Many know Ostend for its coast – few might know that its century-old football club is currently enjoying its best season ever.
KV Oostende, aka KVO or the Kustboys, were promoted in 2013 for a fifth ever season in the top flight.
Qualifying for Europe in 2014 but unable to take their place – then coach Frederik Vanderbiest didn’t hold a UEFA Pro Licence – KVO actually led the league for the first half of the 2015-16 campaign.
Grouped with Anderlecht, Bruges and Gent in the Championship play-offs, the Kustboys are sure to finish in the top six though the vagaries of the Belgian league system mean that European teams won’t be visiting the Belgian Riviera in 2016-17.
A shame. Set halfway along the famous Kusttram that runs the length of Belgium – calling at the KVO’s Albertparkstadion as it does so – Ostend is part Belle-Époque, part Poirot and bags of fun. Bars and restaurants line the seafront, and any stadium visit can be combined with a day on the beach.
Opened in 1934, the ground was originally the home of AS Oostende, the city’s leading club before the merger with VG Oostende in 1981 to create KVO. Founded in 1911, red-and-green shirted AS played 55 seasons in the Belgian League, four of them in the top flight, mainly in the 1970s.
Formed seven years earlier in 1904, VG Oostende spent their first seven decades in the lower leagues. Promoted to Division 2 in 1974, VG had been based at Armenonville, a 10,000-capacity ground at Maria Hendrikapark, since 1921.
After the 1981 merger, a splinter group of VG fans kept the club going, playing until 2001 at Armenonville, now part of the city’s main hospital. For a decade or so, VG played near Ostend airport at Mispelplein, shared with other lowly local clubs Hoger Op Oostende and SK Voorwaarts. Like VG in 2013, both clubs have since folded.
The Belgian national side have never played a game on the coast – Bruges, 30km away, is the nearest. Meanwhile, in March 2016, work began on a new stand, the E-Tribune at the Albertpark. Meeting the minimum first-class football requirements in Belgium of 8,000 capacity with 5,000 seats, it outshines several of its more modest counterparts in the Jupiler Pro League for comfort and ambience.
The overhaul forced the club to close the stadium before the 2016 championship play-offs and stage home matches at the Stadion Schiervelde, home of second-division SV Roeselare, 40km from Ostend.
The modernised Albertpark will be ready for the 2016-17 campaign.
Ostend-Bruges International Airport, 5km (3 miles) south-west of downtown Ostend, serves mainly Jetairfly routes to southern Europe and sundry holiday destinations. It’s close to the Albertparkstadion, almost walkable, in fact, should anyone fancy a bizarre groundhop between Ostend and Barcelona or Rome.
Brussels Zaventem Airport is 122km (75.5 miles) away. Taking the train to Ostend (€24) requires at least one change, at Brussels Midi, sometimes another at Bruges. Overall journey time is about 1hr 45min-2hr.
If you’re coming by Eurostar, there’s a fast train every hour Mon-Fri from Brussels Midi to Ostend (1hr 15min, €17) – otherwise change at Gent Sint-Pieters.
Ostend station is on the waterfront, walking distance from the centre. The Kusttram stops alongside, handy for both town and stadium and there are local buses too, all run by De Lijn. A single ticket with 1hr’s unlimited changes is €3 – a day pass is €6 or €8 from the driver. Simply run them through the yellow machines on board.
For a cab, call Taxi Oostende on +32 800 25 500.
Ostend specialises in old-school, spa and seaview hotels – though none near the stadium.
Further up the seafront towards town, the four-star Hotel Andromeda Oostende offers both spa and seaview, as well as recently renovated rooms. Nearby, the Imperial is a comfortable, upper/mid-range lodging with a 24-hour bar. Die Prince is more affordable, even with a sea view.
If you’re here with the family, the 110-room Ostend Hotel has a play area as well as gym, sauna and solarium for grown-ups. For a seriously healthy stay, offering hot-stone and bamboo massages, the Glenmore Hotel has mid-range rooms and pricy paid extras.
By a main central square – and the tram for the stadium – the Hotel du Parc echoes the Poirot days, though the rooms are only three-star. A sunny terrace and sauna help things along, though.
Bars line the lower end of mainly pedestrianised Langestraat, parallel to the seafront. There you’ll find Taverne Koekoek (No.38), a classic pub/restaurant where signature chicken dinners, fine Belgian beers and a TV for major games.
If you’re after late fun, Hemingway hemingway-oostende.be/nl on the same stretch does DJs and cocktails.
The seafront is sadly bereft of decent bars – it’s mainly restaurants and ice-cream parlours. Ocean is a more contemporary version of the genre.
Pub-like and firmly football-focused, the Taverne Floride (Albert I promenade 81) has a whole mess of beers, a sea-facing terrace and a serious soccer habit. The TV schedule is posted up, in the dark, homely interior.
Another football hang-out is St Michel at Jozef II-straat 58 by St Petrus Church, near the train station – except that it flies the flag of Anderlecht rather than KV Oostende.