Head to one of Europe’s first car-free cities and take a gentle bike ride in one of the continent’s most beautiful cities
When Ghent’s city centre was declared car-free in 1997, there were more than a few grumbles. But 16 years on, the city’s become a cycling mecca, and there is little to complain about.
Although I’m not a cycling enthusiast, Ghent appeals as a laid-back, culture-packed city that’s easy to reach by Eurostar. When I arrive, though, I can’t move for bikes!
Whether you’re a commuter, OAP, or humble tourist, two wheels are the best way to get around town.
Keen to live like a local, I head for bike hire shop Max Mobiel, which sits between the towering Belfry of Ghent and Saint Nicholas’s Church.
Bike hire is really cheap: a half-day rental costs just 7 Euros. However, you can also bring your own bike on the Eurostar from 15 Euros each way.
Pedalling at a gentle pace, I weave in and out of the central streets, passing local ‘Ganda’ hams which hang like a modern art installation from hooks in the Great Butcher’s Hall, on my way to the imposing Castle of Counts.
As I ride along the canals, I make a beeline for the marvellously graffiti-filled Tweebruggen Street and head into Ghent’s Old Quarter. From there, I take in some more culture by cycling to St. Peter’s Abbey and its pretty gardens.
Back in the centre of town, I head for Graslei and Korenlei - two streets divided by a canal, where friends meet and socialise.
Despite a few wobbles about getting my front wheel stuck in a tram line - the trick is to cross them horizontally, apparently - I find cycling in Ghent a breeze. The fact there are few hills is helpful, but the ease of my journey is mainly down to the friendly, respectful attitude towards cyclists.
Before I return to the train station, I enjoy a plate of waffles at cafe Max, then visit the lanterns on Sint-Veerleplein. Built as an art instillation, the candles are said to flicker whenever a baby is born in Ghent. Unfortunately I witness no flickers, but I still raise a toast to my first - albeit accidental - cycling holiday.
:: Eurostar (08432 186 186/eurostar.com) offers a weekend package to Ghent from £234 for two people travelling in standard class with one night’s accommodation at the NH Belfort. For more information about Ghent, visit www.visitflanders.com