often be a crossover area of dual language signs, alerting to the change. In the end we found it very interesting and with France being our most frequently visited continental country, we felt almost at home speaking French!

    Now, lets get on to the things we really liked about Belgium:

    Free stopovers amd services
    Whilst city parking was difficult for us, a large number of towns in this small country provided free stopovers with free services. A definite thumbs up in our book!

    Bike lanes and canals
    The roads may have been narrow and sometimes bumpy but the brilliant network of bike lanes was a really refreshing sight. They were well maintained and their coloured surface made them stand out. In Flanders there were many kilometres of flat canal towpath to enjoy out in the countryside and places you could park for the night alongside it.

    Special places
    We stayed in Belgium's capital Brussels, for 2 nights with Will's daughter Beth and our son in law Richard. Of course it was memorable for the fact that we got to spend time with people we love, but the beautiful Grand Place, lit up at night, is a sight that will stay with us. It truly is stunning. We found a very different kind of beauty in the Belgian Ardennes. As far different from the flat north as the language of the region, the rolling, forested hills and enchanting rivers of the Ardennes stole our hearts.

    Food, drink and the organic movement
    Apart from our time on the farm, if we were asked to name the most memorable thing about Belgium, we would have to say 'the food!'. We found a pleasing number of organic foods available in both supermarkets and independent shops here, especially around the city of Ghent. Our waistlines were grateful we didn't stay longer, because the Belgian's really do know how to titillate the tastebuds! What a treat it was to sample the Trappist beers, each served in its own dedicated glass. We frequently bought frites for lunch, either at cafés or friteries / frituurs, where they came wrapped in specially perforated paper to let the steam out and make sure they stayed crisp. Even Vicky's sweet tooth was satisfied with the huge crepes submerged beneath icecream and fruit sauce and the waffles - both Brussels and Liege style, were hard to resist. Saving the best to last, Belgian chocolates bought from Belgian chocolatiers really are the best you'll ever taste. The delight of choosing a selection of the artfully arranged delicacies and watching in anticipation as the maker's white gloved fingers pick them out for you will stay with us forever!

    Despite it being a such a close neighbour to the UK, we had only previously passed through Belgium on our way to other places and didn't quite know what to expect when embarking on our tour. Because of its size, we feel we were able to get to grips with the country during our stay of nearly 6 weeks, during which its character and complexity showed through. All in all we really enjoyed our time here and are very glad we dedicated as many days as we did, to exploring this interesting and diverse country.
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  • Day488

    16 months away today!

    October 27, 2017 in Belgium

    On the 27th June 2016 the two of us and Poppy left our house in Netherton, Dudley and set off on a 5 year European adventure in Martha, our new home on wheels! 16 months and 22,200 miles later we are still on the continent but this will be our last monthly 'vanniversary' over here before returning to the UK for a Christmas time visit, just short of 17 months from the date we left.

    We've toured 12 countries from the southernmost point of Sicily to the northernmost point of Norway. Here in Belgium, our 12th country, we are closer to the UK than we have been in a long while. We are getting very excited about seeing people we know and love and treading familiar paths once again. Don't get us wrong, we love our nomadic life and are very glad we took advantage of the only time we wouldn't need to visit a UK garage after 12 months to MOT Martha. It has given us an unparalleled experience of open-ended exploration and allowed us, to a great extent, to live for the moment instead of our thoughts frequently reminding us of the end. One of the many things we have learned is that the views, opinions and memories of our encounters are very much shaped by things we notice for their prominence and novelty. Many times, the absence of something has far less of an initial impact, memories fade quickly as we acclimatise and adapt rapidly to new circumstances in different countries and regions. However, we have felt the absence of friends and family throughout our time away, apart from during the wonderful visits from those who have been able to come and see us. We knew before we set off to satisfy our wanderlust that we'd miss people, but as we've been able to cast off many of life's possessions, complications and day to day business, our focus has been drawn to the things that are truly important to us.

    We'll be seeing many of you soon!
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  • Day477

    WWOOFing @ Woudezel Farm, Flanders 1of 3

    October 16, 2017 in Belgium

    After our volunteering experience at Jan Ols Gården organic goat farm and riding stables in Sweden, we had caught the WWOOFing bug and arranged another placement for 11 days in Flanders.

