Beer, chips and chocolate - and a beautiful UNESCO city with great architecture and pretty canals. Bruges in Belgium hits all the right spots
Beer, chips and chocolate - but in a classy way! Think Bruges, a beautiful UNESCO city which is worth a visit at any time of year. With fine architecture, scenic cobbled streets, picturesque canals and leafy walks as well as churches, museums and charming corners, Bruges repays the casual stroller.
The 88 metre belfry over the Markt is a good place to start. The 366 step climb will leave you breathless but reward you with a fine view. For serious museum visiting, buy the 3 day city card for 15 euros which covers everything plus a boat ride. Carriage rides leave from the square (35 euros for 35 minutes) and there is a good Thursday morning food market here. There is also an annual Christmas market set round an open air ice rink.
Other ‘must sees’ are the Groeninge Museum with its Memling and Van Eyck collection and the delicate Madonna and Child, one of the few sculpures by Michelangelo found outside !taly, which is in the Welcome Church of our Lady. Behind the church is a scenic canal with ‘4 horsemen of the apocalypse’ statues.
Wanderings further afield can throw up unexpected delights however: visit the folklore museum in a 17th century row of houses for a charming collection of displays depicting artisan activities and everyday life. Entrance is only 2 euros.
Sleeping and Eating
Among the many hotels, I like the Hotel Van Eyck, near the Markt. (Korte Zilverstraat 7, 8000 Bruges. Tel: +32 (0) 50 33 52 67. www.hotelvaneyck.be ) With bags of character, creaky spiral staircases and great breakfasts, it offers good value rooms starting at 65 euros for a double with breakfast; ask for one with a view of the belfry if you do not mind the noise. There is a good second hand clothes shop opposite their entrance called Truc.
There is only one campsite, the Memling ( Veltemweg 109, 8310 Sint Kruis, 8310 Bruges. Tel: +32 (0) 50 35 58 45. www.campingmemling.be Open all year) about 30 minute walk from the centre though they do bike hire in the summer; it is a small, leafy pleasant spot and has a supermarket opposite on the main road.
Need a drink? Then try these: De Garre, in a tiny alley near Markt (De Garre 1). Their own brew is so strong there is a house policy of only 3 per person - which might not suit every Englishman! The dark and cosy ’t Brugs Beertje (Kemelstraat 5) near the Van Eyck has more than 300 varieties to chose from, each which has its own glass! The more adventurous can try some of the fruit flavoured beers; I like the cherry ‘Kriek’.
The oldest pub in town (1515) is the rather touristy Café Vlissingen (Blekersstraat) though the large room has lots of character with a wood burning stove and you can buy a basic lunch. Lively Cambrinus near the Markt (Philipstockstraat 19) is more slick and repro after the others but there is a huge beer and food choice in their bible sized menu. They have a set lunch for 15 euros; nearly everything, including the crème caramel is beer flavoured!
Combine beer and view at the only brewery in town: De Halve Maan (Walplein 26) dating back to 1546 which does a good 5.50 euro tour which finishes with a beer. They also have a nice restaurant. Nearby is the Beguinage, a lovely corner of the town where a religious order of women settled in 1245. You can wander in the enclosure with its church and neat whitewashed houses - no seats unfortunately! It is a particularly enchanting spot in the spring when there is a riot of daffodils. The double-headed -horse fountain is used by the carriage men to water their horses.
Eating options can be expensive: for a good value lunch near Jan Van Eyckplein, Trium (Academiestraat 23) has plates of homemade pasta and pizza in the 10 euro range. Further out, De Windmolen (Carmersstraat 135) is a charming bistro on a corner near the Sint Janshuis mill; their creamy ham and cheese macaroni is very tasty (9.50 euros). There are two stands in the Markt which do chips and mayonnaise: try them with ‘stoofyleesaus’, a meat gravy for an authentic local experience!
The old mill is open on Mondays only but there is a good view of the city skyline at any hour from its mound. The broad tree lined walk round this outer canal is great for strolling, picnics or a bike ride. Also in this area is In t’ Nieuw Muzeum, for Flemish specialities and grills (Hooistraat 42). Their menus start at 25 euros.
There is also a good cinema, the Lumiere ( www.lumiere.be ) which quite often has English speaking films and a lively café below called De Republiek (Sint Jakobsstraat 36)
So, chocolate anyone? Dumon (Eiermarkt 6, www.chocolatierdumon.be 22.50 euros a kilo) near the Markt is good. The Chocolate Line’s (Simon Stevinplein, www.thechocolateline.be 48 euros a kilo) chocolatier - or shock-o-latier as he prefers it - is a friend of Heston Blumenthal and you can spot his influence in the ‘special’ selection which contains such delights as ‘wasabi’ and ‘fried onions’. The more conservative can try the ‘classic’ selection, both at 48 euros a kilo. Chocolate ‘snuff’ is also available: now where did he get that idea?!
Sukerbuyc (Katelijnestraat 5. www.sukerbuyc.be. 34 euros a kilo) has delicious chocolate which you can also sample with a rich and decadent hot chocolate in De Proeverie tearoom opposite (Katelijnestraat 6) A pricy 3.80 euros but the real McCoy! There are over 40 chocolatiers in town and you can find prices as low as 15 euros a kilo: irresistible!
Boutiques abound, but if you like thrift, try Marie’s second hand shop on Langestraat. There is a smart Sue Ryder shop further down near the old gatehouse and a good antique shop, the Dag & Zonne (Langestraat 3) which has lots of interesting items crammed in a small space.
Overindulged? Head to Javana (Steenstraat 6. www.javana.be) near the Markt for an excellent coffee selection from ‘very mild’ to ‘strong’ depending on requirements. Lush teas are also available. They might be easier to carry home than the beer, but whatever you choose you may find yourself overweight in more than just your luggage after a stay in this indulgent city.