This Blue Water tour is a 3 week tour with starting and ending point Willemstad (NL)
Route 1; Vlaanderen & Pas de Calais
The star-shaped Willemstad lies on the Hollands Diep. The popular harbour in the old town centre has everything you need, such as luxury sanitary facilities and free WiFi. You can sail to Zeeland via the Volkerak locks or to the North Sea via the Haringvliet. Willemstad is also close to De Biesbosch National Park, where you can go on beautiful boat trips. The small fortified town in the shape of a star is named after William the Silent (prince William of Orange). It was William himself who commissioned the town to be built. The glorious past has left its mark: cannons on the quayside, old city walls, cobblestones, bunkers, forts and windmills. The Mauritshuis, the Oude Raadhuis (Old Town Hall) and the Koepelkerk (Domed church) are the most striking buildings. Het Rozemarijntje combined bookshop and gift shop has published in-house a beautiful booklet about Willemstad. For food, drinks and snacks as well as overnight accommodation, you can go to Mauritz, a grand café that brings Paris to mind.
The port of Zierikzee on Schouwen-Duiveland has a rich history and more than five hundred monuments in and around the city. As a visitor you moor in the municipal marina, the busiest visitors' marina in Zeeland. Zierikzee was given city rights in 1248. Saint Livinius Monster Tower, also known as the Fat Tower, rises high above the small city. Climb the 279 steps inside to reach the top, some 62 metres high. Another impressive construction is the Zeeland Bridge, which is five kilometres long and has connected Schouwen-Duiveland (Zierikzee) and North Beveland (Colijnsplaat) since 15 December 1965. In the Old Harbour, the Eastern Scheldt streams into Zierikzee. The changing tides can clearly be seen. For centuries, ships moored here to load and unload. At the end of the nineteenth century, the harbour was partly filled in. Nowadays, what is left is a museum harbour with authentic boats and ships. Numerous unique shops can be found among all the historical buildings. Cosy, atmospheric terraces can be found on the Havenplein.
The marina of Middelburg is located behind the Dam in Middelburg and can be reached via the canal through Walcheren, which connects the Western Scheldt with Lake Veere. The atmospheric town harbour with a Blue Flag certification is located in the historical centre. Toilets, showers and a washing machine can be found in the De Kemel clubhouse, which also has a cosy bistro on the first floor. Beautiful old buildings stand on the quays, including former warehouses dating from the Dutch East India Company era. Take a look in the furniture cum gift shop Industrieel for colourful products 'from the East' (India especially). Middelburg is not only the capital of Zeeland, but also the home of traditional pubs, such as Sint John, which boasts a wealth of history behind its small door: creaky floorboards, thick wooden beams and an old-fashioned stove. Or Café Tympaan, situated in the monumental building De Roode Toren. Another unique shop is De Drukkerij: bookshop, music store, brasserie and tourist information point all rolled into one.
Ghent is a city of water which was founded at the confluence of the rivers Lys and Scheldt, making it perfect for a visit by boat. You have access to five marinas in and around Ghent. Lindenlei Marina is closest to the centre, right next to the old court house. The old town centre is full of medieval buildings, which are even more impressive when viewed from the water. The skyline of the centre is dominated by the Saint Nicholas Church, the Belfry and St Bavo Cathedral. The famous Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, or Ghent Alterpiece, can be found in the latter. During the Ghent Festival in July, the city is full of stages and food trucks for 10 days. Ghent is a paradise for vegetarians and those with a sweet tooth. The little cone-shaped, purple noses (cuberdons) can be bought in many places, as can Belgian chocolate. If you would like to see an authentic Ghent without coming across too many tourists, then take a stroll through the working-class districts of Meulestede and Heirnis, both of which breathe harbour history. In the Heirnis district, the streets are named after species of fish.
BBoat has a fully equipped harbour in Kuurne, just outside Kortrijk, with the opportunity to enjoy something to eat or drink in the immediate surroundings. Prefer to moor in the centre? Jetties for pleasure craft can be found at the Guido Gezellepad (near the historical Broel Towers) and at the Handelskaai. The cosiest terraces and most impressive buildings can be found along the river Lys. Be sure to take a stroll through the King Albert Park. The two arms of the Lys and the Bossuit-Kortrijk canal converge here. The water splits the park into four parts that are connected by bridges. But Kortrijk has more to offer than pleasure on and around water. The city is a design hotspot and can call itself one of the members of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network since 2017. The love for design can, in any case, be found in the Buda Factory on Buda island: entrepreneurs, students, artists and residents work on creative projects together there.
