I interrupt my America blogs for a dash of Belgian brilliance that couldn't wait to be put to blog.
Any fans of the Eurostar? Not the train itself......I mean talk about grey, drab, depressing. No, I mean any fans of escaping via tunnel and in a shorter time than getting to Wigan/Manchester/Exeter etc, being in France or Belgium? I thought there might be.
Now, we have been on the Eurostar a few times, mainly Brussels, Brugge and the crazy trip last year when we hired a car in Brussels and drove to Luxembourg. Awesomeness. (You really have to get inventive if you want to make the most out of your Eurostar adventure and leave that grey, depressing train far behind.)
But what I'm saying is: don't feel you have to stay in the place you've been dropped off at, unless of course you've never been there before. Explore. Take a local train somewhere else. Heck, hire a car and drive around. There are so many amazing places out there, just waiting to be found.
So, this time we took the train to Lille. I won't say too much, but, I'm not a big fan of Lille. But when you start to research, you realise you are only an hour's train from Ghent, or even more amazingly, a half hour from the charming town of Kortrijk. It's time to explore!
N.B: A single journey to Kortrijk from Lille is 7 euro 50 cents. And a single journey from Ghent to Kortrijk (or vice versa) is 6 euro 70 cents. Oh and if you're coming from Lille, the French spell it Courtrai. You can't buy the ticket from the self service machines as it's out of the country, you have to go to one of the desks. And there are 2 trains on the Ghent/Kortrijk service. Only 1 an hour from Lille.
Once you get to the station at Kortrijk, there is a very handy bus station to the left if you have accommodation just out of the centre. There is a screen telling you when the next bus is and at what platform and you can easily google the routes. If you are staying centrally, or just there for a day jaunt, you turn right and in about five minutes you are in the heart of the town.
We stayed in a B&B outside the centre, though only half an hour's walk outside the centre, which was above a florist and adjacent to a restaurant/bar, all owned by the same people. It cost us 2 euro each for the bus journey, though I think if you buy the ticket before you board the bus it is cheaper (1 euro 20 cents). The 50 or 51 took us directly to the accommodation: Les lits de la Lys.
There are three rooms, sleeping a maximum of six people, so you are never going to feel crowded. There are also three different sizes of room, for different budgets. We went for the smallest room but were actually upgraded to the largest room, as there was no one in it that night.
Huge room. TV in the white cabinet. Computer and Internet in the room. Wifi throughout. A shared bathroom which is also huge and a lovely breakfast room. The breakfast is: help yourself to what's provided, with a very continental feel. They leave yoghurts, cheese, ham, eggs, milk and juice in the fridge; and provide masses of fresh bread and baguettes. And cereal if asked for. There is tea and coffee available 24/7 and a water dispenser, microwave and egg heater.
The owner is lovely, very helpful and speaks Flemish and English. The adjoining Cafe Russe is a restaurant and bar, open from 7pm till late (sometimes very late/early....6am) but you can't hear anything from the accommodation. Cafe Russe is a beautiful setting for a romantic meal, or dinner out with friends. It is also a great place to indulge in a little Belgian beer or in the case of the ladies sat next to us: Champagne. And why not? (A beer will set you back around 3 euro for a Duvel, less for the less alcoholic beers and around 2 euro 50 cents for Kriek, my personal favourite.) It is not, however open every day so check before you go and pre booking for food is preferable.)
So you've had your pre-dinner beer, now it's back into town for dinner and an explore. Trip Advisor has lots of listings for the area, most with English reviews too and there is actually quite a lot of choice for varying budgets. They do however seem to have quite the soft spot for Italian food (who doesn't?) and so we headed to the main square: Grote Markt (Market Square), where there are plenty of bars, restaurants and cafes. We pre-booked for L'osteria and it's a good job we did because it was packed to the rafters. Very bustling, filled with life, it almost felt as though you were in Italy. Helped by the fact that the owners were Italian. The pizzas were made by a lady, which I thought was ace, so often it's men, and were around 8-12 euro. They are massive! And completely worth it! They also had an large list of pastas, meat courses, fish courses and starters, all very reasonable.
So to our evening explore and a rather wet one, but that couldn't dampen our spirits. Kortrijk had already shown us such warmth and charm we were blown away by its beauty.
On our walk out of town, heading North, we soon food the Broel Towers - remains of the towns original fortifications - and the River Leie. A big feature of Kortrijk is the Buda Island, surrounded on all sides by the Leie, connected by a series of bridges, both old and new. (Sadly we didn't have chance to explore Buda Island, with its lovely green spaces, museums, cinemas and arts centre. Maybe next time! But we did have chance to take in some of these new and exciting bridges.)
So now to day time in Kortrijk. We dropped our bags of at the station to begin with, as we were heading out to Ghent later that day. Kortrijk has lockers, small, medium and large, ranging from 3 euro to 4 euro in cost.
The station also has toilets, manned ticket booths, time tables and a cafe.
We headed for the shopping streets, with a plan to see as many of the monuments, churches, buildings and anything else, as we possibly could. Now, if you happen to live around Kortrijk, I can imagine it is a lovely place to shop. They have everything! Independent shops, food shops, boutiques, up market chains, high street chains and a new mall called K in Kortrijk, which has lots to offer and is a great wet weather alternative.
Notable shops that need a mention are: Sweet Nuts ( a health food shop selling all sorts of dried food, beans, pulses, spices, nuts...etc); Wayn's Honing (which sells everything honey. And I mean, everything! Also has very lovely staff!); Mac 'li (which is a fabulously kitsch shop selling all things vintage, polka dotty and fun! Yes I wanted most of the stock, especially the red polka dot suitcase.) and Nexus Six (the best Disney shop ever! Not an official commercial Disney shop chain. Just a real independent collectors shop. Think prints, ornaments, mugs with evil queens and loads more. Great fun to look at, though no photos please!)
