To the west of the casino lies Ostend’s main attraction, its sandy beach, which extends as far as the eye can see. On summer days, thousands drive into town to soak up the sun, swim and amble along the seafront promenade, which runs along the top of the sea wall. Part sea defence and part royal ostentation, the promenade was built to link the town centre with the Wellington racecourse, 2km to the west. It was – and remains – an intentionally grand walkway that pandered to the grandiose tastes of King Léopold II. To hammer home the royal point, the king’s statue, with fawning Belgians and Congolese at its base, still stands in the middle of a long line of columns towards the promenade’s west end. These columns now abut the Thermae Palace Hotel, which was the epitome of luxury when it was added in the 1930s.
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