Lille / Rijssel
There are two marinas about half an hour from Lille, in Wambrechies and Deûlémont. Both are equipped with all facilities. Lille may be in France, but it feels as though you are in Flanders. Every pub serves numerous Belgian beers and 'potjevleesch' (potted meat) and 'waterzooi' (stew) are on the menu in the bistros. The Grote Markt is impressive, with the stock exchange being the true eye-catcher. After its golden age as a trading centre, Lille became an industrial town. The industrial side is well-preserved in La Gare Saint Sauveur. A unique cultural centre in and around the former station. Part of the rails are still there and the industrial steel and concrete structures of the building are clearly visible. Here, you can use Lego to build the city of the future, stroll through the organic garden, go to the cinema and to different exhibitions. For the cycling enthusiasts: Lille is near to Roubaix, the legendary finish of the Paris-Roubaix cycling classic.
Aire-sur-la-Lys / Ariën-aan-de-Leie
Aire-sur-la-Lys has fewer than 10,000 inhabitants but it's easy to spend a day there, wandering through the historic lanes and visiting remnants of its mining past. For years, there has been talk of the town getting its own marina but for now, you still have to go to the nearby Haverskerque, with 6 moorings for stopovers. Washing machines, toilets, showers; everything is available here. With shops, restaurants and hiking routes through natural surroundings within walking distance. Although Aire-sur-la-Lys is small, the Grote Markt is a worthy rival to those in cities such as Lille or Louvain. There is an impressive town hall, the medieval belfry and rows of beautiful houses in Baroque style. Many of these houses are incredibly narrow and each has its own character; there are façades in all sorts of styles and materials. You may be surprised to learn that in 1918 everything was destroyed. The small town was rebuilt between 1923 and 1927.
Duinkerken / Dunkerque
Dunkirk, a town on the North Sea, has the third largest harbour in France. It has no less than three marinas for pleasure craft. Bassin du Commerce is located in the historical district where in the past, the shipping companies and other maritime businesses were established. Bassin de la Marina's 170 moorings are very close to the TGV station and the Pôle Marine indoor shopping centre. The Grand Large marina, located at the foot of the slopes of the former shipyard, is directly accessible from the sea. Water, the use of sanitary facilities, WiFi and an entrance badge are included in the price in the three harbours. The harbour museum, located in a beautifully restored 19th century warehouse, tells the story of privateers and fishermen. But of course, Dunkirk is also inextricably linked to WWII. The Musee Dunkerque 1940 - Operation Dynamo presents a good picture of the largest evacuation operation in military history.
Graveslines / Grevelingen
Between fresh and salt water, river and sea, Gravelines is a true tourist gateway. A small fortified town with a great variety of water sports and a rich maritime heritage. Gravelines lies on the Opal Coast, where the river Aa flows into the North Sea. The Vauban Gravelines marina is a popular stopover, especially among the Dutch and Belgians. The marina consists of three locations. Bassin Vauban is the largest of these with the most facilities. Besides the harbour office and sanitary facilities, there is also a supermarket and a restaurant. The small historical town is still completely walled in and surrounded by moats. The town's shape is thanks to Vauban, who fortified the town with a typical star-shaped pattern in the 17th century. It's worthwhile climbing the black and white lighthouse in the Petit Fort-Philippe district for a view of the sea, the promenade, the blue and white beach houses and the wide beach.
Veurne marina is quietly located on the outskirts of the small historical town of Veurne. Coins are needed for the use of the sanitary facilities and the waste water pump. Veurne is located in the West Flanders polder at an intersection of waterways. The Nieuwpoort-Dunkirk Canal, the Lovaart Canal and the Kolme run through Veurne. The most impressive building in Veurne is the church of Saint Walburga. The church can be reached via a narrow street leading off the market square and is certainly worth a visit. Inside you will be overwhelmed by the beautiful architecture, the magnificent stained glass windows and the beautiful interior. It's very unusual to see such an impressive church in a relatively small town like Veurne. The town is within cycling distance of the French border and the well-known seaside town of De Panne, with its expansive beaches and dunes. But historical towns like Ieper and Diksmuide, with their reminders of the 1st World War are also within cycling distance.
The marina of the vzw (non-profit association) De IJzervaarders, Portus Dixmuda, is located in the shadow of the Yser Tower, the symbol of peace in Flanders. It's a pleasant stopover with Blue Flag certification between Nieuwpoort, where the river Yser flows into the sea, and Fintele. Diksmuide's city centre is centrally located along the Yser but the town is also connected to the entire Belgian Westhoek via various canals. The central point, just as in almost any other Flemish town, is the Grote Markt. Here, merchants ply their trade at the weekly Monday market, as they have been doing since the 13th century. The square is a low-traffic area and the perfect place to sit on a bench and watch passers-by. Diksmuide is also famous for its reminders of WWI. The Diksmuide Trench of Death is the only Belgian trench system that has been preserved. Discover the violent history of the region here with interactive applications, life-size photos, films and more than 100 original objects.
