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I’ve often gazed longingly at the Belgian countryside, mainly from the car window while heading for destinations farther afield. As lovely as its dual carriageways and petrol stations are, I have a lot to learn about Belgium. But more recently, with the soaring price of fuel eating into our travel budget, I felt it was time to stay a little closer to home and give our near neighbour the time it richly deserves.
Famed for its beer, waffles and chocolate (as well as being home to The Smurfs), there’s much more to Belgium than Brussels and its ring road. What better place to start than Klein Strand and Kompas Camping Nieuwpoort? Both sites are incredibly close to the Channel ports and Eurotunnel (Kompas Camping is less than an hour from the Dunkirk ferry – even when towing a caravan).
Klein Strand, near Bruges, is a large site with an abundance of family-friendly facilities. Pitches are divided by hedgerows, and the bar/restaurant is popular with weary travellers in need of refreshment after their journeys. The site straddles the road, with the check-in desk on the opposite side from the touring pitches. On arrival, look for the reception office to the right of the Chinese restaurant, not the reception next to the campsite barriers. Judging by the number of campers and caravans turning round, we weren’t the only ones to make this mistake.
Water ski school at Klein Strand
Many of our fellow campers stayed within the site confines for the duration of their visit, with a lake proving a popular draw. The waterski club was practising as we wandered by, and during July and August their shows can be enjoyed from 5pm. On the opposite side of the lake is a small sandy beach with an inflatable assault course.
Just 13km away, the centre of Bruges is a mecca for members seeking history and culture. An arrow-strait canal stretches from Zeebrugge (‘Bruges by the sea’) to the city, creating an unusual inland port. You may also be surprised to discover the network of rivers and canals that have earned Bruges the nickname ‘Venice of the North’. It’s easy to see why this popular tourist destination holds UNESCO World Heritage Site status – the centre is packed with intact medieval buildings that compete with the windows of chocolatiers and restaurants for your attention, or form attractive backdrops as you sip a beer, wine or coffee.
Many will be drawn to the Markt and Burg Square – a pair of busy plazas where you can spend time people-watching – but the city also has some unusual museums to seek out. Put off by the grizzly Torture Museum? Then try the Frietmuseum, which tells the story of spuds and Belgian fries... with samples!
Kompas Camping Nieuwpoort
Even closer to home, Kompas Camping had been on our radar for some time as we’d often overnighted here en route from other destinations. At just over an hour from Calais, and just under an hour from Dunkirk, it’s the perfect spot for members who may be relatively new to touring and are dipping a toe into European travel. The roads are wide, well-surfaced and simple to navigate, and only get easier as you cross from France into Belgium. Once on site, the pitches are large, and the pools, slides, activities and bar/restaurant provide enough entertainment that you won’t need to leave the site.
We went back into France to visit Dunkirk, which is of course famous for the evacuations that took place during the Second World War. Several memorials commemorate the brave souls of the British Expeditionary Force, one of which occupies an imposing position atop the sandy beach.
Spending this time in Belgium underlined how close the county is geographically and how friendly the people are. Without exception we were made welcome in local bars and restaurants, and at local events (more of which next month), with the excellent English spoken being very much appreciated. It was well worth booking a ferry and travelling into undiscovered territory!