A walk from Fuente Dé, Picos de Europa, Spain

Looking for a (mostly) downhill walk in the Picos de Europa with incredible views? Then this circular walk, which makes use of the Fuente Dé cable car, is probably perfect for you. Just as long as you don’t mind the odd car interrupting your mountain walk!

The route, taken from the excellent Sunflower guide to the Picos de Europa, is approximately 9.5 miles long. Choose a clear day to make the most of the views but be aware weather conditions can change rapidly in the Picos.

Fuente Dé cable car

The cable car from Fuente Dé is the quickest way to get into the high Picos. It transports walkers, climbers and sightseers up to 1850 metres and is the longest single-span aerial lift in Europe.

Fuente Dé cable car
Fuente Dé cable car

I’d read advice on various forums about arriving at the cable car before its 9am August opening time. So had everyone else. At 8.45am our ticket numbers showed there were already more than 200 people in front of us! Fortunately the ride takes less than four minutes so the queue moved relatively quickly.

As we set off I noted the ladder hanging above us, presumably for mid air rescues. Scenes from James Bond films flitted through my mind, along with the Italy cable car disaster. Sometimes my brain isn’t helpful!

View from Horcadina de Covarrobres
View from Horcadina de Covarrobres

There’s a dramatic change in scenery, and air temperature, when you disembark. The first few minutes were spent taking photographs of the view from the overhanging platform only to realise it gets even better when you walk away from the cable car.

There is only one exit route, a wide stone path. We, and everyone else, followed it around to a junction where it splits off. Those equipped for a more challenging mountain walk could choose the PR-PNPE 23. It looked relatively straightforward but we were walking in trainers and I didn’t want to risk it.

Track beside Peña Vieja
Track beside Peña Vieja

Instead we followed the signposted PR-PNPE 24 for much of our walk. It’s not a difficult walk in good weather, but is long and downhill. And, as we discovered later in the day, had a sting (or rather a bark) in the tail.

The track ran alongside the jagged rocks of Peña Vieja. This is a peak that can be summited by walkers, rather than climbers, but only if you’re comfortable with exposure and scree slopes. It’s firmly off my itinerary.

Track to Refugio de Aliva
Track to Refugio de Aliva

Instead our broad stony track wound down the hill towards Chalet Real, previously a royal hunting lodge. We soon discovered why the track was so wide. Jeeps were using them to transport people and goods from the valley floor to the chalet and nearby refuge. These were joined later on by 4WD tours and, rather incredulously, sightseers in everyday cars. So much for a quiet mountain walk!

Refugio de Áliva

It took an hour or so of gentle downhill walking from the cable car to reach the refuge at Áliva. We sat outside in the sun, drinking coffee, and watching choughs just above our heads. A little further away a griffon vulture circled on a thermal. Mesmerising.

Refugio de Áliva
Refugio de Áliva

From the refuge we walked through the Puertos de Áliva, summer meadows grazed by cattle. These were huge, but seemingly docile, beasts with big horns and tinkling cow bells.

Cow grazing on Puertos de Aliva
Cow grazing on Puertos de Aliva

We ate our lunch sitting on large rocks beside the path. Ignoring the occasional cloud dust thrown up by passing vehicles. This is where we saw our first everyday car. How it had managed to negotiate the mountain track without a puncture is beyond me!

Following the GR-202
Following the GR-202

Gates of Aliva

After walking beside a small stream we crossed a cattle grid which rather bizarrely had small fish swimming under it. Whilst the kids spotted fish I was distracted by a kaleidoscope of blue butterflies. Most of them, I think, were chalk hill blue butterflies but there were other blues in the group too.

Chalk hill blue butterflies, Picos de Europa
Chalk hill blue butterflies, Picos de Europa

Columns on either side of the road indicated we’d reached the ‘Gates of Aliva’. The view opened up with a stupendous panorama of the Cordilla Cantábrica, and the extent of our descent which was still to come.

This is where the PR-PNPE 24 splits off and returns to Fuente Dé. In hindsight, this is the route we should have taken. Instead we took the steep road zigzagging down to Espinama. At Espinama we refreshed ourselves with ice cream, crossed the road and started our return to Fuente Dé.

