Blue skies, hot and sunny weather, what could be better than a day at the coast? Beaches and Belgium, you wouldn’t necessarily associate one with the other, however we found golden sands galore and a perfect family day out. A couple of days later in the week were set aside for war museums and sights, we figured a bit of beach fun for Son before all of that would be just the thing.
The coast is not at all far from Bruges. An easy thirty minute drive and we were at Knokke. We wanted to ride the Kusttram (Coast Tram), if you do it end to end it’s a two hour ride along the whole of the Belgian coast, from de Panne on the French border to Knokke Heist on the Dutch border. Loads of chances to stop off along the way, with beaches, resorts and plenty of enticing things it is a great journey. The whole tram line stretches for 68 km and a day pass at 7 Euro is, (I thought) super reasonable. This tram line has been going for over one hundred years and I read somewhere it is the longest in the world at the moment. Not old fashioned in any way though, this vehicle is sleek and smooth.
We got a whistle stop tour of Knokke. They say it is the St Tropez of the region with lots of galleries, chic restaurants and cool shops. Husband whizzed us through in the car with strict instructions to look out for the tram stop – we missed it – and missed the delights of Knokke as well. Eventually we found another tram stop just out of the centre. A good thing, there was a parking spot (free) for the whole day, so no car worries. Unable to buy tickets in advance, the platform was in the middle of nowhere with no ticket machine but we bought our tickets on board. The driver told us we should have bought them in advance – it is cheaper – but 7 Euro unlimited tram travelling for the whole day seemed a bargain to me anyway.
Great views out of the tram and super comfy seats meant it was loads of fun. For most of the trip down to De Panne the tram was virtually empty which was an added bonus. We passed through Zeebrugge and Blankenberg and enjoyed the views and ride so much we decided to stay on until De Panne. Endless golden, sandy beaches and sea views – a gorgeous journey. The tram turned inland for a little while before we reached De Panne. We got off in the centre of the little town and after some delicious cakes from a bakery it was time to hit the beach.
Son paddled in the sea, dug in the sand and did all the usual beachy stuff. Colourful beach huts everywhere and loads of seats, I’m not normally a big fan of sandy beaches but I liked this one.
De Panne is on the French side of the coast, we noticed more French than Dutch being spoken and a lot of French tourists seemed to be around on holidays too.
The long beach is lined on one side with some not very appealing concrete apartment blocks, but there is a nice promenade and the beach is good.
Plenty of history about this little town too – apparently it is where King Leopold I first set foot on Belgian soil in 1831. It is also where King Albert I set the headquarters of the Belgian army and his government in WW1 and in 1940 it was between De Panne and Dunkerke that the British troops retreated from the Nazi advance into the Benelux and France.
After a couple of hours on the beach we boarded the tram again and headed back towards Knokke. Busy, busy, busy though, not many seats and for part of the ride it was standing room only. Not quite the relaxed tram ride we had on the way down, my advice would be pick your time carefully. That said, we still loved our tram journey with its sea views and our fun day at the beach.