Heading east along the coast from Ostend, the undoubted highlight is De Haan, the prettiest and the most appealing seaside resort of them all. Beyond lie kiss-me-quick Blankenberge and the heavily industrialized port of Zeebrugge, both of which are best avoided – as is sprawling Knokke-Heist, though you might be drawn here by one of its many festivals, most notably the Internationaal Cartoonfestival (wwww.cartoonfestival.be), which runs from the end of June to the middle of September.
Established at the end of the nineteenth century, DE HAAN was conceived as an exclusive seaside village in a rustic Gothic Revival style known as Style Normand. The building plots were irregularly dispersed between the tram station and the sea, with the whole caboodle set around a pattern of winding streets reminiscent of – and influenced by – contemporaneous English suburbs such as Liverpool’s Sefton Park. The only formality was provided by a central circus with a casino plonked in the middle, though this was demolished in 1929. Casino apart, De Haan has survived pretty much intact, a welcome relief from the surrounding high-rise development. Flanked by empty sand dunes, it’s become a popular family resort, with an excellent beach and pleasant seafront promenade.