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Saturday, April 14, 2018

In Ghent 'bio' is not a fashion, but a way of life

Por Nina

Ghent was in the sixteenth century the largest city in Europe north of the Alps, only after Paris, and that still shows. Today it is the Flemish town with the most historical architectural heritage; one of those places that makes one fall in love immediately, before realizing why. It is small, comprehensible, medieval and young at the same time. Cradle of Carlos I, the emperor who says that he said «To God I speak in Spanish, to women in Italian, to men in French, and to my horse in German», although there are so many versions of this phrase that it may not be true any.

Of the almost 250,000 inhabitants that Ghent has, 45,000 are students (many of them Spanish Erasmus) which makes it one of the busiest cities in Europe. But twelve centuries ago the thing was very different. In the 9th century, Baldwin I, the first Count of Flanders, ordered the erection of a castle to protect the abbeys of Saint Peter and Saint Bavon from the Viking attacks. Since then its development has not stopped, and in the past 80s an efficient municipal team submitted its streets and buildings to a deep restoration and cleaning to prevent nearby Bruges from eating land in the tourist field.

The usual attractions, which had been preserved over the centuries, gained relevance. The cathedral of Saint Bavon, which houses the painting "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" by Van Eyck, one of the most outstanding tables of the Flemish school; the Castle (Gravensteen), origin of the city; Stadhuis, the Gothic and Renaissance Town Hall; Belfort, a portentous belfry of 91 meters; the Bridge of San Miguel (Sint Michiels), from which there is an unbeatable view of the Three Towers (San Nicolás, Belfort and Catedral); the houses of Graslei and Korenlei streets (Vegetables and Wheat) on the quays of the old commercial port, where old medieval guild houses are still standing.

In Ghent it is said that the Belgian cuisine combines the refinement of the French with the abundance of the German. It is a topic, and like almost all topics it is true. As it is also true that the movement of the "locavores", that is, those who prefer to eat local foods, produced no more than 150 km from the place of residence, takes on more value. In Ghent, every Thursday since 2009, only vegetarian dishes are served in schools and canteens of official bodies. And many restaurants offer complete menus without meat and lots of vegetables. Even at the local Tourist Office, maps are distributed with "The vegetarian route".

Ghent was the first city in the world to establish a vegetarian day and today it is considered the Vegetarian Capital of Europe. Throughout the city there are many restaurants that have banished meat and fish, as well as organic and bio shops. Even veganism is increasingly prevailing. The supporters of avoiding all food that has an animal origin (from meat to milk and even honey) every year celebrate in Ghent the Vegan Summer Fest. In August 2018, its fourth edition will take place.