If you want to visit the key World War One battlefields around Ypres, you can always do it yourself, but enlisting the help of one of the many specialist tour guides available is a good idea. Not only do they know the best places to visit and when to visit them, but they can also help bring this unforgettable time in world history back to vivid life with their knowledge and enthusiasm. Here’s a personal pick of some WW1 battlefield tour guides in Ypres.
Flanders Battlefield Tours
If you only have an afternoon to spare but want to make the most of it by visiting the unmissable sights, then Flanders Battlefield Tours offers an excellent four-hour tour of the Ypres North Salient. It runs from 13:00 to 17:00 daily and gives tourists a chance to visit several key monuments and battlegrounds.
These include Essex Farm, which was the location of the bunker where John McCrae wrote the remembrance poem In Flanders’ Fields; the sombre oak tree-filled German cemetery at Langemark; and the impressive Tyne Cot Cemetery in Passchendaele.
The tour costs 35 EUR including museum entrance fees. Children under 12 who take up a seat pay half-price. Pre-booking is recommended.
If you are looking for a more personal, customised battlefield tour, then 2Xplore Tours might be ideal for you. Your guide is Patrick Jonckheere, an ex-Belgian Para Commando who was born in nearby Diksmuide and has a real passion for the history of the Great War. He offers two day-long set tours. The Ypres Salient Tour includes the Tyne Cot Cemetery, the Passchendaele Memorial and the preserved battlefield at Hill 60. The Ijser Front Tour covers Nieuwpoort and the Ijser Memorial before heading to the Ramskapelle gunner post, the Trench of Death at Diksmuide, the Ijser Tower (Museum, Pax Gate and Crypt) and the German Military Cemetery at Vladslo.
Patrick also designs customised tours: just explain what you want to visit and he’ll arrange everything, including food, transport and accommodation. A day-long 2Xplore tour costs 65 EUR. All tours include entrance fees and an info pack.
Cycling the Western Front
For a battlefield tour with a difference, try Cycling the Western Front. It takes advantage of the fact that most of the WW1 action took place within a fairly small – and generally flat – area.
This means that the battlefield sites are only about 4-8 km apart and can be visited by bicycle. It’s a unique and environmentally friendly way to visit them. The tours are personally guided and cover all ages and abilities.
One-day tours are the standard, but multiple-day tours can be arranged and include accommodation and transportation of your overnight luggage. Contact organiser Carl Ooghe for more information on 0475-81.06.08.
Self-Drive WW1 Battlefield Tours
If you don’t want to be guided at all, try a Self-Drive WW1 Battlefield Tour, which is set up to help you trace the steps of your soldier ancestor. Just tell them his name, regiment and service number, and they will do all the necessary research work. They will give you a dossier of all the information they could gather on your ancestor. This could include details of service record, and, if he died in Flanders, where he fell and the circumstances. You get directions to his grave or the memorial his name is engraved on, as well as the relevant trench maps, how they relate to your ancestor, and how to interpret them.
Where to stay in Ypres
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the large number of hotels and B&Bs in Ypres, so let me recommend an excellent B&B: La Porte Cochère.
This delightful B&B is conveniently situated on a very quiet street in Ypres yet close to the main square, just a short walk from the train station and the Menin Gate.
It’s elegantly decorated, warm, spotless and comfortable. The bedrooms and bathrooms are spacious and complimentary bottles of water are provided on the bedside tables.
The breakfasts are delicious, varied and sizeable and are served in a peaceful room with classical music in the background.
Owners Steven and Katrien are extremely friendly and you get the impression they really want you to enjoy your stay with them. If you have any questions about Ypres, they are a mine of useful information. All in all La Porte Cochère is highly recommended. Oh, if you’re on a bike – or even a motorbike – you can park it in the hall!
Here are some pictures of La Porte Cochère and the nearby sites: