The perfect daytrip for couples. Middelburg is Brugge (Bruges) nor Gent (Ghent). This means: far less tourists than the former, and no hectic commercial life as in the latter. Its isolation on the island Walcheren in the North Sea on the mouth of the Scheldt River instills the feeling of discovery. Who knew so much historic beauty, romantic quietness, cute shopping experiences, and friendly charm could be hidden so close by? An extra bonus: the energizing and fresh salty sea air.
Middelburg's strategic position on the map made it a very wealthy powerbroker in the 16th and 17th century. Founded as one of the first fortifications in Flanders against the Viking raids in the 9th century, Middelburg grew into the leading trading center between England and Flanders. Once the religious wars of the 16th century had split the North from the South of the Low Countries, Middelburg became the second leading international trading city in the Netherlands, behind Amsterdam. Today Middelburg is the capital of the province of Zeeland. During the second half of the 20th century, the Dutch linked the island with the mainland by building more dikes and claiming more land from the sea.
The architectural treasures, and the atmosphere breathe the glorious past. A short canal links the town to the town of Vlissingen (the original Flushing, as English traders called it) and to the sea. The canal leads up to the old harbor inside the city walls, and links with a circular town canal, and with the star-shaped moat, dug in the 16th century. This protective wall has remnants of the fortifications, and is now a green oasis, ideal for joggers and strolling couples.
Here comes our best advice: near the majestic historic city hall, buy the 'Walking Through Middelburg' brochure at the Tourist Office (Nieuwe Burg 40). It contains three detailed guided walks to let you discover all the beauty of the town while pointing out the best specialty shopping and the most authentic pubs and restaurants. The public market on Thursday adds extra folklore and entertainment, but also more traffic.
Some of the highlights you don't want to miss. The historic town hall on the market square is built in late gothic architecture similar to other Flemish cities (Ghent, Kortrijk, Bruges, etc.) It is officially recognized as one of the most beautiful buildings of the Netherlands. Destroyed by a German bombardment at the beginning of WW II, it was completely rebuilt to its original splendor.
Catholic monks settled in town in the 10th century, but they were kicked out during the religious wars at the end of 16th century. However, the abbey buildings are still open for visitors, and house numerous historical artifacts (some exceptional examples of tapestries), and contemporary art. The tall tower, called 'Lange Jan' (Long John) is visible from most parts of the city. (207 steps) Peek inside the churches, you stumble on during your journey.
De Kloveniersdoelen, on the west side of town, was built in the first years of the 17th century, when the Netherlands attained their independence: a beautiful example of Flemish renaissance architecture. Wander through the narrow streets, and find small tiny houses. But turn a corner and you'll find yourself on a little square with beautiful mansions, and houses of rich traders, like the 'Van de Perrehuis', and the St Jorisdoelen. Around the harbor you'll recognize older merchant houses, combinations of living quarters with store facilities. On a boat ride along the canals of the city, you'll leisurely enjoy the views, while listening to historic explanations.
On the main square and dispersed over the town, you'll encounter restaurants and pubs. A folksy place with a love for jazz is Brasserie Desafinado (Koorkerkstraat). Tapperij De Mug (Vlasmarkt) is recommended for its beer selection, good food, and offers four exclusive hotel-rooms. Coffee house St. John at Vismarkt is another beauty.
How to reach Middelburg? From the South, from Flanders â take the toll tunnel under the Scheldt River, near the town of Terneuzen, straight north from Ghent. From the East, take the E312 also known as A58 highway. Follow the signs to park. Parking on the outskirts of the historic town, shouldn't mean more than a 10 minutes walk to reach the center.