View from Invernales de Igüedri
View from Invernales de Igüedri

Our return route, on the opposite side of the valley, was undulating and mostly along quiet roads. We passed through Pido and then, on a bridge with just three or so kilometres to go we were faced with five large mountain dogs growling and barking at us. Now, I love dogs and am not generally afraid of them. However these ones meant business. After retreating for a while, looking for alternative routes and big sticks to protect ourselves with, we made the difficult decision to turn back.

Fuente Dé glacial cirque
Fuente Dé glacial cirque

Back to Pido and down onto the twisty main road running through the valley. Our scenic ramble turned into a forced march to Fuente Dé, walking in the gutter edging as there was no path. Cars whizzing by every minute or so. It wasn’t pleasant.

It was a relief to finally reach Fuente Dé. To look back up again at the cable car and mountains we’d walked down from. The route is spectacular, and well worth it. But if I was doing it again I’d stay on the PR-PNPE 24 route the whole way. And hopefully avoid the dogs!

10 things to do in and around Soller, Majorca, Spain

There aren’t many places in this world that I plan to return to (too many other places to see) but Soller is one of them. We loved our spring visit to Majorca!

Soller is an inland town in the mountainous north west of the island. Famed for its oranges and olive groves the town is popular with walkers and cyclists who use it as a base to explore the surrounding Tramuntana mountains.

Aside from walking there’s plenty of things to do and see around Soller, read on to find out more.

1. Visit the orange and lemon groves at Ecovinyassa

Whilst oranges and lemons abound it’s not easy to randomly stroll through the groves. That’s where Ecovinyassa comes in.

Oranges and lemons at Ecovinyassa
Oranges and lemons at Ecovinyassa

Visitors to Ecovinyassa follow a self guided tour around the aromatic orange and lemon trees, learning all about the different varieties. There are other species too; in fact I saw my first ever avocado tree laden with its ripe fruits. We stopped for oranges halfway round and sat down to a freshly squeezed orange juice and Pa Amb Oli (bread with olive oil and tomatoes) at the end. Like many great ideas, it’s a simple concept done well.

Orange break at Ecovinyassa
Orange break at Ecovinyassa

Book your visit to Ecovinyassa in advance via their website; they’re currently open three days per week.

2. Enjoy the view from the Mirador de ses Barques

There are several walks from Soller which take you up to this viewpoint.  We took a rather roundabout route but whichever way you walk it’s worth the uphill slog for the impressive views across the Soller valley and surrounding sea. If you’re not feeling energetic you can also drive to the viewpoint, but keep a watchful eye out for the hordes of road cyclists who use the hill for training.

The walk up to Mirador de ses Barques
The walk up to Mirador de ses Barques

Conveniently located next to the viewpoint is a restaurant. This is where we experienced our first taste of freshly squeezed Majorcan orange juice, sitting on the terrace overlooking the bay. Although we didn’t sit there for long after we discovered how windy it was!

3. Ride the tram to or from Port de Soller

Lots of visitors combine a trip on the tram with the train ride from Palma to Soller. As we were already in town we walked down to Port de Soller along the GR221 (long distance walking track), spent a couple of hours in the resort and then took the tram back to Soller.

Riding the tram from Port de Soller
Riding the tram from Port de Soller

The wooden tram is touristy and expensive (7 euros per person each way) but sod it, you’re on holiday and it’s a fun way to travel. The journey takes about 20 minutes, passing people’s back gardens and small orange groves before popping back out in the centre of Soller.

Soller tram
Soller tram

4. Explore Port de Soller

The resort of Port de Soller is about 3 miles from Soller, and could be used as a base for visiting the area. I personally preferred Soller but if you’re keen to stay in a resort it’s a good alternative. There are loads of places to eat out, accommodation options and boat trips.

Sorting the catch, Port Soller
Sorting the catch, Port Soller

If you happen to be there late afternoon, when the fishing boats arrive home, head to the harbour and watch the fishermen sorting their catch. Follow this up with a mooch around the yachts; it’s always fun trying to spot the most expensive ones.

5. Visit the chapel at Sa Capelleta

The chapel is a short walk (albeit uphill) from Soller and is an ideal evening stroll.