    De Woudezel farm is an organic permaculture smallholding of 6 hectares, incorporating a plant nursery, food forest and a small number of amimals. Our host Diderik and his huge dog Lappa met us as we pulled off the main road into the farmyard as agreed, at 6pm sharp. Lappa is a cross between an Irish Wolfhound and a Briard, full of life and very, very affectionate! A black kitten soon came bounding up to join in the fun, purring happily when Vicky scooped her up.

    Life at Woudezel began with a tour of the animals, food forest and potted plants. As Diderik talked passionately about about permaculture, the philosophy of sustainability and working in harmony with nature, it struck a cord with us and we became increasingly enthusiastic about the coming 11 days.

    We'd heard of permaculture before, but seeing it in action was inspiring. Instead of being a labour (or chemically) intensive slog against weeds and pests in order to grow dense monocultures, natural systems had been created where a range of different plants had been planted thoughfully to grow alongside each other. Some would provide shade or protection from the wind, some would fix nitrogen and some would act as support. For example, a kiwi would be planted at the foot of a cherry tree and grow up its trunk. Grass and nettles grew throughout, their roots helping to bind the soil and their nutrients returning to it. Varieties would be chosen that would self propagate and often only a small amount from each plant would be picked, leaving seeds to fall and roots intact to grow more plants. The idea was for a 'permanent culture' that wouldn't be dug up and restarted annually, but that would continue of its own accord, with a small amount of careful and knowledgeable management. We'd had an amazing time on the previous farm, but already Diderik was sharing so much of his knowledge that we had an inkling we would get a lot out of working with him. Eventually the darkness forced us in to the large kitchen of the recently renovated farmhouse.

    Over the coming days, the more we discovered, the more we saw how far Diderik had progressed along the path towards a sustainable life. So much was put back into the system, with kitchen waste being fed to the pig, chickens or thrown onto the garden to enrich the soil. One kitchen tap was connected to a rainwater supply and used for washing and cooking, the other for drinking. A compost toilet was ready to be installed downstairs. Solar panels on the south facing stables harvested the sun to provide electricity (although the complicated Belgian system meant they must first sell the power to the national grid then buy it back). Diderik's cupboards were stocked food items such as coffee, juice, sugar, oil and flour from his brother, who is part of a cooperative shop in Brussels called Ethiquable. All customers are members who work there one day a month and recieve 30% discount on the ethically sourced food they trade in. One of the farm stable blocks now had a transparent roof, transforming it into a greenhouse. Plant matter and animal manure were combined to make compost, a process that produced heat to keep the animals and plants warm in winter and produce delicious black grapes.

    Diderik was keen to point out that there was lots more to be done but we recognise that there are many challenges to living sustainably, ethically and in an environmentally friendly way. We truly admire the aspects of his lifestyle he has adopted in order to pursue these goals.
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  • Day479

    WWOOFing @ Woudezel: work & community

    October 18, 2017 in Belgium

    We've talked a lot in previous posts about the farm ethos, setup and what we ate, but not much about what we actually contributed to it. Believe it or not we did work hard while we were there! Our first job was clearing dead wood from the forest area around the swimming pond. It had indigenous trees such as oak, birch and holly but had also been planted with american blueberry bushes, edible honeysuckle, kiwi, lime and many more species, some of which we had never heard of. The goats and rabbits enjoyed munching some of what was removed but the rest was taken to stack in one of the far fields where it would be left to decompose, providing homes for wildlife, some of which would help break it down. In a few years time, Diderik would start to colonise the stack with plant species, beginning with raspberries. It was heartwarming to see a hawk perched on the pile just a few hours later and a wren exploring between the branches the following morning.

    A thick wall of bamboo needed to be cut back to let light in to the forest and after we'd finished working on this, we set about clearing the spiky hawthorn branches Diderik had cut from the hedges. Long sticks were tied in bundles to fuel the stone bread oven, while smaller pieces were raked together and burned in the field where the ash would enrich the soil. Towards the end of the week Will got his wish and launched the little boat out on to the pond. Armed with a net and large plant pot, we removed a massive amount of duck weed from the water surface and raked the dead reeds from the shore. Ever the pig tucked enthusiastically into a trough of weed, a little was given to the chickens and the rest would e composted.

