Travel: Finding a medieval Manhattan in Flanders

Isabel Conway is enchanted by Ghent, the art-steeped Belgian city that Victor Hugo called ‘the Venice of the north’

Ghent, known as the historic heart of Flanders and a medieval masterpiece

Evening shadows dance on the cobbled alleyways, lofty church spires, grand guild houses and baroque bridges. It’s as if we’re on a medieval movie set, peeking through the handblown glass windows of an imposing mansion at portraits of doughty merchants and bejewelled ladies, illuminated by a hanging candelabra.

We pause in front of the Castle of the Counts, the only remaining medieval fortress in Flanders, whose defence system is still virtually intact. Its history dates ...