Sa Capelleta, Soller
Sa Capelleta, Soller

The chapel was locked on our visit but you can peak through the doors. It’s hard to describe the inside but imagine a cave with religious icons designed by Gaudi and you’ll be on the right track.

If you visit at sunset keep an eye on the mountains on your return journey; we were lucky to see them turn the most spectacular pink as the sun went down.

Soller sunset
Soller sunset

6. Take a hike

There are many walks around Soller for all abilities. Our favourite was a linear route from Deia to Soller along the GR221. We also enjoyed a more strenuous walk from Cuber Reservoir to the summit of L’Ofre. Spring and autumn are the best seasons for walking, it’s too hot in the summer!

The main routes are well signposted. We purchased a Soller walking guide from the Tramuntana shop in Soller; this covers walks to and from all of the local villages, directions to Sa Capelleta  and several more challenging hikes.

View from the GR221, near Soller
View from the GR221, near Soller

7. Stroll around Fornalutx

A couple of miles from Soller, this has been voted one of Spain’s prettiest villages. We passed through on one of our walks and whilst it’s undeniably beautiful it was just a little too manicured for me.

Olive tree, Soller
Olive tree, Soller

Another local village that vies for prettiest contender is Llucalcari, just off the road to Deia. Why not check them both out and see which one you prefer?

8. View Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro at the station

One for the art lovers. If modern art is your thing head to the railway station where you’ll find a room of Picasso ceramics and another of Miro’s works. The two artists were friends during their lifetimes, hence the joint exhibition. It’s a great way to bring art to the masses; if you’re waiting for a train and there’s a free exhibition why wouldn’t you visit?

Soller is also home to a Modernist museum, Can Prunera which offers a small permanent collection and visiting exhibitions.

9. Visit the Jardines de Alfabia

We hadn’t originally planned to visit these but some hire car trouble resulted in a change of destination. Located close to the Soller tunnel entrance you can easily while away an hour or two in the house and gardens.

Jardines de Alfabia
Jardines de Alfabia

We visited whilst the wisteria was blooming although we couldn’t see all of it as part of the garden was closed due to storm damage. This in itself was sadly impressive with large stone colonnades smashed onto the walkways; it must have been some storm!

The highlights of the garden are the towering palm trees and the many water features. You might also enjoy playing spot the frog. It’s easy to hear them croaking but they’re masters of disguise in the ponds!

Jardines de Alfabia
Jardines de Alfabia

10. People watch in the Plaza Constitucion

Soller’s town square is the focal point for most visitors. Dominated by the church of Sant Bartomeu, it houses a wide range of pavement cafes, ice cream parlours and restaurants. It’s THE place to sit and people watch!

Plaza de la Constitución, Soller
Plaza de la Constitución, Soller

On Saturday morning the square, and some of the surrounding roads, are taken over by the town market. This is a mix of your standard market stalls (clothes, household goods, fruit and veg) along with some craft and local produce stalls. Worth visiting if you’re in town.

More info:

  • We visited in April. The weather was perfect for walking (our main activity) and the sun shone almost all week. That said, the spring weather can also be very wet so pack accordingly.
  • We hired a car as part of our flight deal. Parking costs 6 euros per day in the main town car park, assuming you’re lucky enough to find a space. As of December 2017 there is no longer a charge to drive through the Soller tunnel. There’s a good cheap local bus service (except Sundays); useful for linear walks.

Walks on the GR221 around Soller, Majorca, Spain

Fresh orange juice, gnarled olive trees and a cloudless sky. Can I tempt you to walk the GR221?

The GR221, also known as the Dry Stone route, is an 87 mile trail that runs across the Serra de Tramuntana from Port d’Andratx to Pollença in Majorca. Although the GR221 is a relatively new route it often follows old cobbled paths between the olive terraces, hence its name.

Olive groves, GR221
Olive groves, GR221

Rather than walk the path in its entirety we based ourselves in Soller and spent three days combining parts of the trail with other local walks. We used a combination of the Sunflower Mallorca guide and a locally bought Soller 1:15000 hiking map and guide to plan our walks.

1. Deia to Soller (Sunflower guide – walk 13, 6.2 miles)

Our first walk on the GR221 was a great introduction to the trail.  It offered a variety of scenery; sea views, shaded woodland and olive groves. And cake.

