Last summer, I had the opportunity to sidetrack through Belgium to a small seaside town called Blankenberge.  I was anxious to explore the largest sand sculpture festival in the world. While I wouldn’t call myself a sand castle enthusiast, it was the festival’s theme that had put this particular event on my radar.

Disneyland Paris…in sand.

They were recreating the Disneyland Paris theme park in sand! Not just a few small sculptures of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, but literally sections from entire lands. Nearly 40 artists assembled to build 125 sculptures paying tribute to the most iconic Disney attractions.

As a Disney fanatic, who conveniently scored an assignment with Gadling to write about the festival, I flew to France to refresh my memory on all the attractions at Disneyland Paris and then drove on to Belgium to spend a rainy afternoon photographing impressive sand versions of Main Street, U.S.A., alongside some of my favorite Disney rides.

Fast forward a year and, ironically, I found myself heading back to Disneyland Paris and decided to see what this year’s festival theme was.

The Disney magic had returned, only this time in the form of fairytales.

The 2012 Blankenberge Sand Sculpture Festival has brought to life some of the most beloved fairy tales from Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, Walt Disney, Charles Dickens, J.K. Rowling and more.

There are kings, queens, princesses, dragons, witches, and wizards. Forty artists, 12 nationalities, and 150 sculptures later, this year’s festival is something to behold.

Lady and Tramp sculpture at 2012 Blankenberge Festival

The main tent pays homage to a number of Disney fairytales and classic movies, including the Jungle Book, Mulan, Lady and the Tramp, The Aristocats, and even newer movies like The Incredibles.

Other notable pop culture icons include Popeye and Olive Oil, the gang from Looney Tunes, Sinbad, and more recent characters like Harry Potter.

Harry Potter characters in sand

I recognized Harry Potter and characters like Popeye, but it was immediately clear that my knowledge of fairy tales and fables is relatively limited. It appears I live in a Disney bubble. Sculptures like Yoko Tsuno, Jommeke, Urbanus, and Guust Flater were completely foreign to me.

Once outdoors, the sculptures take on a whole new scale as artists recreated some of the most iconic Disney Princess castles in grand style. There is Sleeping Beauty, Beast, Cinderella and my personal favorite, the Queen of Hearts.

Outdoor sculptures are quite grand in scale
Outdoor sculptures are quite grand in scale

There is an additional tent that features many classic fairy tale characters like Hansel and Gretel, the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Rumpelstiltskin, and the Ugly Duckling.

Ugly Duckling sand sculpture

This tiny seaside town is a short drive from Bruges, Belgium and secured a spot in the Guinness World Book of Records in 2010 for the largest festival of its kind in the world. Each year the festival starts around June and ends early September.

Sadly, the 2012 Blankenberge Sand Sculpture Festival is drawing to a close on September 2, 2012, so if you happen to be traveling near Bruges, you still have time to check it out over the next few weeks.  It is open daily from 10:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m., but note admission is not necessarily cheap at 11 euros per adult.

Erin De Santiago

Erin is a US Expat currently living in the Netherlands and Belize. She is a full-time freelance travel, food/wine, and Disney Theme Parks writer who has eaten her way through 40+ countries so far. Erin is also the Taiwan/Hong Kong and Belize, Central America Regional Membership Coordinator for the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). In addition to the various publications she writes for, Erin publishes a culinary blog, Our Tasty Travels, a new travel photography blog, No Checked Bags and her Disney Travel Blog, Pooh's Travels. Follow her travels and culinary adventures on Twitter @poohstraveler and/or @ourtastytravels, and on Facebook.
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