Over the past 3 years, I have been fortunate enough to accompany 10 groups on their Concert Tour to Belgium as their Rayburn Tours Courier. The groups have ranged from a Welsh Male Voice Choir to a large Scout and Guide Marching Band. Each group travelled to Belgium to explore this amazing country whilst performing in some of Europe’s most fascinating venues. Over the many tours, I have often been asked ‘what is there to do in Belgium apart from eat chocolate and drink beer?’. My answer – more than you can imagine!
Belgium is famed for its beautiful chocolates and ‘refreshing’ beer, but its beautiful architecture, delicious local cuisine and historic sights are often overlooked. There are so many ‘hidden gems’ concealed down the cobbled streets that every time I go back I feel like I discover a new side of this amazing country.
Ghent is well known for its impressive castle and for the scenic canal cruises. Gravensteen Castle was built in 1180 and it is home to very informative and educational exhibitions. One little known fact is (provided you aren’t scared of heights!) if you go up to the top of the Castle, you can get panoramic views of the city (a perfect photo opportunity!). A canal cruise is a must whilst in Ghent, but another little known fact is that under the St Michaels Bridge the acoustics are sublime! Whilst on their canal cruise in May 2014, Amici Singers paused under the St Michaels Bridge and performed a beautiful setting of ‘It’s Very Clear’. I was blown away with how the acoustics complimented the choirs beautiful performance. It really does go to show – some of the best memories come from the most unexpected places!
I have spent a lot of time in Brugge (most of the groups I have accompanied have stayed in Brugge). During this time I have discovered some of the brilliant alternative excursions! As in most Belgium cities, there are numerous canal cruises you can go on. I have found that one of the nicest ways to see Brugge is by a horse drawn carriage tour. You can start your tour either in the Grote Markt or on Wijngaardstraat. You can then sit back and relax whilst you are taken to see the cities highlights. If you are on a day trip to Brugge from your base in another city, you will need to walk through a park to get into the centre of Brugge. This park is called Minnewater Park and is one of the most beautiful parks I have ever seen in Belgium. Before you get back on your coach, take a few minutes to stroll through it and you will see the 14th Century Powder Tower and Lock gate, along with the Brugge Nunnery and their famous swans.
Ypres is world famous for its connections to the WW1 and for its daily Last Post Ceremony which is held under the Menin Gate. If you have time during your trip to Ypres, I would highly recommend that you take time to do the Menin Gate walk. On the left hand side of the gate (if you are facing the town) there is a ramp up to the top of the gate. There is beautiful park there and there is a 1km walk along the city walls to the Ramparts cemetery. It is a very peaceful way to reflect on your day, whilst enjoying the carefully tended to gardens. One of the slightly overlooked historic sights of Ypres is the St Georges Memorial Church. This church is located just off the Grote Markt and is well worth a visit. The walls are covered in plaques and memorials from English Schools and colleges remembering their fallen friends and colleagues. We have recently had quite a few concerts held in this church and the feedback has been brilliant (from both the audience and choir members).
As you will see, there is so much to do in the small yet fascinating country – I can’t wait until my 11th trip! If you would like to have a chat about the possibility of touring to Belgium with your group – give me a call on 01332 347828!