From Soller we took the bus to Deia, a 25 minute ride up and over the windy hillside for the grand sum of 1.55 euros each. Some walkers choose to walk from Soller to Deia but there’s a risk the bus will be full on the return journey.

Cala de Deia
Cala de Deia

Leaving Deia we walked downhill towards the coast, diverting onto the GR221 before we reached the beach. If you’re following this walk I do recommend a detour down to the cove, Cala de Deia. We originally missed this out so returned a few days later to visit. There’s a couple of restaurants on the beach, one of which starred in The Night Manager back in 2016.

Leaving Deia on the GR221
Leaving Deia on the GR221

Back on the GR221 the path is straightforward and relatively easy going but you do need to keep your eyes on the ground as there are stones aplenty to trip you up.

Much of the early walk is in the shade, passing under holm oaks and beside huge boulders. We quickly became acquainted with the Spanish love of wire fencing and keep out signs.

Olive trees on the GR221
Olive trees on the GR221

About an hour after leaving Deia we reached my highlight of the walk, Son Mico Finca. Yes, a cake stop! We sat on the outside terrace and between us sampled chocolate and pear tart, lemon meringue pie and orange tart. All were amazing, but the coffee less so (stick to the orange juice). Be aware the toilet doesn’t have a sink so bring hand sanitiser.

Coffee and cake at Son Mico
Coffee and cake at Son Mico

After leaving Son Mico we walked down the cobbled path, eventually passing a 13th century chapel. According to the guidebook this is in ruins but it looked newly restored to me. Either that or we found the wrong chapel.

View from the GR221, near Soller
View from the GR221, near Soller

This walk is justifiably popular. This brings with it the very British problem of how to address walkers coming in the other direction. We stuck to Hola but after you realise most of the hikers are German it’s tempting to use Hallo. Actually, we always knew when Spanish hikers were approaching, they were the ones dressed in down jackets, hats and thick trousers!

Following the Cami des Rost to Soller
Following the Cami des Rost to Soller

Leaving the GR221 we took the path towards Soller, finally emerging on the town’s ring road. Despite the earlier cake there was still space for an ice cream so we headed into town to sample the locally made orange and lemon delicacies.

2. Es Barranc circuit (Sunflower guide – walk 17, 4 miles)

This was the shortest walk we followed in our Sunflower guide but it was quite tough going due to the combination of afternoon heat and a strenuous ascent. That said, the spectacular views made up for the extra effort.

From Soller we walked to the village of Biniaraix where we stopped for a drink in the village square. Leaving the shade behind we followed the GR221 Cami d’es Barranc for a few minutes, stopping frequently to admire the views back over the village.

Biniaraix, Majorca
Biniaraix, Majorca

The guidebook described a turn on to the Cami Vell a Cuber opposite a carob tree. This helpfully answered one of my son’s questions, namely what are the things on the floor that look like black banana skins? Answer, carob pods. Native to the Mediterranean the pods can be used as a substitute for chocolate; the pulp from the pods is ground to make locust bean gum.

Our path took us high above the ravine, zigzagging up through the olive trees and stone terraces. Another mystery required an answer. Why does every olive tree have a bottle hanging from it? Fortunately you can still get 4G in the mountains. Answer, they’re a deterrent for the olive fruit fly.

View from Cami Vell de Cuber
View from Cami Vell de Cuber

Our walking map offered a short diversion to Cova de ses Alfabies. Leaving the cobbled stone path we followed blue dots painted on stone to a large overhanging cliff where water drips from the ceiling into clay pots. These have somehow petrified into the rock; I’ve no idea how old they are but in my imagination they are of Roman origin!

Clay pot, Cova de ses Alfabies
Clay pot, Cova de ses Alfabies

Back on the olive terrace a new game was invented en route; guess the famous person. Potentially a minefield when your teens think famous people are social media and YouTube stars. Oh the generation gap.

After trekking uphill in the afternoon sun we finally crossed a pass and began to descend into some welcome shade, soon reaching a small waterfall. Time for a paddle and photo stop.

