Discover Belgium on this excursion-filled tour
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Visit Ypres and enjoy a tour of fabulous Bruges, with its perfectly preserved centre and myriad of attractive waterways making it a wonderful destination to explore. We will also discover some of the most significant battlefields fought upon during the Great War, as well as experiencing what life was really like in the trenches.
We meet at our dedicated departure office at St Pancras International then travel by Eurostar to Lille. Here we board a coach for the journey across the border into Belgium. A small and ancient kingdom, sandwiched between France, the Netherlands, Germany and the tiny landlocked duchy of Luxembourg, Belgium possesses a remarkable diversity of attractions for its size. The country's extensive and efficient rail network makes for easy and comfortable exploration by train. Arriving into charming Bruges, our base for the next four nights, we check in to the Hotel Aragon, followed by dinner together in a local restaurant.
With its history as a city dating back to 1128, Bruges has a long and fascinating heritage, becoming known internationally for trading wool, weaving and cloth. It was also something of a cultural centre, as William Caxton was in Bruges when he printed the very first book in English. In the 17th century the city's famous lace trade took off and by the late 1800s, Bruges was beginning to attract wealthy tourists from England and France.
Nowadays, storybook buildings and cobbled streets are an all-year-round draw, accompanied by its mastery of beer and penchant for sublime food. Beautiful Bruges has many reminders of its prosperous past, as much of its medieval architecture has been preserved, and we enjoy exploring these this morning on a guided walking tour. We discover more about its remarkable history and secret nooks and crannies which affords us the perfect way to get our bearings while we're in Bruges. We also visit an artisan chocolate-maker and see a demonstration of how one of the country's most famous exports is made. The rest of the day is free for you to explore at your own pace, perhaps take in the architecture and filming locations of the BBC series, the White Queen, on a gentle stroll. The city also has many museums and art galleries where you can admire work by Flemish painters. Also known as the 'Venice of the North', this is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a cruise along the city's sophisticated canal, giving you an unbeatable vantage point of the pretty bridges, which loop over the banks of the waterway throughout the city.
Our excursion today takes us by coach to Ypres, a town at the centre of intense fighting between the Germans and the Allied forces in World War I. There are numerous monuments in Ypres which record the tragic events of the Great War, including the Menin Gate. Although Ypres feels like an ancient city, its buildings are not original. Everything you can see has been painstakingly restored after the complete destruction caused by four years of warfare.
During the First Battle of Ypres (October- November 1914), the Kaiser ordered his troops to 'Take Ypres or die', and all but for a short period in October 1914, Ypres remained in allied hands, although at a cost. The brave civilians did not leave Ypres until the intense bombardments during the Second Battle of Ypres (April- May 1915).
During our visit we take in Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world. If, as the war poet Rupert Brooke wrote, "there's some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England" it must surely be the Tyne Cot Cemetery just outside the historic village of Passchendaele.
Begun in 1917, shortly after the 3rd Australian Division captured this strategicallyimportant area, a German defensive point on the Passchendaele-Broodseinde road, Tyne Cot is believed to take its name from a barn which stood beside a railway level crossing in the area and which reminded soldiers of the British Northumberland Fusiliers of a traditional Tyneside worker's cottage: a 'Tyne Cot' .
Today, Tyne Cot Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth war memorial and cemetery in the world and an unmissable destination for visitors on our First World War battlefield tours in Flanders, north-west Belgium. Here the site of the graves of 11,956 commonwealth servicemen who lost their lives in the Battle of Passchendaele, the sheer scale of this beautifully-maintained cemetery is overwhelming, and the poignancy of the experience of visiting Tyne Cot Cemetery is further emphasised by the fact that seventy percent of the soldiers commemorated here are unknown, their headstones marked simply "Known unto God".
Following this, we make our way to Hill 60, the site of some of the most intense fighting of WWI, as well as the well-preserved German Bayernwald trenches. This site may be of particular interest as Hitler was stationed here from 1914 to 1915 as a company runner. He was awarded the Iron Cross nearby while serving as a company runner. We then continue to central Ypres, to visit the poignant 'In Flanders Fields' Museum. In 2010 the museum underwent two years of dramatic refurbishment and now includes a brand new permanent exhibition telling the story of Belgium at war, the first months of the Allied mobilisation and the four years of trench warfare in the region. It also covers the end of the conflict and the permanent remembrance that lives on here. The detailed exhibition displaying artefacts from the period allows us to step back in time and better understand the lives of those changed irrecoverably by the Great War.
Our last stop of the day takes us to the Menin Gate to witness the evocative and moving Last Post Ceremony. This hauntingly familiar tune is played every day at 8pm as a moving tribute to the courage and self-sacrifice of those who fell in defence of their city. The routine of this event never changes, with visitors arriving from 7pm, the traffic being halted at 7.30 and at 7.55 the buglers arrive. Each volunteers their time and as a hush falls over the gathered crowds, they take up their positions in the centre of the Hall of Memory, facing the town to begin their mournful eulogy.
Today you are at leisure in the UNESCO listed city of Bruges. You could spend time shopping, perhaps picking up gifts for friends or family back home such as Bruges' famous lace or some delicious chocolates.
Perhaps rejoin the city's artistic and cultural trail by making a visit to any of the galleries or museums that you may not have seen on Day 2.
Alternatively relax in one of the city's many pavement cafés, enjoying the authentic tastes of some Belgian specialties. You may however prefer to venture further a field. If so, the alluring city of Ghent is just a short train ride away. The fourth largest city in Belgium, Ghent is home to quaint cobbled streets and winding canals and, considering the region's turbulent history, a surprising amount of Ghent's remarkable medieval architecture still survives today.
There are over 900 listed buildings which stand as a testament to the wealth the city managed to amass during the middleages and you can take in all this heritage as you wander along the picturesque canal-side, admiring the fabulous architecture, or enjoy a viewing of Hubert and Jan van Eyck's Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. Back in Bruges, tonight we enjoy our final, farewell dinner in a local restaurant.
Today we travel by coach to Lille for our return journey on the Eurostar to London St Pancras.
Please note that while every departure of this tour will feature the same excursions, the order may differ from that shown above.
Provisional departure and return times, where available, can be found together with our dates and prices by clicking on the 'Prices & Availability' button. We write to all booked customers approximately 10 weeks prior to the start of their tour to advise the exact departure and return time for their particular group.
An escorted experience and all travel arrangements
Comfortable accommodation in your destination
Delicious meals included
Exciting excursions and free time to explore
Enhancing your tour
Discover Belgium on this excursion-filled tour