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The peaceful fields of Flanders

Brandhoek cemteryOver recent months, I’ve become somewhat interested in tracing my family tree through local and national records - and a number of addictive websites.

Having discovered that I have (at least) two family members who died in the trenches in the First World War, I’ve decided to take a short break next month to visit the cemeteries where they are buried in Belgium, which are conveniently located just across the French border from a couple of our country auberges.

My mother’s uncle and great-uncle both died in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 within a month of each other and are buried about three miles apart between Ypres and the small town of Poperinge - one in Brandhoek No 3 Cemetery (above) and the other at Canada Farm Cemetery.

I’ve never been to this area before but I’m sure it’s going to be a fascinating trip. One of my colleagues, who has been on a number of occasions, has told me not to miss the Last Post ceremony, which has been held at 8.00pm at the Menim Gate in Ypres every evening since the end of the Great War, apart from the years of German occupation during the Second World War. There are many museums and reconstructed trench sites to visit, as well as the cemeteries, plus the beaches of Dunkirk, where my grandfather was one of the many who was evacuated in June 1940.

Interior, Le BuffetI’m not sure where to stay yet, but I’ve got my eye on Le Buffet, a friendly little auberge in the small town of Isbergues, just 40 miles from Calais - where, I’ve been assured, we’ll receive the warmest of welcomes from enthusiastic hosts, Christine and Thierry Wident. Le Buffet was originally the station canteen, hence its name, and is now elegantly furnished (right) and recognised with a Michelin 'bib gourmand' (an award used to denote exceptional cuisine at reasonable prices). With dinner included on both nights, I’m already looking forward to some fine dining.

As we’re driving there, it’ll make the perfect base from which to explore the Ypres region, as well as being near enough to reach the coast for a gentle stroll along the cliffs at Cap Blanc Nez, or the sandy beaches at Wissant, from where we may be lucky enough to see the white cliffs of Dover.

Exterior, Le BuffetThe great advantage of staying at Le Buffet is that we won’t have to go far to visit all the places we want to see, meaning we don’t have to rush - we can take our time and be back at this tranquil auberge with plenty of time to relax in the spacious gardens (left) before dinner.

The other option is to take a city break and stay at one of our hotels in either Lille or Bruges. The four-star Grand Hotel Bellevue in Lille will undoubtedly offer us a touch of luxury; while the choice of hotels in Bruges - albeit slightly further away - will give us the opportunity to explore this fine city, renowned for its canals, medieval buildings and beer.

Either way, I’m looking forward to learning more about what that generation of my family went through, as well as this being the perfect opportunity to recharge the batteries with a few leisurely days away. After all, it’s a long time ‘til summer…

Map of Isbergues

Posted: 15/02/2011 09:00:38 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: Belgium, France, gastronomy, heritage


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