A photographic guide to Belgium’s biggest traditional boat festival, one of the largest maritme festivals in the North Sea.
I’ve always had quite a fondness for working ports and harbours, and how the concrete quays and non-descript marinas are transformed for a few days every year when the port hosts a maritime festival, lifeboat gala day, or traditional boat show.
Railings are decked with bunting; boats cram into the harbour, showing their dressed overall flags; stalls demonstrating traditional maritime crafts, or hawking food and drink line the quaysides; and from somewhere, shanty singers assemble. The air is filled with the scent of Stockholm tar and smoked seafood, and the sound of fiddles and accordions.
Every May, the Belgian coastal resort and port of Ostend celebrates the maritime heritage of the North Sea, hosting traditional and classic sailing vessels from around Europe at the Oostende Voor Anker maritime festival (Ostend at Anchor in English).
The small seaside city of Ostend (Oostende in Flemish) was once notable as the summer residence of Leopold II, King of the Belgians, and held on to the epithet ‘La Reine des Plages (The Queen of the Coast)’ as the glamour started to fade away. Though this part of the coast of the West Flanders region of Belgium has always been popular with European families for bucket and spade-type seaside camping holidays, the city itself was reduced to not much more than a portal, one end of a ferry link between the British Isles and continental Europe, passed through on the way elsewhere. When that link was lost, Ostend had to find a new purpose.
And it did. Ambitious urban regeneration projects in the early 2000s have given the city a modern and stylish outlook, celebrating the art and design heritage of Ostend and making the most of the Belle Époque architecture, while championing the quirky surrealism we expect of Belgium.
So to help you uncover the charms of the Queen of the Coast, this is my vagabond guide to spending a weekend in Ostend.
Spring has been a transitional time for me over the past few years. My seasonal ranger contract on the Isle of Wight ends, as the overwintering birds I work on start their migration journey to the high Arctic, and I find something new to keep me occupied through the following months.