Monday, August 22, 2011

Sun 21 August - De Panne

Or La Panne if you're that way inclined. Second trip to the seaside after last Summer's day excurison to Oostende/Ostend. I imagine this is what the local tourist board would call the "Belgian Riviera." Like its sister resort, it's not much to write home about. Enormous beaches (a good point), sand (an even better point), and lots and lots of families, together with endless entertainment for the little ones: bouncy castles, merry-go-rounds, sing-a-longs.

Not hugely different to Oostende really. Maybe a tad uglier. The seafront is of course replete with high rise flats, hotels, and the kind of stuff you expect to see. The restaurants serving the same kind of grub I've seen everywhere else in Belgium.

The architecture does get a lot more interesting and diverse once you leave the seafront area. A mix of art-deco buildings, and the old sitting alongside the very modern.

That's all I can really say of De Panne. Lying on the beach for a couple of hours, listening to the cricket on my Roberts radio, was very relaxing. I guess the overcast conditions didn't make it too crowded, although its size helps.

What was interesting was that all I could hear were French voices. Now, I read a few months ago that the traditional Easter time "exchange" - whereby, Walloons flock to the Flemish coast, and the Flemings head to the Ardennes - never really happened this year. According to a report (I wish I could find the source), the numbers in both directions had fallen dramatically compared to previous years.

Reasons given vary from the economic climate, the good weather keeping Flemings on the Flemish coast, at least, to unofficial boycotts by both communities at visiting each others' regions. Either way, these reasons no longer apply. All I could hear was French. I did notice a large number of French numberplates on the walk back to the car, but a student of mine insists that De Panne is hugely popular with Walloons, and that most French-speakers here would have been Walloon. They certainly had the air of Wallooness. That's me being (almost) diplomatic.

Before heading home, we stopped off at a quaint little Flemish town called Veurne, and had dinner in their very sweet and compact Grand Place. There are meant to be dozens of towns like this dotted all over Flanders, but this was my first visit to one.

And I'll leave you with this, taken from an article in The Independent, written in 2003, and entitled: "In search of...The Belgian Riviera." This very accurately sums up Flemish seaside resorts:

"It's not the height of glamour, but the Flemish coast has miles of family-friendly sand...They're trying to promote their meagre 42 miles of a major holiday destination. Well, it's not hot and it's not really stylish - but the good news is that the Belgian coast is one great sandy strip lined by a string of well-equipped resorts. There's a generally well-behaved atmosphere and it's a safe, clean place for children.

The bad news is that these resorts are modern, flat, windswept places, their promenades backed by concrete apartment blocks and hotels. The sands can extend for half a mile at low tide and become dangerously close to what you might call mud flats in places. Just don't expect Bruges-by-the-Sea."

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