Spend the autumn cycling to Ghent

The Graslei area in Ghent's old town in Belgium
The Graslei area in Ghent's old town in Belgium

Head to one of Europe’s first car-free cities and take a gentle bike ride in one of the continent’s most beautiful cities

When Ghent’s city centre was declared car-free in 1997, there were more than a few grumbles. But 16 years on, the city’s become a cycling mecca, and there is little to complain about.

Although I’m not a cycling enthusiast, Ghent appeals as a laid-back, culture-packed city that’s easy to reach by Eurostar. When I arrive, though, I can’t move for bikes!

Whether you’re a commuter, OAP, or humble tourist, two wheels are the best way to get around town.

Keen to live like a local, I head for bike hire shop Max Mobiel, which sits between the towering Belfry of Ghent and Saint Nicholas’s Church.

Bike hire is really cheap: a half-day rental costs just 7 Euros. However, you can also bring your own bike on the Eurostar from 15 Euros each way.

Pedalling at a gentle pace, I weave in and out of the central streets, passing local ‘Ganda’ hams which hang like a modern art installation from hooks in the Great Butcher’s Hall, on my way to the imposing Castle of Counts.

As I ride along the canals, I make a beeline for the marvellously graffiti-filled Tweebruggen Street and head into Ghent’s Old Quarter. From there, I take in some more culture by cycling to St. Peter’s Abbey and its pretty gardens.

Back in the centre of town, I head for Graslei and Korenlei - two streets divided by a canal, where friends meet and socialise.

Despite a few wobbles about getting my front wheel stuck in a tram line - the trick is to cross them horizontally, apparently - I find cycling in Ghent a breeze. The fact there are few hills is helpful, but the ease of my journey is mainly down to the friendly, respectful attitude towards cyclists.

Before I return to the train station, I enjoy a plate of waffles at cafe Max, then visit the lanterns on Sint-Veerleplein. Built as an art instillation, the candles are said to flicker whenever a baby is born in Ghent. Unfortunately I witness no flickers, but I still raise a toast to my first - albeit accidental - cycling holiday.

:: Eurostar (08432 186 186/eurostar.com) offers a weekend package to Ghent from £234 for two people travelling in standard class with one night’s accommodation at the NH Belfort. For more information about Ghent, visit www.visitflanders.com