Food and good taste are part of the DNA of the Flanders region in Belgium. Over the past decade Flanders’ Tourism players have increasingly capitalised on food trails and themes. The region promotes tours of small-scale microbreweries or of local chocolate makers who are redefining the art of praline.
For the travel trade, Flanders Tourism is proposing many special themes evolving around gastronomy. Circuits can take travellers on the path of microbreweries or embark them into a chocolate adventure around shops and local chocolate makers. And there are, of course, “classical” tours to discover the best of the region. With 94 Michelin-starred restaurants, Flanders indeed has one of the world’s highest densities of top-class eateries.
Street food is also becoming increasingly popular with young chefs opening their own places. A good way to try local specialties at reasonable prices is to visit culinary events. One such event is the Hapje-Tapje feast in Leuven. Hosted every first Sunday of August, it is the place to be for foodies to taste specialties of many dozens of restaurants for a maximum of 5 euros each, accompanied by local beers. In the afternoon, bartenders run in the traditional bartender race.
However, recent promotion by Flanders Tourism is highlighting a new generation of chefs who like combining innovative creations with food traceability and zero waste along with the use of local ingredients. Each year in March and October, the “Flanders Kitchen Rebels” serve young diners between 18 and 30 at unforgettable knock-down prices. These Flanders Kitchen Rebels are a selection of 64 chefs aged under 35 who redefine cooking boundaries for traditional Flemish cuisine.
Flanders Kitchen Rebels act like ambassadors not only of good taste and culinary tradition but also of Flanders as a destination for food lovers. The largest concentration of Flanders Kitchen Rebels can be found in Antwerp and Bruges and, to a certain extent, in Ghent and Kortrijk.
Bruges, a perfect setting for UNWTO World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism
All this explains why the UNWTO selected Bruge in 2018 to host its World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism. Launched in 2015, the UNWTO event has turned into an important event acknowledging the valuable contribution of culinary aspects of tourism.
The Forum is co-organised by UNWTO and the Basque Culinary Centre with the aim of bringing together experts from across the tourism and gastronomy worlds to identify good practices and promote gastronomy tourism as a contributor to sustainable development. The conference welcomes some 500 delegates including ministers of tourism, national tourism authorities, chefs, entrepreneurs, producers, academia and related stakeholders from the tourism and gastronomy fields. Since its inception, the forum has turned into the largest gastronomy tourism event in the world.
As a co-organiser, the Basque Culinary Centre in Donostia near San Sebastian hosts the event every two years in alternative with a host destination. In 2019, Bruges in the Flanders region of Belgium was selected to play host to the Forum. However, the pandemic took its toll on the Forum’s organisation with the postponement of the forum being rescheduled from 2020 to June 21 to 23, 2021. The Forum is due to be hosted in the historical Concertgebouw of the town and is organised by the City of Bruges and EventFlanders.
When announcing Bruges’ choice for the World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism three years ago, the Flemish minister of Tourism Zuhal Demir highlighted that “Nowhere else in the world do visitors find so many Michelin stars in such a limited area, and nowhere in the world is the difference between the haute cuisine and the ‘ordinary’ gastronomy so negligible. We need to be more aware of that and we have to make sure that the whole world knows it too.” The Forum will be the right opportunity to prove it.