The Season of Jazz is in Full Swing in Ghent
I recently blogged about jazz festivals taking place in Brussels and Copenhagen, well here’s another one about to start! Getting underway tomorrow (Friday, 10th July) and running through until Saturday, 18th July is Gent Jazz Festival, a nine-day festival of jazz in the delightful Flemish city of Ghent (Gent). This year’s line-up includes an impressive list of longstanding legends and up-and-coming stars in the making including Gary Clark Jr (16th July), Van Morrison (17th July), Neneh Cherry (18th July), Gregory Porter (18th July) and, fresh from Copenhagen, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga ((18th July).
Acts perform across two stages: the main stage and garden stage, situated on the Bijlokesite close to the city’s ring road. The outdoor programme of events is complemented further by events in the Gent Jazz Club as well as a series of jazz lunches at the Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof. Ticket prices vary according to the day you visit, with multiple day passes also available. For full details of this year’s event, visit the website here.
If you’re planning to be in Ghent over the period of the jazz festival, this attractive and vibrant city is a joy to explore, with the beautiful quayside buildings of the Graslei and Korenlei lining the waterways complemented beautifully by its excellent mix of bars, cafés, restaurants and shops. Think Bruges but bigger, less twee and much more buzzing. Easily accessible both as a day trip from Brussels and as a city break destination in its own right, Ghent is a mere 30 minute direct train journey from Brussels’ Midi Station so perfect for onward connections from the Eurostar.
Most visitors to Ghent begin in the historical (and mainly pedestrian) centre, where highlights include the famous Three Towers – the Gothic church of St Nicholas, the Belfry and, the star of the architectural show, St Bavo’s Cathedral. This splendid Flemish-style ecclesiastic building dates back to between the 12th and 16th centuries and houses fabulous works of art including one of van Eyck’s finest, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb which claims the dubious honour of being the most stolen artwork in the world and was the subject of the recent World War II film, The Monuments Men.
Other must-sees include St Michael’s Bridge, from which you’ll enjoy a fabulous cityscape at every angle, as well as the imposing 12th-century Castle of the Counts, which in its time has served as a castle, mint, law court, a prison and even a cotton mill. Be sure, too, to check out the Patershol quarter, the medieval heart of the city in which you’ll find a wealth of eateries lining the cobbled alleyways. And if time permits, visit the charming Beguinages, all UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the oldest dating back to the 13th century.
From an artistic perspective, the “dynamic and highly individual” Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art (SMAK) and its neighbour, the Museum of Fine Arts (Museum voor Schone Kunsten – MSK) are both well worth a visit, the latter dividing its rich collection between the early Flemish primitives, and the 19th and 20th centuries including works by prestigious names such as van Dyck, Rubens, Ensor and Magritte. And if you prefer your art outdoors, the ever-changing Graffiti Street (Werregarenstraat) is worth a little look.