The rattle of the masts is furious as, under wide blue skies, antsize humans cluster by the distant shore, the more intrepid kiteboarding across the waves.
Dogs of all sizes pant as they trudge over golden sand, while their owners perch on benches, sipping rosé outside a red-tiled wooden café-bar. The Beach Club, as it’s known, is up by the sand dunes at the furthest point of the resort, and a local beer here will only cost a couple of quid.
You wouldn’t be wrong for assuming this is some far-flung exotic gem. But no, it’s De Haan, midway up the 65-kilometre Belgian coast, a 75-min drive from Calais.
It’s the first stop on our whirlwind tour of this underrated coastline, and it’s instantly likeable: along lengthy Zeedijk-de-Haan promenade, well-heeled couples cycle on tandems, while an organ grinder delights kids, and restaurants do a brisk trade in all things moules.
We loan bikes from our B&B (more of which, below) and pedal round the pretty squares and shady streets of what’s called the Concession, the historic residential area studded with wealthy Belle Epoque villas. The public art everywhere is eye-catching, especially artist Xu Zhen’s Eternity-Poseidon sculpture, part of this year’s Beaufort Triennial festival, which extends across the coast’s entire length (and ends 30th Sept).
As evening falls we park up and eat at the chic Villa De Torre in town, with open kitchen and terrace facing the tram line. It’s a buzzy place, with some killer dishes to boot: grilled lobster with a loose garlicky risotto, and hake with cockles, fennel and samphire (and probably the creamiest mash ever). Best of all are the starters of rosy beef tataki with salsa verde, and tender octopus tentacle with pancetta and quinoa. Even a simple lemon sorbet with melon pieces packs hits of flavour and texture.
Thank goodness for the ten-minute bike ride back to the Hoeve Welgelegen, a small rural barn owned by the restaurant and converted into four contemporary rooms. The sun terrace, surrounded by farmland and with views over low-lying fields, is idyllic. Our cosy bedroom boasts wood floors, a vast king-size bed, tiled bathroom and sleek Scandi-style fixtures and fittings.
Only quibble? It’s a little stuffy, and the mozzies are out. But a unique breakfast, served in an open plan kitchen-dining room, makes up for that: a succession of small courses, it starts with a zingy ginger and citrus tea (made with garden produce), before dishes of plump prawns and broccoli, beef carpaccio, a board of five cheeses, and omelette with chives. Warm breads and croissants are on hand, as is strong coffee. All cooked by the owner herself. That should keep us going until our next stop: Ostend.
Main image: Beach Club De Haan (Stephen Emms)