Ypres, Belgium

Photo: Paul Arps via flickr

It’s been an emotional day. You started at the In Flanders Fields Museum, which guides visitors through Belgium’s involvement—from the initial invasion to the permanent memorials—in World War I. The exhibits are on the second floor of the Gothic Cloth Hall, a former textiles warehouse and market from the Middle Ages, which was rebuilt after the war. You stopped at the also-reconstructed St. Martin’s Cathedral for a moment of silence. Then you paid your respects to the thousands of lives lost during the Battles of Ypres at the Menin Gate, a memorial to the missing; Tyne Cot, the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing; and Langemark, the German war cemetery.

Now you could use a drink. Some food would be good, too. So, with a heavy heart, you go back into the center of the city. One of its many gabled houses is now De Ruyffelaer. The cozy restaurant still has its old wood panels, wooden beams, and checkerboard floors. Sturdy tables and vintage decor were added. A traditional Flemish menu and house-brewed beers were, too. It’s just what you need after a long day.

Ypres is an ancient city in West Flanders, a province that borders the northeast corner of France. The small city was first settled in the 11th century. It grew, thanks to the fine-quality linens it produced, into Flanders’ third-largest city. Then the wars started. The English during Despenser’s Crusade. The French under Louis XIV. The Habsburg Austrians during the War of the First Coalition’s Siege of Ypres. Ultimately, the Germans, who surrounded three sides of the city during World War I.

Photo: Main Street Boutique Hotel

The fortified city is now known as the City of Peace. It’s an easy, two-hour train ride, including a stop in Ghent, from Brussels. Many of its ramparts, built by the French in the late-17th century, were destroyed during World War I. Those that remain have been turned into parks along the Ieperlee canalized river. Narrow, cobbled streets still fill the center of Ypres. They’re lined with noble mansions that have become cute cafes, chocolate shops, and boutique hotels.

You’re staying at one of those hotels, the delightful Main Street Boutique Hotel. After finishing your second beer, you walk back to the cozy, brick building. There are only six rooms inside. Each one is spacious and individually decorated. They have Nespresso machines and complimentary, well-stocked minibars, too. You chose the Glory Room for its big bathtub and view of St. Pieterskerk across the street. The hotel also has an adorable breakfast room with a Tiffany stained-glass ceiling, an honesty bar with sweet treats, and rentable bikes. You feel lighter and ready to see a brighter side of Ypres as soon as you enter the eccentric space.

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