The village of Watou, a sub-municipality of Poperinge, is situated on the ‘schreve’, the area close to the border with France. When territory was divided between Flanders and France, Watou very nearly found itself on the French side of the dividing line. Now it is one of the foremost art villages in the Westhoek. There is a festival of Gregorian music in May and an arts festival later in the summer, where the plastic arts, poetry and literature all play a prominent role. Add to this a good Watou beer from the local brewery, and the success of your visit is guaranteed!
This village on the ‘schreve’ has a strong association with smuggling. In previous centuries, ‘blauwers’ smuggled tobacco and alcohol over the nearby French border. They needed to be careful, because the ‘kommiezen’ (French customers officers) were often hot on their heels! The annual ‘Blauwers’ festival in Haringe recalls the village’s past ‘tradition’, when the local people dress up as ‘blauwers’ or ‘kommiezen’. The winner receives the ‘Karel de Blauwer’ prize. Karel is the symbol for the ‘blauwers’, and you can see his statue in the village.
Houtem is a sub-municipality of Veurne, famous for being a book village. The stress and haste of modern living are unknown in Houtem. Here, all is rural peace and quiet. The village was immortalized in film as the setting for ‘Het Varken van de Madonna’ (Madonna’s Pig). You can have a bite to eat and a glass of something refreshing in one of the typical local cafes, such as the ‘Klein Plezier’ or the ‘Boeregat’.
With a mere 200 inhabitants, Lampernisse is probably the quietest village in the Westhoek. This charming rural settlement is situated on the floodplain of the River Ijzer, a clay-rich area of almost unbroken fields. It is a perfect base for walking and cycling tours and is just a stone’s throw from Zoutenaaie, the village with the fewest inhabitants in Flanders: just 21!
Sint-Jacobskapelle is a rural polder village in the Westhoek. Until 1971, the village formed part of Driekapellen, together with the nearby hamlets of Nieuwkapelle and Oudekapelle, but is now a sub-municipality of Diksmuide. During the First World War, Sint-Jacobskapelle was in the front line and suffered heavily from bombardments. It was almost completely rebuilt after the Armistice and is now one of the most picturesque villages in the region, as well as a popular stopping place on the cycle network.
Close to the River Ijzer and the town of Diksmuide lies the sleepy village of Stuivekenskerke, or ‘Stuuvjeskerke’ as it is known in Flemish. A 4.5 kilometre-long walking circuit in and around the village will tell you everything you need to know about its past and present. For example, you will learn that modern-day Stuivekenskerke, which took part in the ‘Most Beautiful Village in Flanders’ competition in 2008, is actually the second village of that name. The original village – now known as Old Stuivekenskerke - was destroyed completely during the First World War. After the Armistice, a new settlement was rebuilt some 2 kilometres further away. The ruins of the church are all that remain of the old village. Also nearby are the Viconia clay pits, which now form part of a nature reserve. It is the ideal place for bird-spotters and walkers, who can make use of the walking path of the same name.