Day 3: Maastricht to Ghent (100 miles)
From Maastricht, it’s a straight northwesterly shot along highway E40 through Belgium to its northern coastline, where you’ll find Knokke-Heist, a favorite resort for wealthy Dutch, Belgians, and Germans. The modest-looking two-story storefronts along the Kustlaan, the main road, house Hermès, Vuitton, and luxe Belgian housewares giant Flamant, plus dozens of smaller jewelers and men’s and women’s boutiques. The beach is wide and sandy, ringed by a Croisette-like boardwalk and pristine grassy dunes. In the warmer months you can take a rest on a striped beach chair, then it’s time to backtrack a bit, taking the pretty two-lane routes N34 and N9 toward Ghent, a city that’s equal parts early-Renaissance splendor and 21st-century grit. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb—a.k.a. the Ghent Altarpiece, painted by Jan van Eyck in 1432—stands in the Saint Bavo Cathedral. A few blocks away, clothing stores filled with Belgium’s signature deconstructed looks line the Mageleinstraat. Ghent has one of Belgium’s loveliest B&B’s, the Hotel Verhaegen (doubles from $280), five enormous rooms in a former mansion. End your journey at Belga Queen (dinner for two $110), a restaurant set in a 13th-century granary on the oldest canal in town. Expect low beamed ceilings, a backlit lounge, and a long list of meat-based dishes—served, of course, with frites of several varieties.