Waterfall, near GR221, Cami d’es Barranc
Waterfall, near GR221, Cami d’es Barranc

Heading downhill we rejoined the GR221 Cami d’es Barranc for the descent to Biniaraix. The path runs down the ravine beside a stream which was dry during our visit but must be spectacular after heavy rain.

Walking the Cami d’es Barranc
Walking the Cami d’es Barranc

Back in Biniaraix we stopped for another much needed drink. We’d drank all of our water by this time; this is definitely a consideration if you’re walking in the warmer months.

The road back into Soller took us past orange and lemon trees, flowering wisteria and the occasional cactus. Idyllic, although the lack of footpaths means you need to keep your wits about you!

3. Walk around Cuber reservoir to L’Ofre (Sunflower guide – walk 20, 7.4 miles)

This circular walk started from the car park at Cuber reservoir. We drove but it’s also possible to take the once daily bus (April to October) or a taxi. This is the easiest option if you want to walk the classic route down to Biniaraix.

Walking beside Cuber reservoir
Walking beside Cuber reservoir

From the car park there’s a great view of Puig Major, the highest mountain on Majorca. It’s off limit to walkers as it’s a military base, with a large bulbous radar tower on top. I can easily imagine it as a villain’s lair in a James Bond film!

Cuber reservoir, Majorca
Cuber reservoir, Majorca

On this walk the GR221, took us along the northern edge of the Cuber reservoir. The reservoir provides water to Palma so there are strict rules; no swimming, fishing or boating. The waters were crystal clear, albeit with fully grown trees emerging from it. I can only assume the water levels were higher than usual due to the winter rains.

As we walked a couple of red kites flew above us. Impressive, but as we live in Oxfordshire we’re used to seeing these birds. Instead we were on the lookout for a much larger bird, the black vulture.

Walking from Cuber reservoir to Coll de L’Ofre
Walking from Cuber reservoir to Coll de L’Ofre

Leaving the far end of the reservoir we walked up to the Coll de L’Ofre. From here’s the GR221 descends to the Barranco de Biniaraix. However we were off to climb L’Ofre, a 3579ft peak.

If you ask a child (or indeed me) to draw a mountain they’ll probably come up with something that resembles L’Ofre. Seen from Soller it’s easily identified as it’s an almost perfect cone shape.

View from Coll de L’Ofre
View from Coll de L’Ofre

After traversing around L’Ofre we started our ascent. There is a path, of sorts, up through the rosemary bushes marked by small cairns and blue dots. There are a couple of hands on rock sections. And, for me, bum on rock going down.

By now we’d seen a couple of black vultures soaring high above nearby mountains. Halfway up L’Ofre they chose to glide directly over us, what an amazing experience. These vultures are the largest raptors in Europe and were bought back from the brink of extinction in the 1980s.

View from summit of L’Ofre, Majorca
View from summit of L’Ofre, Majorca

It’s difficult to decide whether the views from the summit or the vultures were the highlight of this walk. Up top Cuber reservoir sparkled in the distance and all of the surrounding peaks were cloud free.

Descent from Coll de L’Ofre
Descent from Coll de L’Ofre

We ate our picnic after descending to the main path. My son was mesmerised throughout by a large scarab beetle rolling sheep dung. Even more so when he managed to video it falling off the edge of a rock still holding on to the dung. Hilarious if you’re a 13 year old boy.

We returned to our car via the opposite side of the reservoir, accompanied by the sound of sheep bells. Photographs are great but it’s the tinkle of sheep bells and the smell of citrus groves that will forever remind me of our Majorcan holiday.

More info:

  • We found Soller an excellent base; plenty of tourist facilities but a working town too. If you’re staying in the Soller area pop over to my post on things to do in and around Soller. We stayed in a centrally located Airbnb flat overlooking a small orange grove. The citrus aroma from our balcony  was divine!
  • Spring and autumn are the best times for a walking holiday. Temperatures in April ranged from 16-22C although nights were chilly.

15 things to do with the family in Ghent, Belgium

After the success of our short break to Lille a while back I was keen to explore other destinations  accessible via Eurostar. Ghent fitted the bill perfectly; a Belgian city just a couple of hours from London.

What did we do in Ghent?

We travelled as a family of  four; two adults and two teenagers. With this in mind you’ll appreciate our sightseeing and food choices were attuned to pleasing the whole family. Or attempting to at least!

