“Initially I was nervous about the idea because I didn’t want it to be seen as a backing of the linguistic divide,” says the author, who lived in a farmhouse outside of Aalst for 18 months. But the regions, she says, “have such a distinct character. And there is so much to do that I couldn’t pack it all into one book.”
Like so many before her, Thomson moved to Flanders after falling for a local. Although she’s been based elsewhere lately, she moving back permanently next month. Now a freelance travel writer, she also covers Tanzania and Sierre Leone in Africa.
Like all good travel guides, Flanders offers a rather extensive history of the region, which proves interesting even for those of us who live here and aren’t just passing through. In fact, I found much of the book serves that purpose, discovering new cafes and festivals I hadn’t yet heard of – including, for instance, the Butter and Cheese Festival in Diksmuide, where new Knights of the Butter are inducted and the winner of the blindfolded cheese-tasting contest can win his own weight in butter. “I don’t know what you would do with that much butter, but still, it’s quirky," says Thomson.
It’s the seemingly never-ending quirky factor that intrigues Thomson the most, and she relates it to the good-naturedness of the Flemish. “They are always up for telling you about their favourite museum or the greatest cafe. It’s hard to pinpoint the nature of the people, but there is a proudness about everything. In Britain, people tend to moan about everything, but not the Flemish. And you can’t help but get excited right along with them.”
So where should someone go who only has ONE day in Flanders? “Ghent,” she says, without hesitation. “It has all the waterways and none of the tourists.”
Den Babbelaer in Aalst (Klapstraat 3). “An old building, with lots of twists and turns and little, candlelit corners.”
Westvleteren 12. “I wasn’t a big beer fan before, but Flanders has converted me. I made the pilgramage to Westvleteren. After a couple of the 12s, I was in love. It’s just so smooth and rich, especially if you eat it with the cheese.”
Favourite place nobody’s ever
St Hermes Church and crypt in Ronse. “It dates from the 13th century, and there is a great tour guide there named Charles, and he explains all the rules and regulations people had to go through to get a place in the crypt.”
Bradt Guides is offering a 25% discount to readers of Flanders Today if you order the guide from their website, www.bradtguides.com. Enter the code FT25 when ordering. In addition, shipping is only £1 (about €1.26)