A Day at De Haan- totally off the beaten track in Belgium!


Here comes a post about our lucky goof-up that led us to a place off the beaten track on our well-planned vacation. If you have read my blog about how we planned our first Europe trip, you would know that a day at De Haan was nowhere on our itinerary.

So, how did we end up at De Haan?


Did we miss the train or forget to book a hotel, or was our booking canceled? [Ah, girl's trying to build suspense now👧]
We decided that we will lay-over at Antwerp for one night and the next morning we will take off right after breakfast. The station was just 2.5 km away from our hostel and we had already booked out tickets on the previous day, so we were all set to reach a new city by mid-day. By this time I was already under the weather and had my first sleepless night due to an itchy throat. The weather forecast was not too encouraging either, but nothing could bring down my zeal to explore and make the most out of this trip. While we were enjoying the warmth inside the train we realized our mistake, a mistake that we did long back when we booked our hotel at IBIS, DeHaan. Turns out, DeHaan is a place over 20km away from Bruges, and the nearest train station is Oostende, two stations after Bruges!
Thanks to the Euro-rail WiFi we opened the site and booked an online ticket from Bruges to Oostende. The middle-class Indian in me was already sighing at the amount in Rupees we could have saved if we booked a direct ticket to Oostende itself. We were also contemplating how we would manage to see anything if we had to travel 40 km up and down between our hotel and our destination city. As the train arrived at Bruges, my heart did ache a little bit when I saw the IBIS budget hotel right there behind the station. I got the flashback of the conversation we had while booking hotels 5 months back.👇👇


Location of IBIS DeHaan
The story as I remember
Now the website shows the shortest distance of the hotel from Bruges City center, what it does not show is how to reach there. Without renting a car, which was never on our "budget" plan, the only way to reach this place from Bruges is this (follow the yellow lines on the map above):


Train to Oostend -->Tram to De Haan (frequency one in 45 minutes) --> Walk 1.5 km to hotel

As we reached Oostende we tried to appreciate the beautiful port but couldn't take many pictures there because we didn't know where to buy the tram tickets. The people here were not very conversant in English, so we struggled a bit but finally boarded the tram. Another mishap - this time, not our fault. The tram just skipped our stop because there was no one waiting at the station!😮 Till this time we were all upbeat like - "Wow European punctuality, European discipline, what public transport, how organized, Europe’s so Awesome"- but now in our mind, things changed to: "these things don't even happen in Calcutta, WTH"! Anyway, the polite Indian tourists that we are, we quietly got down at the next station, crossed the road, waited for another tram (which luckily came in five minutes), paid the extra 6 euros and reached our destination.

Welcome to De Haan

De Haan was love at first sight from the moment we disembarked the bus and assured by GoogleMaps that we are near our hotel. De Haan is a coastal municipality in the Flanders region of Belgium. Words cannot do justice to the beauty of this quaint little countryside, tucked far away from the city - a place where time stands still and a blissful solitude prevail. The tram line cuts across the place such that on one side lies the Dune Woodland and on the other side lies the North Sea of the Atlantic ocean. On our way to the hotel as we were dragging our trolley bags on the picture-perfect road we met a middle-aged Dutch-Belgian couple who greeted us and asked us where we are headed to. I love meeting and speaking to people during our travels, but my introvert nature pulls me back from being the first to strike up a conversation with a stranger. It’s amazing how so much can come up in the first two minutes of meeting a stranger- in those couple of minutes or a little more, we came to know that the man was from the Netherlands but have been living in Belgium for long, that he and his wife have been to Mumbai in India, and they came to know about our Europe itinerary! We parted with the hope to meet again as they wished us a phenomenal Euro-trip.
Note: All pictures here are clicked by me on phone or my rookie photographer husband on his DSLR camera. The photo right here is just a random shot on my moto turbo phone.
DeHaan, Belgium
The first look of De Haan as we walked towards our hotel

The IBIS De Haan hotel
I have reviewed and rated the hotel 4.5/5 in my previous blog “On our Europe trip”. The hotel looked like a resort - with a swimming pool (was not opened then), a garden, an additional pool-side dining arrangement, and large rooms. The location is less than 1km from the beach which lies on the opposite side of the tram station. Adjacent to the hotel is the Dune Woodland of De Haan which we will talk about soon. Unlike the weather forecast for Bruges,  it was a perfectly sunny but windy day here at De Haan. As usual, the receptionist was polite and welcoming, but unusually surprised at how we came without a car :D
It was nearly 3pm by the time we freshened up and had lunch at the hotel when we decided to explore De Haan on foot.
IBIS DeHaan, Belgium
In the beautiful premises of IBIS De Haan