View from Kraanlei across the Leie, Ghent
View from Kraanlei across the Leie, Ghent

So, how did we spend our time?

1. Climb the Belfry

I always make a beeline for the highest viewpoint in any new city. In Ghent it’s the 91 metre belfry, the highest one in Belguim.

View from Ghent belfry
View from Ghent belfry

A lift can take you part of the way up but we climbed the steps (to offset the waffles later). At the top there’s a 360 degree viewing platform with excellent views over the town centre, churches and cathedral. You’ll also discover how much building work is happening in the city.

View from the Belfry, Ghent
View from the Belfry, Ghent

Aside from the views check out the Roeland Bell (which was chimed to warn of approaching enemies) and listen to the carillon which plays every 15 minutes.

2. Wander the streets around Graslei and Korenlei

In the Middle Ages this area was a busy port and the centre of the Flanders grain trade. Nowadays it’s tourism central but for good reason; cobbled streets, historical buildings and, in the summer at least, pavement cafes. It’s a good place to take a boat tour or simply wander.

Korenlei
Korenlei

After dark it’s a completely different view with the illuminated buildings reflected in the water. Visit it as part of the Ghent light tour (see below).

3. Visit Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts)

This medieval fortress has seen many changes of use in its lifetime. From the seat of the Council of Flanders to a prison to cotton mills; at one point it was even going to be demolished and the land sold for development. Fortunately saved by locals it was restored extensively and is now one of Ghent’s main attractions.

Gravensteen - Castle of the Counts
Gravensteen – Castle of the Counts

Don’t expect lavish decorations inside the castle. For me the appeal was very much around the physical architecture, the towers, turrets and staircases. Although, thanks to those restorations, it was rather weird to walk up a heated staircase; the last thing you expect in a castle.

One room that is decorated, in a macabre way, houses the torture equipment. A reminder of the castle’s gruesome history. I found this fascinating but you might want to avoid it if you have younger children.

4. Ghent by light

We missed the Ghent Light Festival by a few days. Held every three years this would have been a spectacular sight but sadly it didn’t correspond with half term.

Ghent belfry at night
Ghent belfry at night

Even though we’d missed the festival Ghent illuminates many of its key buildings and monuments after dark, making an evening stroll obligatory. We followed the route on the Ghent light plan which took us to parts of the city we hadn’t seen in daylight. I highly recommend the walk but wrap up warm in winter.

5. Eat frites with mayo

A Belgian classic. We got ours from De Frietketel, a student hangout famous for its fries and burgers. Oh my word, the portion size! We ordered two small portions with mayo between the four of us and couldn’t even finish one portion.

It’s not haute cuisine but is tasty and cheap. Veggies and vegans can have their fill of junk food too; there are loads of options for non meat eaters. Indeed Ghent is known as the veggie capital of Europe.

6. Discover the city history at Stadsmuseum Gent (STAM)

I really enjoyed STAM, a museum covering the history of Ghent. I’d suggest visiting as early as possible during your visit to get an overview of the city. I’ve chosen my highlights below.

City map, STAM, Ghent
City map, STAM, Ghent

The first room houses a huge map of Ghent printed on the floor. Once you’ve donned protective shoe covers visitors can walk across it. It gives a sense of scale and geography of the city, particularly outside of the main tourist area.

The museum also includes a room dedicated to the Ghent Altarpiece (evidently one of Europe’s premier art works) which is in St Bavo’s Cathedral. I discovered it’s the most frequently stolen artwork of all time; one of the panels is still missing from the 1934 theft. It was really interesting to read about the police investigation and conspiracy theories, even if, ahem, we didn’t visit the actual painting whilst in Ghent.

Lego building, STAM, Ghent
Lego building, STAM, Ghent

The family dived into the huge pile of white Lego bricks left out for visitors to enjoy. Experts can attempt to recreate Ghent’s towers. Mere mortals can build small block houses.

7. Enjoy some warmth at the Botanic garden

If, like me, you prefer warm weather then head for the greenhouses at the University botanical gardens. It’s a little way out of the city centre but you can combine it with a walk through Citadelpark.

