Looking for some ‘Sahara’ feeling in Belgium? Drive up to De Panne, a coastal town near the French border and go hiking in the beautiful reserve ‘The Westhoek’ with its enormous dunes. Or enjoy a cycling tour along the Belgian coast while staying the night in the classified Dumont District. Our top 5 of a weekend De Panne.
#1 Explore the Belgian Sahara
In need of some ‘Sahara’ feeling in Belgium? Well then, explore the sandy Westhoek reserve, about 340 ha and the oldest nature reserve in Flanders with an unspoilt dune area and 11 km of hiking trails. The rural nature of this reserve shows you the origins and life of the biota near the coast. You can find more than 400 sorts of plants and a variety of animals, if you look good. There are frogs, salamanders, rabbits and you might even see a Scottish highland cattle or Konik horse pass by.
This nature reserve is embedded between the North Sea, the Calmeyn forest, De Panne and the French border. The area is part of the largest contiguous area of the Flemish coast.
We did the Westhoek’ hiking route, about 10,5 kilometres. It’s a beautiful walk, combining the Calmeyn forest, the coast and the dunes. The route starts at the Provincial Visitor Center Duinpanne and makes a loop. This Center also hosts a permanent exhibition and is freely accessible.
#2 Start in De Panne and explore the Belgian coast by bike
There are some excellent cycling routes near De Panne. We made a round trip De Panne – Nieuwpoort, following the fietsenknooppunt (numbers 76-74-88-96-64-82-67-66-62-65-76). We started in de Panne and headed to Koksijde via Sint-Idesbald. In Koskijde, we stopped at the statues of the shrimp fishing men on horseback. This type of fishing – in 2013 recognized by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage – is a traditional craftsmanship closely connected with nature: good knowledge of the sea, the sand strip and a high level of trust and respect for the horse are essential. Fishing for shrimp – the grey shrimp – with a horse-drawn drag net in the shallow water is only possible on a flat, very gently sloping coastline.
From Koksijde we head towards the harbor of Nieuwpoort, to return via Oostduinkerke to de Panne.
#3 Visit the statue of King Leopold I
On 17 July 1831 King Leopold 1 set for the first time foot on Belgian soil on the beach of De Panne. He arrived by boat from England in Calais. From Calais, he travelled by carriage to De Panne. A monumental statute reminds of that time. His successor, King Boudewijn, inaugurated it in 1958.
#4 Enjoy the widest beach in Belgium
The Panne has the widest beach of Belgium. Enjoy its stunning sunsets or just go for a walk. And if you are up for some adventure, wind and speed, try out beach sailing, there is a club in De Panne.
#5 Stay the night in the classified Dumont district
The Dumont district in the town of De Panne at the Belgian coast is a pearl of architectural heritage that originated in the late 19th – early 20th century under the direction of the architect Albert Dumont’. His son ‘Alexis Dumont’ signed the unique construction plan of this neighborhood with rural cottages, which were built with respect for the existing environment.. The style of the cottages is similar to these on the northern French coast. In this district, you find spacious villas with sea views. Originally, the villas were built in a cottage style, later more modernist villas were added, sometimes in art-deco style. Just as important as the villas themselves are the gardens, trees, and plants.
Since 1995, the Dumont district has been protected as a cityscape.
We stayed in the beautiful characterful villa ‘Dolce Vita’, a spacious house only 300 metres from the beach and close to local shops and the centre of De Panne. ideal for up to 14 persons. We rented this great villa through Westkustvilla’s. It’s a perfect place to stay rented by a professional and friendly agency.
This villa has a large living room with a comfortable sitting area and dining table for 14 people, a fireplace, a fully equipped kitchen, 5 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. On the mezzanine floor you find two bedrooms: one with a double bed, baby bed and bathroom, the next one with 2 bunk beds. On the first floor there are 3 more bedrooms with double beds of which 1 also has a bunk bed. There is also a second bathroom with walk-in shower, bathtub and double washbasin. The bedrooms and bathrooms are very spacious. There are toilets on each of the floors.
And as bonus: a table tennis, billiards and even a Finnish or infrared sauna. Perfect for a holiday with teenagers.
Interested in some more Belgian coastal adventures? Then have a look at my blog on Ostend featuring a great city walk: the ‘Chrystal Ship’.