    As a less strenuous activity, we tended to some of the hundreds of potted plants Diderik was growing. Some were to plant out in the food forest but most were to sell at markets or to people he knew through courses. Local buyers would also come directly to the farm from time to time. For most of the pots, we needed to remove weeds then add compost and mulch. Some needed trimming, repotting or securing to a bamboo cane cut from the forest. Before we arrived, we reckoned we knew a good proportion of edible plants, but we discovered so many new varieties in the nursery here!

    As you would expect, most of the work was outdoors. We were lucky with the rain, but being October, it was sometimes wet. We spent these times working our way through three freezer drawers of Sea Buckthorn branches. Removing the tightly clustered orange berries was a slow task because we needed to be careful of the very strong, very large spikes that would pierce our gloves if we weren't. These berries were one of the many things Diderik used to make organic jams, some of which he would sell on at markets and some that we had the pleasure of sampling on toast, with cheese or in a stew at home. Belgian cuisine uses sweetened fruit in otherwise savoury dishes, for example we accompanied the roast chicken on the final night with yellow plums soaked in syrup.

    Our WWOOF host worked off-farm at another organic project 3 days a week, but during the time he was home, visitors came and went frequently. His Mum, Anne-Marie and 4 year old neice, Selestine came over when it was time to kill the chickens. Anne-Marie helped with the chickens and Selestine with the potted plants. We must mention the delicious Belgian chocolates they brought with them and left for the three of us- yet another of the many gastronomic delights! Near the end of our time, Diderik's Aunt and an older niece came to pass on some veal from a calf that had been in an accident on their farm and had to be put down. We got to know his friend Stoffel who was doing up an old mercedes camper van in one of the outhouses. He came with his two Border Collies, Izzy and Moss who grumpy old Poppy took a dislike to and scarpered back into the van whenever she saw them. Contrary to this canine relationship, we took a liking to Stoffel, who was initially a little quiet but once he got his teeth into a discussion, revealed well thought out opinions on topics such as immigration and multinationals, that were very close to our own. The back forth between the four of us was reminiscent of some of the political discussions we were so used to having in meetings and conferences back home!

    Diderik is passionate about spreading knowledge on permaculture systems, running various talks and courses on the topic. Seeing his system in action was one of the best ways to do this, so visitors would drop in for a tour of the food forest. As a new initiative, an acquaintance had begun to hold a Sweat Lodge in one of the fields, once a month near the time of the full moon. The sort of people who attended were likely to be interested in connecting with nature and therefore more links would hopefully be made to spread an understanding and perhaps the practice of permaculture. By staying at and working as part of the farm, more of these community webs were revealed to us and for a short time, we ourselves became part of De Woudezel's permaculture community. By writing this blog and talking with people we hope we can help share some of what we learned about a positive alternative to intensive modern monoculture farming. If you are interested or have any questions, we'd love to hear from you!
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  • Day498

    The abandoned village of Doel

    November 6, 2017 in Belgium

    On Park4Night Will had found an unusual overnight spot. It was downstream on the River Scheldt, nearer the coast than our last stop and very close to the Dutch border. Doel is a town that stands in the shadow of a nuclear power station, below the water level of the tidal river used by cargo ships to access the port of Antwerp, Belgium's second largest city. All but a handful of houses are now abandoned and their walls used as canvasses for graffiti artists. We felt drawn to stay at such an unusual place.

    As we approached, the area became hyper industrial. Coal mountains sat on docksides, parked lorries lined the lanes, trains full of new cars lay waiting to be transported to dealers. Temporary chicanes and speed bumps announced our arrival to the run down settlement that was once home to a thousand or so people. Windows and doors were boarded up with sheets of silver metal. The van fitted into a bay just off the road, on the church car park. The graveyard and grass outside was well maintained and it was clear from the Chrysanthemums that people had visited relatives just a few days previously.