Botanic garden, Ghent
Botanic garden, Ghent

The outside garden didn’t contain a huge amount of interest in February but there was plenty to see inside the tropical and sub-tropical greenhouses – and they were warm!

8. Eat waffles

Another Belgian speciality. I realised halfway through my chocolate and cream covered concoction that I’d never eaten waffles in Belguim. It bore no resemblance to any waffle I’ve ever eaten before. It was sweet, light and slightly chewy, delicious!

Waffles cost a couple of euros from most street vendors, more if you cover them in melted Nutella. Ignore the calories, you’re on holiday.

9. Saviour the view from St Michael’s Bridge

The three towers, Ghent
The three towers, Ghent

This is the quintessential Ghent view, described as the Manhattan of the Middle Ages. Or, in non-tourist talk, it’s the opportunity to see three towers in a row; those of the Belfry, Saint Bavo’s Cathedral and Saint Nicholas’ Church. I think it’s the one picture all tourists attempt to take even if it does mean getting mown down by a bus whilst you’re standing in the road.

10. Wander the streets around Patershol

This trendy neighbourhood is a small area of cobbled streets and restored houses. A place to wander aimlessly.

Cobbled streets of Ghent
Cobbled streets of Ghent

We visited during the afternoon when it was very quiet. Lovely to look at but almost deserted. I assume the restaurants liven things up in the evenings.

11. See the vineyard at St Peter’s Abbey

We stopped here on our walk back from the botanical garden as I wanted to see another city centre garden.

Vineyard at St Peter’s Abbey, Ghent
Vineyard at St Peter’s Abbey, Ghent

This garden is unique as it contains a vineyard. In the middle of a city. Although only planted in the 1980s there are references to earlier vineyards onsite from the 9th Century. The monks must have loved their wine. I wonder what it tasted like?

12. Graffiti street, off Hoogpoort

This is a pedestrianised alleyway full of graffiti which gives you a break from the medieval-ness of Ghent. It is as its name says; full of tags rather than street art. The teens liked it.

Graffiti street, Ghent
Graffiti street, Ghent

13. Ride a tram

Ghent tram
Ghent tram

The centre of Ghent is easily walkable so there’s no great need to use the trams. However my son was desperate to ride one so we took a tram to the railway station on our final day. It would have been cheaper to use a taxi but nowhere near as novel.

14. Little noses (cuberdons)

Cuberdons, Ghent noses
Cuberdons, Ghent noses

These cone shaped sweets (like noses) are a Ghent speciality. You can buy them for around 3-5 euros from street vendors. Fruit flavoured, with a hard shell and soft filling, they were an acquired taste but my son insisted he liked them.

15. Visit the cathedrals and churches

I’m not religious but do appreciate the history and architecture of churches, particularly ones as huge and ornate as those in Ghent. That said, with teens in tow visiting the cathedrals and churches was never going to be top of the sightseeing list.

St Peter’s church, Ghent
St Peter’s church, Ghent

Despite this we visited St Bavo’s Cathedral, where we spotted a whale skeleton but missed out the Ghent Altarpiece.

We also popped into St Peter’s church (next to the Abbey) and admired several others from outside.

Ghent – the verdict

We loved Ghent and I’d highly recommend it as a short break destination. We easily filled two full days with sightseeing. Another day, or even two, would have been ideal so we could see more museums and perhaps take a boat tour.

View from St Michael’s Bridge, Ghent
View from St Michael’s Bridge, Ghent

Ghent isn’t as overtly pretty as Bruges but I preferred it. There are far fewer tourists (in February at least) but lots of students which gives it a different feel.

More info:

  • We travelled by Eurostar to Brussels. From Brussels we took a train to Gent-Sint-Pieters Station. The train takes about 30 minutes; we’d already bought a Eurostar ticket which was valid to any Belgium station so there was no need to purchase a separate ticket.
  • We stayed in a studio apartment which you can see on the Stay at Ghent website. The second floor duplex studio was perfect for us but had a mezzanine and is reached via a steep staircase so not suitable for those with mobility difficulties or young children.
  • Belguim has two official languages; Flemish and French. Whilst I can get by in French Ghent is in the Flemish speaking area. It pains me to say but you’re better off speaking English.