Seaside resort Nieuwpoort has various marinas that together form the largest marina in Northern Europe. All the facilities you could wish for are present. The small town lives and breathes fishing and water sports. It's the perfect destination for surfers, divers, paddle boarders, kayakers and sailors. The town is connected to Veurne, Diksmuide and Ghent via an intersection of waterways. Many people are familiar with the Battle of Nieuwpoort from the history books. But the reminders of the first World War are much more abundant here. The Visitors' Centre Westfront and the King Albert I monument are impressive storytellers of the flooding of the polder area. A story about the force of seawater and the clever management of locks. The old town has narrow streets and an attractive market square. From the centre, you can walk along the promenade past the harbour channel to the wide beach. The lighthouse with its red stripes draws your attention at various points along the promenade.
The Royal North Sea Yacht Club Ostend was founded in 1946 by a close-knit group of Snipe and Papillon sailors. The marina has a capacity of approximately 100 moorings divided between the Montgomery Dock, the Churchillkaai and the Visserskaai in the centre of the coastal town. The marina is accessible at any tide and in all weather conditions. The station is a stone's throw away from the marina, which is ideal for a day out in Bruges or Ghent. Next to the station is the coastal tram, which visits all the coastal municipalities. It's as though Ostend consists of two cities: the historical part with the impressive Church of St Peter and St Paul and the Spanish House, the oldest existing house in the city; and the modern part on the coast with its hotels and apartment buildings along the spacious promenade. When you think of Ostend, something that might not come to mind immediately is street art, yet many façades in the city are canvasses for gigantic wall paintings. A tour of all the works of art is definitely worthwhile.
What used to be a modest fishing harbour is now a modern marina. Favourably located near the town centre and close to the beach and dunes. Sanitary facilities, recycling centre, bar and restaurant; the harbour has everything. The definitive breakthrough of Blankenberge as a tourist seaside resort came in 1863 when it was connected to the railway network. From that moment onwards, Blankenberge underwent a true metamorphosis. The large number of visiting tourists resulted in the building of bigger hotels, including the Grand Hôtel des Bains et des Familles from 1864. There is much more to see and do besides getting a breath of fresh air on the beach, on the Western and Eastern jetty in the harbour, and on the pier (the first on the Atlantic coast of the European continent and followed only by Scheveningen). Such as the Belle Epoque Centre, situated in three belle époque villas dating from 1894. There is a wonderful view from the roof terrace and you can relax on the colourful mosaic benches.
Vlissingen is one of the most vibrant cities in Zeeland. This maritime city has a modern harbour in a historic setting. The 'Michiel de Ruyter' marina is a perfectly sheltered home port for approximately 90 regular berth holders and hundreds of passers-by that visit the harbour during the summer season. However hard the wind is blowing on the Western Scheldt, once you're in the harbour, you can moor in the calm. Thanks to its central location, shops, catering facilities, the promenade and beach are all within walking distance. There are few buildings left in Vlissingen that serve as a reminder of past Dutch merchant shipping. One building with colonial roots that does still exist is Fort Rammekens, just outside Vlissingen. The ships of the United East India Company (VOC), the Dutch West India Company (WIC) and the Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie (MCC) left for Asia, America and Africa from here. The Beursplein and the Bellamypark are Vlissingen's main catering hotspots. There is even a restaurant in the 17th century stock exchange.
Yerseke, a village on the Eastern Scheldt, is famous mainly for its mussel and oyster culture. Tourists come to Yerseke to eat seafood ('Zeeland's Salty Specials') in one of the many restaurants, for tours of the oyster beds and for a visit to the Eastern Scheldt museum. Up till 1840, the harbour of Yerseke was no more than a few loading and unloading points on a number of small jetties on both sides of the sea lock. Nowadays, this village on the Eastern Scheldt has two modern harbours for commercial ships and pleasure crafts: the Prinses Beatrixhaven harbour and the Prins Willem-Alexanderhaven harbour. The third harbour, the Julianahaven harbour, is solely intended for commercial fishing. The mussel auction is located here. Incidentally, did you know that a mussel isn't a Zeeland mussel unless it has lived in the waters of the Eastern Scheldt for at least three weeks? If you have time, stay until low tide and then sail to the exposed sandflats. Seals sunbathe here when the weather is good.
Images © Shutterstock / Linssen Yachts