    Watching from inside the van, we saw nature had begun to take back the vacated spaces. There was an ever present background hum of heavy industry, but cutting through this, Jackdaws cawed from roof tops and we noticed a few hopping in and out of a crack in the side of an attic. Two tailess cats ate from plastic cartons left out on the road and later climbed the Elder tree to try and catch a Jackdaw. Cars occasionally came and went, mostly containing sightseers such as ourselves who wandered the quiet streets taking snaps. Upon investigation we found an open café and three inhabited houses, two attached to empty homes either side and one stately looking detached building behind an iron fence. These were all free of graffiti. As well as the house owners, there was evidence of squatters, with paths tramped through overgrown grass and metal sheets bent back from doors.

    Running along one edge of the crosshatch pattern of streets was the huge levee bordering the river. Climbing up crumbled concrete steps and walking along its ridge, we had a view of long barges powering up the channel, their size put into contrast by the leisure boats in the small marina adjacent to the dyke. Accross the river were industrial gas holders and wind turbines. To the left, an old but well maintained traditional windmill, dwarfed by grey concrete cooling towers of the nuclear power station. To our right were outlines of cranes, dock loaders and tall pylons. It wasn't the countryside setting we normally gravitate towards but it was certainly intersting!

    Walking back through the abandoned streets we thought what a good setting it would make for an episode of Dr Who or a horror movie. We sat with a cuppa, scaring ourselves with made up stories involving a graveyard, a nuclear leak and abandoned houses containing who knows what! Back in real life, just after 7pm all was dark and quiet outside when we heard a bang on the back of the van. Will went out to investigate as Vicky peered nervously from within the doorway and spotted one of the tailess cats running for cover. We reckon it had jumped up on the bike rack to test it out as a potential hunting platform.

    An otherwise quiet night brought with it the first frost of winter, its tiny sparkling crystals covering Martha Motorhome. A large sun was rising over the misty river, tinting the chimney emissions in the east with a burnt orange hue. Its rays found pockets of clear water and reflected brightly off them, silhouetting the industrial infrastructure of the port. Vicky enjoyed a good half hour with the camera that morning!
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  • Day731

    Brecht, Belgium

    June 27 in Belgium

    From our stopover close to Dunkerque in France we picked up some LPG and made our way into Belgium. The external temperature rose to 34°C in the sun as we retreated from the cooling coastal breeze and Poppy was very grateful for the air conditioning as we drove. We approached Belgium's 2nd city of Antwerp around 3:30pm and were caught up in a horrendous traffic jam for 2 hours. People were becoming impatient and soon after being passed by an unmarked police car, its officers directed us to the inside lane, as they set out cones around a lorry that had hit the side of a car we assumed had been lane hopping.

    Brecht was a small brown brick town not far from the motorway. Initially we couldn't find a suitable stopover, so pulled into a car park to check the phone. Just as we had given up and were starting to drive away, a local builder approached us and asked in English if we were looking for a camp ground! With his directions we were able to find the car park beside the park and library building. It had no facilities but 2 vans could stay free for up to 48 hours.

    Selecting a spot that would soon be shaded by tall trees, we were able to step out straight onto the grass. A wooden picnic bench (albeit with a bit of grafitti and chewing gum on it) stood nearby and Vicky sat out with Poppy in the warmth of the evening. Will soon joined them with some delicious cool oysters, followed by veggie spag bol and a rasberry tart with a dolop of cream.

    The breeze had kept Poppy cool enough but she had become too tired to stay out. Back in the van she found it difficult to settle with the heat but with a combination of ice packs and dousing her in cool water, she eventually relaxed and we went for a stroll through the park and very functional looking town square with its council hall, steepled church and traditional statue of a local dignitary. The park was well maintained with an old petanque pitch surrounded by sculpted trees and a couple of fountains in the duck pond. Again, we felt very lucky to be invited to access these facilities in the van and although we didn't need anything, we treated ourselves to a couple of tarts at the bakers the following morning, in order to make a small contribution to the town.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Flanders, Flandern, Flandes, Flandre, Vlaams Gewest, Flandres

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