Although De Panne is in Belgium, it’s only a few miles from Calais. It is actually the most westerly Belgian town, and lies just over the border from France. Many Belgian and French people take their holidays there, and there are plenty of reasons why it is also a good choice for a weekend break from the UK.
A Fabulous Beach
The beach at De Panne is huge, clean, and sandy. There are sand dunes, beach huts, ice cream, and everything else you’d expect, plus some extras; De Panne is where land yachting first started, and there’s a club and school here. You can generally see some of these amazing three-wheelers whizzing along the sand, and there are opportunities to try the sport yourself.
Riding and Cycling
De Panne has riding schools locally where you can join a daytime or evening ride through the woods, among the dunes or on the beach. If you prefer two wheels, you’ll find that De Panne is an excellent place for cycling, with miles of well-maintained cycle paths. In springtime there’s a three-day cycle race, which attracts some of the biggest names in the sport; it ends with a spectacular finish along the seafront.
Belgian food is famously hearty and appetising. You will find many restaurants in De Panne serving local specialities such as fish soup and croquettes. The national passion, of course, is for mussels served with chips (moules frites); try them with local beer, at a seafront cafe, for a true Belgian experience. But if you a planning a special meal, De Panne has lots of choice for gourmet dining, including Michelin-starred restaurants.
A Room with a View
One advantage of taking a weekend break so close to home is that you can get two full days at your destination, particularly if you use a fast crossing such as Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, the car train. You’ll need a hotel for one or two nights, and De Panne has many to choose from; there are some large, very classy hotels on the De Panne beach front, and also many smaller, family-run establishments. Remember that this is a popular resort, though, and likely to be booked up during holiday periods, so make your arrangements well in advance.
A Tram Ride with a Difference
The longest tram line in the world runs for 42 miles along the Belgian coast, from De Panne to Knokke-Heist. There are 70 stops along the way, and the trams run every 15 minutes. You can buy a day-ticket at tram-stops and supermarkets, which means you can get on and off as often as you want; it’s a wonderful way to see the coast, and a real treat for tram enthusiasts. The tram line’s website (which is in Dutch, but translates) is at http://www.delijn.be/dekusttram/