My favourite place: Belgium

In the November 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine, Dr Kathryn Ferry selects the Belgian coast as her favourite place. History Extra caught up with her to find out more...

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Q. When did you last travel to the Belgian Coast and why were you there?

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A. I took my family on holiday to Belgium to check out the country’s seaside heritage but it’s been a while as I’ve since been working my way westwards along the Channel coast.

Q. Why do you love the location?

A. The beaches are surprisingly good but the Belgian coast has a lot more to offer with its mix of seaside and wartime history. It has the Continental appeal of France but is much less well-known to Brits so going there really feels like discovering somewhere new.

Q. What top 3 sights would you recommend people visit there, and why?

A. You have to walk or cycle along the promenade at Ostend, indulging in great seafood, ice cream or waffles along the way. Thanks to the Kust tram the whole coast is easily accessible and the protected village of De Haan is a particularly attractive stop laid out with villas from the Belle Epoque. In terms of military history one of the most evocative places is Domein Raversijde where the remains of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall survive as an open-air museum.

Q. During what period of its history would you most have wanted to visit this location and why?

A. Definitely the early 20th century when King Leopold II was spending huge amounts of money on his favourite seaside resort of Ostend. Though the source of that money in the Congo is deeply regrettable its impact on transforming the Belgian coast was profound and it must have been quite something to mingle with the aristocratic elites of Europe at Ostend’s Kursaal taking part in the daily dipping routine from brightly painted bathing machines.

Q. Where else in the world would you most like to visit and why?

A. Visiting Samarkand is a big dream of mine. I was able to visit some amazing monuments of Islamic architecture while travelling in the footsteps of Victorian architect Owen Jones for my PhD but the vibrant tiled buildings of Samarkand have the additional allure of Silk Road history. The geometry and blue/turquoise shades of the ceramic decoration on buildings like the Bibi Khanum Mosque and Tilla Kari (Gold covered) Mosque in Registan Square make such a beautiful contrast with their mud brick construction. I’d love to see those places for myself.
 

Dr Kathryn Ferry’s latest book is The Nation’s Host: Butlin’s and the Story of the British Seaside (Viking, 2016)

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You can read more about Kathryn’s experiences in Belgium in the November issue of BBC History Magazine.