Back to the Tram Station

The tram station is at the center of your De Haan tourist map. I later found that it is listed among the top places of interest at De Haan on wiki-voyage, so that confirms I am not the only one who found it fascinating. On one side of the station, there is a flight of steps upwards leading to the beach. This is also an amazing photo-point which gives you a great panoramic view of the city. We didn’t know this place had a name, let alone the fact that we were standing on the second highest dune of Belgium until I checked the wiki. It's called Spioenkop ( in case you go there and want to search for it on Maps) and is 31 meters above sea level. To go to the beach, you need to ascend the steps to Spioenkop and then descend on the other side.
Spioenkof, the second highest dune of Belgium, at DeHaan
Panoramic view from Spioenkof

The De Haan Beach

This beach was nothing like what we had seen before. There was only one family apart from us and in about 2km radius and we could see some tourist activity far away. As I said it was sunny and windy, and at the beach, the wind completely overpowered the sun. I realized that getting into those slippers and pajamas that I was dying to wear at the beach, was not such a great idea after all. Unlike the Mediterranean Sea, which is as calm as a lake, the North Sea has got the waves and the roar. If you have read my account of Bekal beach in Kerala, you may know of my affinity for this kind of sea. Here are some pictures we took there which does capture the unique serenity of the beach but not the feeling. Speaking of photos let’s head to what I consider a photographer’s paradise, our next stop of the day.
DeHaan Beach, North Sea, Belgium
The beach of De Haan

DeHaan Beach, North Sea, Belgium
The Dunes and the sea


The Dune woodland of De Haan

The dune woodland of De Haan is a large natural park covering 152 hectares of coastal nature- with 7 miles of walking track, separate biking and horse-riding tracks as well, this place is a nature lover's abode. It’s surprising how little is available on the internet about this hidden gem, which makes it all the more important for me to write more about it. The land had three sub-areas - Vlissegem, Klemkerke a Wenduine which are partly covered with forests of pinewood and open spaces of bare sand, moss dune and dune grassland. In the transition to the closed forest, a typical dune thicket has developed mainly with Sea Buckthorn- a special kind of berry plant found in Northern Europe. (Source- an information board at the woodland). This is where you can spend some time bird-watching - nightingales, turtle doves and Cetti’s warbler (tiny moss-colored birds that bear an uncanny resemblance to the endangered Indian sparrow) can be spotted with some luck and patience. The forest management is geared towards developing a structurally rich forest with a large part of the former plantation of conifers and non-regional species being gradually converted to deciduous forests with open spaces while dying trees and dead wood become breeding ground for woodpeckers, bats, and mushrooms. Take a look at the pictures at this peaceful nature reserve.
Dune woodland of DeHaan
Random clicks @Dune woodland of De Haan

Dune woodland of DeHaan
Light-rich forest of Coniferous trees

Dune woodland of DeHaan
Saw a lot of birds but didn't want to use flash to click them

Dune woodland of DeHaan
See that happy toddler over there? It's a great place to introduce  kids to hiking

Dune woodland of DeHaan
Isn't it dreamy?


Exploring the neighborhood

Our De Haan experience was one of true exploration - just walking around and discovering a place we knew nothing about. After a fulfilling walk in the woodland, we stepped into the neighborhood and everything looked like they were waiting to be clicked. I cannot provide much information here because I have none- there was what seemed like a factory, some bungalows and large stretches of grassland and farmland lined with windmills. I can go on describing how I felt, but I’d rather let the video speak for me.



So that was our trip to De Haan - a relaxed country-side experience in the midst of a packed Euro-trip schedule. We did not find any foreign tourist there - the families residing at the hotel were mostly from Belgium and its neighborhood who came there for a weekend getaway. This is slightly surprising given the fact that it is so close to the famous Belgian city Bruges. Maybe the striking lack of tourist crowd is not so bad after all, it is why the place remains so serene.
DeHaan, Belgium
Was stunned by the beautiful architecture of houses in the quaint neighborhood
Here are a few more places of interest I found on the limited resources available on the internet, that we did not see. All these can easily be covered in half a day by renting a bike or taking a tram to the next stop.

- Villa Savoyarde, Shakespearean 5 - where Einstein stayed for several years during the Nazi atrocity in Germany, before he moved to the US. It is not open for the public to enter as people live there
- Hubertmolen, Park Leopold II - a wooden mill built in 1880 by a famous miller family of the Belgian coast
- De Grote Schamel Weecke - a historic farm
- Town Hall of De Haan

Once done with all that take a train to the Belgian capital and get back to your backpacking schedule. Read Saniya's guide for the itinerary of Brussels. Also, check out my one-day walking tour of Antwerp. Did you like our off-beat travel story? Do you have any such funny travel story that you want to share? Share your thoughts in comments or mail us at backpacknxplore@gmail.com. We will be glad to read and reply. 
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Comments

  1. The beach and the woodland areas look beautiful! I would love to visit here one day, thankyou for sharing!

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  2. waow it's so epic. an escape point from city ha? I will keep in mind when I visit Belgium again. Thanks for sharing

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  3. Thank you for sharing! I would love to visit Belgium again soon!:)

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  4. Glad that you love De Haan. The path looks so relaxing and it is lovely to walk just admire the place, looks quiet too. Hopefully to visit Belgium soon.