Both Wayn's and Sweet Nuts are on Lange Steenstraat. Mac 'li is further up Lange Streetstraat, once it becomes Voorstraat. And Nexus Six is on Grijze Zusterstraat. (www.disneyshop-belgie.be)
Kortrijk has a very ancient string to it's bow, in that it houses several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Belfry in Grote Markt and the amazing: Beguinage Site dating back to the 13th Century. Beautifully renovated, restored and preserved, The Beguinage Site is a must see.You feel like you've been transported to another time. Charming buildings and a worthy UNESCO protected site.
There are plenty of green spaces, play areas and child friendly areas in town. t'Plein just off Voorstraat is a sweet park with fountains, a play area for children and what looks like a little ampitheatre, where performances are often held. Across from t'Plein is the Groeninge Gate and memorial. Despite the inscription 1302, the gate was actually built 1908 and the monument is a statue of The Virgin of Flanders.
Another lovely space if you have children is the Grote Markt in front of the Belfry which has a play area filled with sand, a great central area for the kids to play.
There is also the Begijnho Park behind the Beguinage Site. A green space in the heart of the city, surrounded by medieval churches and giving you a feeling of stepping back in time. A very serene place.
Back into the centre it was time to tackle the churches and monuments, starting with Sint Maartens Church, this time the interior.
A very impressive church built between 1390 and 1466. The tower is 83 metres tall and can be seen from almost anywhere in town. It is well worth a look inside and free entry. You can pick up a guide to the church in a variety of languages, inside.
As we left Sint Maartens, we discovered a market in the square next to it: Josef Vandalplein. There was a whole host of stalls featuring knitted goods, hand pressed apple juice (which was amazing!), a coffee caravan, home made jewellery, clothes, cheese and hand made beautiful trinket boxes.
A special shout out to the lovely lady who had the home made button earrings stall. I didn't catch your name but you were very sweet and so shocked that there would be tourists from the UK in her little town. I bought two pairs of beautiful earrings and she promised to check out the blog. So hi to you!
Also, the box stall which I purchased a beautiful hand made box needs a mention. All made by Katie Merlier and her website is www.outofthe-box.be. Check it out. There are some really beautiful present ideas. Sorry I can't show the photograph of the one I bought, it's for a present.
There was also another jewellery shop that I bought earrings from but I didn't catch the name of that so sorry but again awesome earrings. (For a friend not me.) And the apple juice stall needs a mega shout out! Delicious juice only 1 euro 50 cents a glass and with a variety of flavours. Yum!
Thank you market, we had a great time.
So now we trundled over to City Hall for a peek inside. Again, free to get in and just have a quick wander. Very much a combination of the old and the new. But well worth a look.
Finally we took the O-L-Vrouwestraat to The Church of Our Lady. This is again a relic from the 13th Century and is in full restoration mode at the moment. Magnificently though, you can still enter the church down a tunnel on the right side and view The Count's Chapel where depicted are all the Count's of Flanders. Also there is another element of mixing old and new, as within this 13th Century church are modern stain glass showing knights on horses and knights in their armour. They really are breathtaking, especially in contrast with the deep history of the church itself.
Now if you want quirky, we saw a group of women playing golf on the centre. They each carried a square of purple green, a putter and an orange ball. This guy was showing them various sites in the town and then they had to put the ball in random places. Very random but also quite uniquely quirky. Pitch and putt around town. Love it!
Now, places to eat for lunch are in abundance. There are lots of sandwich places, take away soups, pastas etc, restaurants and cafes and of course Belgian Frites places. We stumbled across Pastascuitto, a take away pasta place. Now I know we'd had Italian the night before but it was cold and rainy and a good Bolognese was definitely in order. There are three different sizes and a kiddie size. They come in a box with choice of sauce and cheese. And the pasta is freshly made on site. And it tastes really good! Prices range from 3 euro (kiddie size) up to 6 euro 50 cents for the largest one but believe me, I had the small and it was generous!
As in most European towns there is no shortage of sweet things either.
So, that concludes my guide to Kortrijk. What a charming place filled with the nicest people, who are genuinely stunned and also hugely appreciative of your tourism. They don't seem to understand how beautiful their little town is. It is has so much to offer for a day trip away from Brussels, Lille, Ghent, or the surrounding areas, or is a wonderful destination for a chilled weekend away. I urge those keen explorers out there, to put this gem on their list of destinations.
What I loved was the mix of old and new that swirled around the town. It feels like a young vibrant town, but then you step back into 13th Century and you feel overwhelmed by the history. It is also a growing town, with building work and renovation going on. This is not a town that rests on it's laurels. This is a town with a plan for the future, to encompass their traditions and to encourage new ones.
I honestly couldn't find a fault with this place. It has a bit of everything and being small, is walkable and easy to navigate around. The people are so friendly and warm and happy to help. The vast majority speak English as well as Flemish and probably a bit of French too, being so close to France. I can imagine in the sunshine, with all those alfresco dining areas it would be so relaxing to just sip Belgian beer and talk the day away.
I urge you to check it out and be blown away by Kortrijk, just as we were.
The Sarky Traveller
Oh, and apparently there are no guides online for Kortrijk, so this may well be the first one. Ha ha. I hope I did it justice. There is more to offer than I mentioned but I think it's nice to give enough information to make people want to go, but not so they know everything before they travel. Where would be the fun in that?
The Sarky Traveller loves Kortrijk.