With new figures showing a record number of tourists visiting the Netherlands in 2017, one particular Dutch heritage official threw a kink into the generally friendly relationship with neighbouring Belgium by making several unflattering comments about the Belgian coastline.

Some 17.6 million visitors travelled to the Netherlands last year, which includes an 11 percent year-on-year increase in the number of visitors to the well-preserved Dutch coast.

“The Flemish coast is a disaster. It’s one giant boulevard. That’s why all those Belgians are coming here,” Bjørn van den Boom, head of public affairs at the state-sponsored conservation organisation, told the daily newspaper De Volkskrant.

The Belgian coastline has several high-rise condos with some reaching a height of almost 30 stories, part of which can be attributed to a move by the Belgian government in the 1960’s to allow every citizen a piece of property on the coast. In comparison, the Netherlands recently signed an agreement to ban any future developers from building on coastal land.

Anthony Wittesaele, the alderman responsible for the town of Knokke-Heist, a 12km strip of coast near the border with the Netherlands, said all of the “rich Dutch” visit the Belgian coast.
“Since the end of the 19th century, we are a resort that is a bit special: the Monaco of the Belgian coast. Artists have been coming for 150 years. There are 80 galleries, a world record number of Michelin-starred restaurants. Premium real estate is higher than Paris, and just below London, per square metre. Our clientele includes both old and new wealthy families, as well as the richest Dutch, Germans, and some of the richest French,” said Wittesaele, who also conceded that some of the Dutch criticism is rooted in fact. “There might be some truth in what they say,” conceded Wittesaele. “The Atlantic wall, as we call it, sits in front of apartments looking over the sea and it isn’t very attractive.”
Van den Boom, however, refuses to be swayed by the Belgian position, saying the situation on the bilingual country’s modest 65 kilometres of coastline remains a national embarrassment.

“I have a lot of Flemish friends. Belgians are divided on almost every topic but on this one they agree on: they despise their coastline,” van den Boom told the Observer. “It is dreadful, actually. I’m sorry to say, but I have never met a Belgian who doesn’t agree with me. There is no quality landscape anymore. That’s a consequence of the government not planning and managing how they want to build their coastline.”