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Only seven kilometres from the French border, Kortrijk is a small Belgian town that’s big on beer culture. Nestled against the Lys River in the south west of Flanders, Kortrijk’s rich history belies a destination that is big on attractions for both lovers of history, food, and a malty beverage.
As you wander the cobblestone streets, a Flemish Kortrijker might hail you with “Godentag”. In medieval times, the godentag was actually a type of mace. Flemish folks would tell friend or foe by waiting for the reply from such a greeting. Speak with the wrong accent, you were probably from France, and might cop a “Godentag” to the face.
Nowadays Kortrijk enjoys a much more amicable relationship with its nearby neighbours. The largest town in southwest Flanders, it is part of the first “European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation”, along with the French towns of Lille and Tournai.
Of course, relationships between these bordering territories weren’t always so harmonious. After defeat at the hands of King Louis VIII and destruction of their town, the resourceful Kortrijkers speedily resettled. With the Count of Flanders held hostage, commoners all across the region rose up against French occupation.
This culminated in the Battle of the Golden Spurs. Held just outside Kortrijk, common folk armed with their trusty godentags slaughtered at least a thousand French noble cavalry. Though it was only the beginning of a war that would span centuries, proud Kortrijik now rightly bears the mantle of City of Golden Spurs, for the spurs that were taken from slain knights and hung about the city.
These days Kortrijk is a town enamoured with beer. The local session beer, the Bocker Pils, is one among hundreds produced in the many local breweries, which come in all shapes and sizes, from micro to artisanal and even pico breweries.
The brewer of Kortrijik’s local session ale, the Bocker brewery is located in nearby Bellegem, close to border. Originally named “Ghinste” after the family that owns and runs this brewery, the company rebranded in 1977, following the name change of its pilsner in 1938, and never looked back. The Omer Vander Ghinste Brewery is an impressive brewhouse with beers to suit just about anyone, including:
With over 120 years of craftsmanship, the Bocker Brewhouse should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Kortrijk.
Also located outside of Kortrijk proper, this is nonetheless one of the region’s most popular beer producers. The Duchesse de Bourgogne is Verhaeghe’s signature beer, a ruby red ale fermented for several months in oak casks to give woody, fruity notes. The other to try is the Echt Kriekenbier, also ruby red but with notes of sour cherry. Both pack high alcohol content but aren’t to be missed. Established in 1875, it’s one of the oldest breweries in the region.
A local Kortrijk microbrewery, Gaverhopke’s signature beer is the heady 12% ABV Leutigen. Sour, and with a thick, creamy head, it invokes the Westvleteren 12 prior to its change in recipe in the 1970s. Established in 1994, the brewery recently moved to the chateau Goed te Nieuwenhove where you’ll even find a bouncing castle and playground for the kids.
So small they’ve even had to coin a name for it, Alvinne picobrewery is an exciting local start up that’s already making waves around the nation and beyond. With a massive selection of small batch beers and an ever evolving menu of tastings, you’ll want to visit for both its attention to detail in reproducing classic European beers as well as experimentation with new flavours.
Kortrijk is like many European towns and cities, in that you’ll find plenty of well made local fare like frites and mussels, Clustered around the town hall - check out De Klokke if you can - but there are also a smattering of fast food and international cuisine restaurants.
Where Kortrijk really stands out though, is at the top end. Taking a ‘“food is art” approach, gastronomic delights abound, with a creative flair that will astound the food lover and fine diner. You’ll want to visit Table D’amis, one of the many fine dining restaurants in Kortrijk. Enjoy your meal with an ale or two and soak up the rich and diverse history of this medieval city.
During your stay in Kortrijk you might choose to take a break from tasting Belgium’s finest ales and explore the old city. From the town square (Grote Markt) you can see the early Renaissance late-gothic designed Kortrijk Townhall (Stadhuis) as well as the medieval Belfry (Belfort), which is actually the only surviving structure of the old Cloth hall (Lakenhalle).
Head north from the square a short distance and you’ll find St. Martin’s Collegiate Church. Originally built around 1300, it was mostly destroyed in a fire and reconstructed almost a century later in 1382. The 48 bell carillon is among the key features of this gothic church. Continue to wander, and you’ll discover more churches, chateaus and squares that are uniquely Flanders in appearance.
A visit to Kortrijk combines a love of history, food and beer in the idyllic setting of western Flanders. For seasoned travellers looking for somewhere that is vacation and business friendly but never overcrowded, Kortrijk could be your next destination.
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