hidden europe 13

Coastal pedalling: around the North Sea

by Nicky Gardner


The North Sea cycleway demands more than 5000 kilometres of pedal power - and few ferry hops too. It is a route that takes in eight countries and encircles the North Sea.

The town of De Panne on the Belgian coast has that sort of laid back appeal that is so much a feature of many minor North Sea resorts. Not a place for serious holidays, perhaps, but a nice spot for sand and frites, made all the better by an engaging amusement park for kids - the splendidly named Plopsaland. But De Panne is also the starting point for two of Europe's more intriguing journeys. The first, it must be admitted, is scarcely adventurous in character. Prosaic it may be, but the sixty-eight kilometre tram line from De Panne to Knokke just happens to be the longest tram route in the world. In a little over two hours, tram travellers with stamina can ride the entire length of Belgium's coastline. Seventy stations along the way, some with such engaging names as Casino, Manitoba and Preventorium. Even Plopsaland has its own station. And, apart from coastal concrete, some sea air and fabulous art nouveau architecture en route, most notably in the small coastal town of De Haan.

And what of that other journey on which the traveller might embark from De Panne? That, too, is in the record books as the world's longest international signed cycleway.

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