It is now less than a year until the beginning of the centenary of the Great War. Throughout Belgium, and in particularly, in Flanders Fields, the Westhoek region of Flanders, between August 1914 and November 1918, the peaceful landscape of homes and fields was transformed into a battlefield panorama
The war devastated entire cities, towns and villages, and destroyed them beyond recognition. And a million soldiers, men from right around the globe, were wounded, missing or killed, whilst thousands of citizens were made homeless and left as refugees.The surviving landscape tells the story of the war. Over the past 90 or so years, it has drawn thousands of visitors, and as we approach the centenary of this period that has shaped the world we live in today, we know this number will swell dramatically. From people paying tributes to family members killed in war, to school children learning about the dire consequences of conflict, there are many reasons why people of all ages and backgrounds come to visit. In recognition of this, considerable investment has been made into the visitor experience.
Many of the math visitor sites have undergone major renovation. In Ypres, the In Flanders Fields Museum, housed in the magnificent Cloth Hall (itself, rebuilt after the end of the First World War) reopened in July of last year with an expansion of 50% and utilisation of state-of-theart technology, including the presentation of personal stories to visitors, based upon data they’ve entered into a micro-chip embedded in a bracelet This July saw the opening of new sections of the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke, with a new building dedicated to the Battle of Passechdaele and an expanded reconstruction of German and Allied trenches. These are just a couple of highlights – I could also mention a new visitor cemetery next to the Military Cemetery at Lijssenthoek , the restoration of the gardens at Talbot House, the famous soldiers’ club in Poperinge or the renovated Yser Tower Museum in Diksmuide. And there’s work still being undertaken, including the development of a brand new visitor centre next to the Ganzenpoot lock complex in Nieuwpoort, expected to open in October next year. There’s also been significant investment made into the accessibility of the product – not just the visitor sites and museums, but into restaurants, accommodation public toilets…all the parts of a visitor’s experience. Visit Flandershas put together a comprehensive guide, providing detailed information to the Flanders Fieldsregion for visitors with disabilities. This commitment to tourism for all’ was recognised recently at World Travel Market London, where Visit Flanders picked up the ‘accessible tourism award’ at the Amadeus / World Travel Market Awards.
In addition to the major sites within the Flanders Fields region, there’s a huge programme of special events taking place right across Flanders. There are far toomany to mention all of them – butthese include ‘The Light Front’ – a human chain of fire along the valley of the Lys River, to the construction of a pontoon bridge across the River Scheldt in Antwerp, which will be the platform for an event packed with music and dance performances, and visitors will have a once-in-alifetime opportunity to cross this unique bridge.Of course, one of Flanders’ greatest assets is its warmth of welcome, and this is embedded firmly within tourism assets. Whether its hotels that know about those little things that can really make a stay for British visitors, to restaurants that not only welcome groups with open arms, but serve them truly magnificent food and drink, the people of Flanders work hard to deliver world-class hospitality.There’s much more information about the commemoration of the Great War Centenary at www. flandersfields1418.com, or contact our Trade department in London. We’re looking forward to strengthening our work with the groups market and facing the busy years ahead together.
Other news from Flanders…
Flanders Memorial Garden at Wellington Barracks
As a gesture of gratitude to the British people for their support during WW1, the Government of Flanders is co-funding a special Remembrance Garden at Wellington Barracks, home to the Grenadier Guards in London, to be opened in November 2014. http://wwwmemoria12014.com/en/
Visit Flanders New Accessible Tourism Brochure is launched
Look out for the new Accessible for All Flanders Field Brochure which has just been launched. The new guide highlights the new range of accessibility in the region and in particular, around sites concerning The Great War Centenary. The brochure highlights cemeteries, monuments and various sites that have made special provision of accessibility in mind. Visitors can view different levels of accessibility in the area ranging from restaurants to public facilities to tourist offices and transport options. With large numbers of visitors expected in Flanders for the Centenary of the Great War, a significant investment in providing accessible tourism facilities for all, is clearly visible in the In Flanders Fields region now
Factorij 10 B&B in Peer Located in the village of Peer is a new B&B with ten rooms. Housed in an old tobacco factory dating back to 1832, the new B&B offers a variety of rooms, some with a terrace. The property’s wellness area includes a sauna, an infra-red sauna, and an outdoor terrace with a jacuzzi Peer is conveniently located just 4km from the Pieter Bruegel Museum, 9km from the Ter Dolen Brewery and Peer’s Indoor Ski Area within a 10 minute drive away. Rates start at 110€ per room per night www.factoriilO.be
Flanders is gearing up for the busy Christmas season and there are plenty of festivities taking place all over the region. As well as some delicious beer on offer, there’ll be generous offerings of jenever and gluwein close by! Brussels has one of the largest Christmas markets and as well as a Son and Lumiere show. Over 240 stalls selling handicrafts, speciality foods and gift stalls are just some of the things to look for. An impressive 1000 square metre ice rink takes pride of place in the city’s Vismarkt together with beautiful ferns wheel for amazing views of the city. Festivities start on 29 November and go well into the New Year until5 Jan 2014. www.wthterwonders.be
The city of Bruges starts their Christmas festivities from 22 November 2013 to 2 January 2014 with markets taking place in two locations, the Markt square as well as Simon Stevinplein. Market stalls, an ice rink and the annual Ice Sculpture festival.