So you've worked hard, you need a break, and your love life badly needs a boost.

You need a change of scenery. You need good food and drink, charming surroundings, sandy beaches, and, above all, romance.

However, you don't want to break the bank, and you don't have time to fly to the ends of the earth.

So where do you go?

The answer is simple: Belgium.

OK, it's not an obvious destination, but let's dispense of the stereotypes. Firstly, this tiny country offers almost everything within its compact boundaries as its larger neighbours.

Forget Poirot and Eurocrats, this is a beautiful land at the crossroads of Europe, with stylish cities, rolling countryside, stunning architecture, gorgeous boutique hotels, sophisticated bars, excellent shopping, and a world class cuisine - which many consider better than that of next door France.

But while those tourists who do linger head straight to the honeypots of Bruges, Ghent or Brussels, the clued-up visitor stays closer to home. No further, in fact, than the shores of the English Channel itself.

The Belgian coast fringes the region of Flanders like a golden necklace.

Sixty-seven kilometres of unbroken sand stretch from the plains of Northern France all the way up to the sea dykes and windmills of Holland.

Along its way, that epic stretch of powdery sand passes remote dunes, friendly resorts, busy ports, sleepy villages and surreal salt marshes populated only by nesting storks and wading birds.

It's a cosy, intimate and romantic land, where life revolves on good living - and love.

Long a refuge of those in need of escape, it has been the home of such unlikely characters as physicist Albert Einstein, who settled on the coast after leaving Nazi Germany, and soul-singer Marvin Gaye, whose highly-charged erotic hits should be a soundtrack to your visit.

And that sense of romance is contagious - spreading even to the rooftops, where storks nesting in pairs rub necks with their life-partners.

It may lack the must-see sights of other European destinations, but that's also its charm.

You can explore this slightly strange land as much or as little as you like. Either way, you'll come away longing to return - even if the only time you leave the confines of your chic hotel is to gorge on its famous Vlaander' cuisine.

Never mind chips and mayonnaise, dining out here is nothing short of a religion. And, at the high altar of that religion, is that great aphodisiac, seafood. Oysters, lobster, crab, North Sea cod and mackerel, sea bass, shrimp, and, of course, mussels are staples here and you will never eat better.

In the ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge, seafood is sold right on the quayside, fresh from the boats. While down in Oostduinkerke, old men in yellow oilskins splash into the surf on horseback, to catch shrimp straight from the sea - tipping their tasty spoils into reed baskets at their sides.

In Ostend's Vistrap (fish market), pushy shoppers drift from stall to stall, peeling and tasting shrimps before buying, and inspect open-mouthed mullet with the discerning eye of Antwerp diamond dealers.

"You could happily come here just to eat," says Linda De Schepper, of Visit Flanders - a native of nearby Antwerp, whose mission it is to persuade people to look more closely at this forgotten coast.

"People here go out to eat all the time. They love food with a passion. And because we are all so good at cooking at home, the restaurant chefs have to work especially hard to satisfy us!"

And then there is the chocolate.

"We take chocolate very seriously," smiles Linda. "Even if we are just having a cup of coffee, we would expect a really good piece of chocolate.

"Nothing else comes close to Belgian chocolate," she goes on, warming to her theme. "We can't eat the stuff in England. That's not really chocolate at all. It has too much sugar.

"Ours is rich and strong. And there are many different types."

That is an underestimation of criminal proportions. A trip to a Belgian chocolate shop is enough to bring even the most sweet-toothed bon viveur out in a cold sweat. There is a bewildering choice - each hand-crafted and beautifully presented, just waiting to melt in your mouth in a sensuous explosion of cocoa, truffle and praline.

And it's not just a treat. It's a way of life.

"We have chocolate for breakfast and during the day with friends," says Linda. "And, of course, after dinner - the most important part of the day."

The range of chocolates is only rivalled by the choice of beers - which come in all shades and strengths, many made by local Trappist monks, and each one served in its own unique glass.

"It is a major faux pas to serve a Belgian beer in the wrong glass," she gasps, cringing at the thought.

"But there are very many which means we can keep trying new ones all the time."

She admits such good living may come as a surprise to people whose only experience of this coast is rushing through Zeebrugge at the start of long sweaty drives to distant destinations.

"The British have all this on their doorstep," she says. "But many don't realise it."

And it is ridiculously close.

You can sail from Dover to Dunkerque on a state-of-the-art Norfolkline ferry in one hour and 45 minutes - just long enough to enjoy a leisurely breakfast or treat each other to a bottle of your favourite scent. And from there, it's just a short hop over the border into Flanders.

For a sublime break away from the pressures of everyday life, head to De Haan, an almost too-perfect little town on one of the least developed stretches of the coast.

This is an architecture lover's paradise. The town's sleepy streets are a riot of pastel coloured art-deco homes and hotels.

At the heart of the town is the so-called Concession, a treasure trove of belle-epoque villas, many in the local Anglo-Norman style - with facades of mock timber work, red roofs, balconies and little turrets.

They include Einstein's former residence, which still bears his name on the doorbell.

Hotels include the lovely Carpe Diem - an intimate antique-studded house with polished wood floors and deep luxurious beds which make lie-ins compulsory, particularly if you've been indulging in the area's nightlife, which gets surprisingly lively, and where some bars do not close until the last person leaves.

For serious excitement, though, hop on the tram, which plies up and down the entire length of the coast, and head to the self-styled Stad aan Zee' (City at the Sea) Ostend.

A busy fishing port, this stylish, but down-to-earth harbour town is quintessentially Flemmish - with its enormous beach lined by a towering wall of high rise apartments, fashionable bars, hip seafood restaurants, a racecourse and even a casino - which is worth a trip if only to gaze at the sunset from its roof top restaurant, or visit the last resting place of Marvin Gaye's piano!

Marvin, who had hits with I Heard it Through the Grapevine, and How Sweet it is to be Loved by You, was in a bad way when he landed up in Ostend in the early 80s. But its salty sea air, open spaces, and vast empty beaches, along which he jogged, helped him turn his life around.

The same qualities that attracted Marvin, still draw in the crowds today.

If you're feeling particularly well-heeled, however, there is only one place to go - Knokke.

This North Sea version of St Tropez is the place to see and be seen by Belgium's beautiful people.

The place reeks of Euro-millionaires, with streets lined with shops selling Louis Vuitton, Versace and Armani.

And it's easy to see why they come. This pretty resort is dedicated to pleasure, with its casino, clubs, bars and extraordinary restaurants.