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  5. Love it when simple mix ups end up making the trip even better than was originally planned! De Haan seems like a very pretty and historical place to visit! I hadn't heard of it before but would definitely love to check it out the next time I'm in Belgium!

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  6. It looks exactly like the place where you can relax for a day, take it slow, enjoy some walks and some time with you family. Thanks for sharing! :)

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  7. If only all mistakes were that pretty! It seems you have discovered an amazing place Sinjana! I can picture myself taking long walks on that beautiful beach. Thank you so much for sharing. We are definitely adding De Haan to our bucket list.

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  8. I have visited Belgium several times in my life and I have never heard of De Hann before bumping into your informative post. I will never stop learning and this is the most beautiful thing!

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  9. We would never have thought that Belgium had such a lovely beach! Thanks for pointing that out to us

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  10. Lovely pics and beautiful scenery, esp the beach and dunes! This is the way to make the best of a goof up!

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  11. I love it when travel plans go wrong but the wrong turns out to be so right! I haven’t heard of De Hann but it looks like a lovely place and it’s lovely to get off the tourist trail.

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  12. De Haan looks amazing! Thanks for this guide to such a lovely place. The Dune woodland area looks especially awesome.

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  13. I'm sure Belgium is now in my travel bucket. I would love to visit this place.

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  14. Villa Savoyarde, what an interesting story! Thanks for sharing :-)

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  15. I see De Haan turned out to be a little adventure for you! It looks like a very nice town indeed, very tranquil and peaceful

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  16. ah you've gotta love a good accomodation "mishap"! i had a similar experience in Switzerland but it always works out for the best. great post thanks for sharing!

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  17. The countryside and the beach here looks great - a very different option to consider for when we next visit Belgium. I hadn't even heard of De Haan. It sounds like a very tranquil place to explore nature.

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  18. I have traveled to Belgium but not been to De Haan. While gazing at your pics I can imaging this is a fabulous destination to visit.

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  19. I would love to see all these attractions in this amazing country. I've lived in Belgium but I've never been here. Beautiful spots

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  20. Every new hidden gem I discover on the internet is welcome! Thanks for sharing this one with us. De Haan looks amazing!

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  21. I visited Belgium a few years ago, but I would love to go back and explore De Haan. It looks so beautiful, loved your photos. Thanks so much for sharing this fantastic place.

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  22. Looks pretty of beaten. At least for me, I have friends in Belgium, and they never mentioned it. We only went to the places in Brussels and around.

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  23. This all looks absolutely wonderful. Your post makes me feel like I’m there!

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  24. Belgium is a beautiful country but you have explored some offbeat paths there which is again more beautiful thing to do. I love offbeat paths and therefore Dehaan interests me a lot. I loved that dunes and sea photo, what a contrast of nature with different shades of brown and blue.

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  25. I've never heard of De Haan but I'm intrigued, it sounds fantastic. Looks like it was a very worthy mistake.

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  26. I had not heard about De Haan but looking at your pictures it does look like an amazing place to visit.

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  27. Sometimes the unexpected turns out to be the best when traveling. Unplanned can be so much more fun!

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  28. Unplanned trips are always fun and exciting especially if you are way off the tourist tracks. Love the quaint little village and the coast.

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  29. Yes, this is definitely off the beaten tracks! Being based in Northern Germany, this all looks so familiar to me ;-)

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  30. Sometimes when plans go wrong they actually go right. There are no expectations and you find yourself having a sweet surprise. De Haan sounds like one of those experiences for you. Great times.

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  31. I love it when life takes you by surprise and make you discover places that weren't even on your list! DeHaan beach and woodland look lovely!

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  32. This is a very detailed post with so many things to do even for budget travelers. Visiting the dune woodland national park seems like an incredible ways to enjoy the wildlife in De Haan and then later hit the beach of De Haan to relax and enjoy the cool breeze.

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  33. I love your writing style. Haven’t visited De-Haan yet but from what you’ve written so far, sounds a lot of fun!

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  34. I have friends, and relatives leaving in Belgium. I have never heard of Dehaan with their stories. I might be sharing this article to them, i'm sure they are familiar about this.

    Great post by the way!

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  35. Never heard of De Haan and I'm from the Netherlands! Love hiddem gems like this and definitely want to explore more of Belgium

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  36. I have never been here bit it looks like a great place to visit, i love the way you write its very detailed post! and very nice pictures by the way! hope i can visit this place one day!
    Daniela
    Travelsurlaroute.com

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