Derek Blyth, the author of “Hidden Belgium” and “500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels”, describes his favourite locations in Belgium.
Born in Scotland, Derek Blyth is a journalist, writer and tour guide who has lived in Brussels for the past 30 years. Formerly editor-in-chief of the city magazine The Bulletin and weekly newspaper Flanders Today, he currently writes for The Brussels Times and The Low Countries blog. He is the author of more than a dozen travel books including The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels and Hidden Belgium. He looks forward to the end of lockdown when he can once again take small groups on guided walking tours of Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp and Bruges.
“The 500 Hidden Secrets” series
“I wrote The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels in 2013 in an attempt to reshape the common perception of Brussels as “the most boring city in Europe.” I was lucky to find a publisher in Antwerp who liked the concept. The guide turned out to be an unexpected bestseller and I went on to write companion books to Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges. Now the series has expanded to more than 30 guides by local writers to cities across the world. It takes me about six months to write each book, and they are updated every year to keep them fresh. My latest book, 100 Belgian Icons, is due to be published in September 2020. Then I will have said everything I need to say about this strange country where I landed by chance back in 1990.”
Favourite hidden secret: Verbeke Foundation, Kemzeke
“The Verbeke Foundation sums up this country perfectly. It is in the middle of nowhere, almost impossible to find and stranger than you could possibly imagine. Located on an abandoned industrial site, it is dedicated to contemporary art installations, including a fake cemetery, a house salvaged from Detroit and a giant anus you can sleep inside.”
Art on display at the Verbeke Foundation include a fake cemetery, a house salvaged from Detroit and a giant anus you can sleep inside.Tweet
Favourite city trip: Liège
“It’s not an obvious city trip, but I love Liège. It is strange, mysterious, with just a hint of Paris. I would recommend taking the train to admire the stunning station designed by Santiago Calatrava. Then wander around the almost unknown La Boverie art museum, hop on a river boat and hunt for the semi-secret walking trail above the city known as the Sentier des Coteaux de la Citadelle. (The tourist office hands out a free map to show you the way).”
Favourite bar: Sas 6, Mol
“It’s not easy to find Sas 6, Mol, an old Flemish bar in Limburg province. It occupies an ancient house next to Lock 6 on a canal near Mol. The interior is filled with wooden tables, oil paintings and vintage cinema seats. And there’s an idyllic waterfront terrace where cyclists stop to drink an Oude Geuze before pedalling home.”
Favourite museum: Plaster Cast Workshop, Brussels
“Hidden behind Autoworld, the Plaster Cast Workshop is almost unknown. You can wander through dusty storerooms, admire white plaster replicas of classical statues and chat to the friendly staff.”
Favourite green spot: Peace Wood
“A quiet forest trail near Foy village leads to a wood planted in 2005 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. Small memorial stones are marked with the names of U.S. soldiers who have returned to this spot.”
Favourite quiet area: Birch tree circle, Forêt de Soignes
“Deep in the woods south of Brussels, a circle of 32 young birch trees was planted in memory of the people killed in 2016 Brussels terrorist attacks. The landscape architect Bas Smets designed this simple, sober memorial.”
Favourite country walk: River Lesse
“I love the rambling trail along the banks of the meandering River Lesse from Houyet to Gendron station. You pass an abandoned railway station built by Leopold II, climb iron ladders set into the rocks and sometimes spot trees gnawed by beavers.”
Favourite bike route: River Leie, Ghent
“Ghent is my favourite cycling city. And it’s easy to bike out of the city to reach the peaceful Leie valley. I like to head down to Afsnee where you wait for a sleepy ferry to take you across the river.”
Favourite family activity: Kessel-Lo
“I have four children of various ages. They are grown up now, but we used to take them to Kessel-Lo recreation park, just outside Leuven. It was perfect. There was something for every age, from toddler-friendly sandpits to a terrifying rope bridge.”
Favourite romantic location: Bruges
“Maybe not in the summer, when Bruges is overcrowded, but in the early autumn. Book a room in a B&B, rent a bike to explore the quiet corners, and drink the local beer Brugse Zot in the friendly Hollandse Vismijn bar.”
Favourite tourist attraction: Namur Citadel
“You get some great views of Namur as you hike to the top of the ancient citadel. Along the way, you discover a vast complex of military defences from different periods in the city’s history. Alternatively, you can take a tourist train to the top, but I would recommend the hard route.”
Favourite shop: Luddites, Antwerp
“Jorien and Richard recently opened an inspiring bookstore in an Antwerp town house. Then lockdown struck. Luddites is open again, selling an eclectic collection of books in Dutch and English ranging from “The Lost Pianos of Siberia” to “How to Catch a Mole”. But we will have to wait for the reopening of the wine bar on the first floor where you can sit with a book and a glass of Prosecco.”
Thanks for these interesting recommendations Derek!
Books by Derek Blyth (click for more info)
I’ll shortly be reviewing 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels by Derek, and look forward to his 100 Belgian Icons book later in the year.
Have you read all of the profiles in the My Belgian series? So far it includes:
- Steven Vandenbussche, Curator of the Memorial Museum Passchendaele
- Andy Whittle, Executive & Life Coach
- Bernard Wilkin, Senior Researcher in the State Archives of Belgium
- Diana Goodwin, writer, translator and tour guide.
If you would like to be included, or know someone who would, just drop me a line. I’m keen to improve the gender balance; unfortunately although I ask an equal number of men and women to participate, it’s the men who say yes and the women who tend to decline! So any suggestions for women contributors would be most welcome.
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