What’s on: Summer horse racing in the Ostend sunshine

Summary

Ostend’s architecturally marvelous hippodrome hosts horse races for only two months a year, and the same goes for the fun (and sometimes creepy) Watou Art Festival

Oostende Koerse

The Wellington Hippodrome in Ostend is open to horse racing just nine days every year. On Mondays from 1 July, you can see either normal flat races or harness races.

There’s no betting; it’s more of a family-oriented day out, with a festive atmosphere and a “parade of stars” concert after the races are finished. Prices are democratic, though entry to the open-air Bagatelle summer bar, with dancing, drinks and nibbles, will cost you a bit extra. The hippodrome has an illustrious history. Leopold II had it built in 1883, and soon after followed the columned walkway known as the Royal Galleries. Constructed to keep Leopold and his family and guests out of the wind and rain on their way from the royal villa to the hippodrome, it’s still Ostend’s loveliest piece of architecture. Mondays 1 July to 26 August, Koningin Astridlaan 10, Ostend

Kunstfestival Watou


While it can be a chore to get people to make the journey to Watou, a district of Poperinge in West Flanders, for this annual art festival, those who do never regret it. A parcours leads visitors around the village, smack on the border with France, with each stop dotted with artistic installations. Some of these stops are idyllic – parks, farmsteads – while others are rather sinister – abandoned houses, old sheds. Artists use the spaces strategically for maximum effect. Sometimes this is delightful, such as last year’s pile of soft coloured balls stacked up to the ceiling of a warehouse (pictured). And sometimes this is horrifying, such as a small figure hanging from his neck from a neon sign in the back of an animal stall. Give yourself plenty of time to soak it all up. 29 June to 1 September, across Watou (Poperinge)

Tour de France: Grand Départ


Unless you live in a cave, you are aware that the Tour de France’s Grand Départ takes place in Brussels this year. It’s the first time since 1958 that the capital has hosted the first leg of the race. It was chosen for a reason: this year is the 50th anniversary of legendary Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx’s (pictured) first Tour victory (there would be four more). It’s also the 100th anniversary of the Yellow Jersey – which Merckx, incidentally, wore 111 times, still an all-time record. The Week of the Grand Départ includes a Fan Park at De Brouckère, the introduction of the teams in Grote Markt, the final of the (extraordinarily competitive) Eddy Merckx board game championships and the first two stages of the 106th edition of the world’s most famous cycle race. 4-7 July, across Brussels

Get tix now: Het Theaterfestival


While next month’s Gentse Feesten is the largest combined street theatre and music festival in the world, you’ll have to wait until September for Ghent’s most prestigious theatre festival. After 15 years alternating between Brussels and Antwerp, Het Theaterfestival is returning to the capital of East Flanders. The 15 Dutch-language productions were selected by theatre critics, all of them having premiered in Flanders or the Netherlands over the last 12 months. The mission: To bring the public’s attention to the productions that generated the most talk and all-around praise, whether through innovation or social and political impact. It’s a “best of” of the best kind, and tickets sell like hotcakes. 5-15 September, across Ghent

Photos: Grand Depart/©Eric Danhier, Theaterfestival/Don Caravaggio by Charli Chung & Frascati Producties/©Bas de Brouwer