THE INSIDERS YPRES, BELGIUM
GO: Ypres, in Flanders Fields, was an important strategic landmark for the Allied forces to hold in World War I, and it came under significant fire, with five major battles taking place in and around the medieval town. Not a single building was left unmarked but the entire town, including the Great Cloth Hall and St Martin’s Cathedral, has since been restored. A memorable time to visit, of course, is Armistice Day on November 11; visitflanders.com/en.
EXPLORE: With moats, stone walls and towers, the fortifications of Ypres are the best preserved in Belgium, with a history that dates back more than 1000 years. The Ramparts Route is a leisurely 2.6km walk that provides information panels along the way on the history of the precinct. Reminders of World War I are never far away, with the route including one of the world’s most beautiful military cemeteries and several concrete machine-gun bunkers used to defend the town in 1918.
LEARN: Located in Ypres’s famous Cloth Hall, the In Flanders Fields Museum reveals personal stories that bring to life the realities of the conflict, providing an excellent prelude to a tour of the battlegrounds; inflandersfields.be/en.
REFLECT: The Menin Gate displays the names of 54,000 commonwealth soldiers, including more than 6000 Australians, missing in action. At 8pm daily, the Last Post is sounded, creating a poignant experience. Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth military burial ground in the world, is also a must to visit.
EAT: There are many great Flemish dishes, including mussels, stews, vol-au-vents, Belgian endives, pastries and desserts, plus hundreds of varieties of local beers. A number of excellent restaurants serving local fare are located on Ypres’s Grote Markt (main square); I recommend In ’t Klein Stadhuis, in a heritage-listed building next to the town hall; inhetkleinstadhuis.be/en.
STAY: Main Street Hotel is a quirky boutique property that provides outstanding service and facilities. Located in the heart of town, it offers six individually themed guest rooms, some featuring a private terrace and with enticing names such as Wild, Glory, Pottery and Experiment; mainstreet-hotel.be.