Visiting the shoreline of Knokke-Heist, Belgium: a pre-World War One modernity, possessed of a sun and wind combination

Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Beach at Knokke, 1908, by Theodore von Brockhusen (1882-1919)
Beach at Knokke, 1908, by Theodore von Brockhusen (1882-1919) | Source
Knokke beach seen in winter
Knokke beach seen in winter | Source
Map location of Knokke-Heist, West Flanders
Map location of Knokke-Heist, West Flanders | Source

Where the sand blows

Yes, many Belgians are well-tanned, not only from Mediterranean vacations but from a resource nearer home: the Belgian coast. The entirety of the Belgian shorline is contained in the province of West Flanders (Dutch: West-Vlaanderen), in the Flemish region (Dutch: Vlaams gewest). Warnings of dangers from skin cancers aside, it is an undoubted fact that the combination of sun and wind which the expansive, North Sea (Dutch: Noordzee) shoreline provides causes many a visitor's skin to bronze rapidly, whether by accident or design.

The most up market and sought after resort in Belgium is reckoned to be Knokke-Heist, on the northern part of the Belgian coastline, near the Dutch border.

The up to date-looking buildings facing the sea, close to the boardwalk, and its reputation as a destination for sun- and wind-seekers give Knokke-Heist a superficial aura of modernity.

In actual fact, even before World War One, Knokke-Heist was already a popular resort. Indeed, by 1914 its population had doubled since 1873 to 3326. I have included, above, a public domain view of a painting by Theodore von Brockhusen, dating from 1908, which depicts Knokke, though smaller than today, essentially as a resort, with vacationers' accommodation overlooking the sandy, North Sea beach (1). The town suffered extensive war damage, especially in World War Two, but its long term status as a resort was unchanged. In 2011, the town (which combines the former municipalities of Knokke and Heist) had a population of 33987, compared with approximately 14000 in 1965 (2).

Stated somewhat discreetly, North American visitors need to be aware also that in Europe, and on a sandy shoreline such as here, official views of what constitutes acceptable swimwear would probably be interpreted more minimally than according to notions to which some North Americans may be accustomed (so don't be surprised).

But avant-garde swimwear and modern-looking buildings along the Knokke-Heist shoreline are a somewhat superficial mask to the fact that, really, this resort is rather a traditional sort of place, with its essential nature as a sought after resort unchanged for more than a century.

May 14, 2013

Notes

(1) In the late 19th century, Heist was the subject of work by the pointilliste artist Georges Lemmen; indeed, the town has long attracted many artists.

(2) Statistic sources: English wikipedia: 'Knokke-Heist'.

Also worth seeing

In Knokke-Heist, vistor attractions include the Sincfala museum, various art galleries and the Scharpoort concert hall; there is also some old church architecture. Close to Knokke-Heist is Het Zwin Nature Reserve, at the mouth of the Zwin river.

Bruges (Dutch: Brugge; distance: 18 kilometres) is a hugely historic and photogenic city of Medieval churches, civic buildings and canals.

Sint-Anna-ter-Muiden, The Netherlands (distance: 7.8 kilometres), this picturesque village with a Medieval church tower, situated near the canal town of Sluis, is the Continental Netherlands' westernmost locality.

...

How to get there: Brussels National Airport (Brussel-Nationaal-Luchthaven), Belgium, where car hire is available, is the nearest large international airport to Knokke-Heist (distance: 131 kilometres).Brussels Airlines flies from New York (JFK) to Brussels National. The Belgian NMBS / SNCB railroad company maintains services between Brussels and Knokke. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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