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Cruising the Belgian Coast: The world’s longest tram route

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The Kusttram
The Kusttram

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries report from the coast of Belgium—

A surreal experience

Tucked away along the Belgian coast are some quite remarkable spots. And the tram route that every 20 minutes links communities along the coast is an essay in surrealism.

The tram binds René Magritte’s magnificent murals at the casino in Knokke (near the Dutch border at the northeast end of the tram route) to the gnomes who preside over affairs at Plopsaland at the southwest end of the route at De Panne (just a stone’s throw from the French border). In between those two end points there are giant bananas dangling from flagpoles, piers that lead nowhere, and sedate belle époque hotels that have had their sea views obliterated exactly midway along the route. It is a superb port community, and one that boasts one of the finest fish markets along the coast. The dunes may have been sacrificed to high-rise passions, but some perspectives are simply stunning. To walk from the terrace of the Thermae Palace Hotel at Oostende towards the port on a fine day is utterly memorable. There are graceful arcades, the inevitable statues of one or the other Leopold, and then the graceful curves of the casino. This is a town that once affected to be the Monte Carlo of the North. It is not for nothing that the square on the landward side of the casino is called Monacoplein.

And then there is De Haan, easily the most attractive of the communities along the tram route. Until the tram arrived in 1886, De Haan was a poor seaside village, populated by shrimp fishermen and families. It was just a scattered collection of huts, regarded with disfavor by folk in neighboring villages who judged De Haan to be the haunt of scoundrels and thieves. Within a few years of the arrival of the tram, De Haan developed into a select coastal resort—one that was later to number Albert Einstein among its visitors.

Coastal art

The Belgian coast has long been home to some of Europe’s most audacious artistic traditions. Surrealism was born here. And the coastal tram route features some striking modern art along the way. Expect anything from fake elephants to bronze nudes on the beaches. And yet amid the contemporary art by the sea, there are the reassuring routines of coastal life: “moules et frites,” the clanging bell of the soup man’s white van as he makes his morning deliveries to apartment blocks, the joggers with their dogs running along the promenade. Not to mention the tasty North Sea “bouillabaisse.”

A modest investment of €5 will give you the run of the coastal tram for an entire day, and the ticket is also valid on the bus routes that connect the tram stops with lovely Flanders villages inland. There is more than enough of interest to enjoy a longer stay exploring the coast. A three-day pass for tram and buses costs merely €10.

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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4 Responses to “Cruising the Belgian Coast: The world’s longest tram route”

Stephane says:

I have travelled along this road twice in my life, as i live in Knokke. But they forgot to mention just one thing in this article; that is the time it takes to travel from one point to the other. You will be gone for more than a few hours, which can be quite dramatic if you planned to do something else the same day. But if you just like to travel, I can recommend this ride, it will certainly give you some beautiful sights. Too bad it doesn’t pass the reserve ‘t Zwin in Knokke as this is one of the best scenaries of the Belgian Coast.

Thanks Stephane. The coastal tram takes just 2hrs 20mins from one end to the other, but, as we implied in our article, far better to buy a one-day pass and hop on and off at will along the route. We think the coastal tram is a wonderful piece of travel theatre, an essay in surrealism in its own right.

As you rightly say, Stephane, the tram does not serve the Zwin reserve in Knokke, but that is easily reached. It is just a five minute hop on the local bus from Knokke station that runs out through Het Zoute to Het Zwin. The one day bus pass for the tram can be used on that bus route too.

Mike Fielding says:

I have just visited the Belgian coast with my wife. We used the tram extensively, and found it to be the ideal way for seeing the whole coastline. We also thought that De Haan was the most attractve small town. We certainly did not appreciate the high rise apartment blocks in other towns such as Blankenburg. We got the impression thhat Belgium does not employ architects, or if the do so, they are lacking in talent.

On the Saturday, particularly in the afternoon, the 20 minute service was totally inadequate, and the trams were packed, in both directions. It may be that De Lign doeas not have sufficient vehicles to shorten this headway. If not, they need to purchase more as a matter of urgency.

The trams themselves are rather unattractive, as is the livery, but as a colleague said, ‘At least it is a tram, annd not a bus’. The five Euro day ticket is a bargain.

Mike Fielding.

Chandan Kumar says:

If you want to have a view of sea while being on tram – from ostende go toward de panne, after approx 15 minutes there is a stretch of few kilometers where you will have view of sea on your right. There, on your left, you will see some soldiers watching over the sea from a small hill.

if you are a regular traveller of delijn (anywhere in belgium) and have a yearly/monthly pass from them, you can use that to travel in this costal tram line.

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