Bruges and Ghent are two Flemish sisters joined at the hip by a network of canals. A very long stone throw away from each other. Forty minutes by coach. Both attractive, yes, yet if they went to the local dance Bruges would be “Belle of the Ball” and attract more admirers and suitors.
This city is utterly charming and great to get to know. It has intimacy and beauty. No wonder it’s centre was given UNESCO World heritage status back in 2000. Visually stunning. With a wow factor! And in this medieval paradise, modern troubles feel a world away.
We strolled hand in hand to the “Lake of Love” (Minnewater) close to where the coach was parked. Nearby is the Begijnhof (Beguinage). Open daily and peaceful beyond belief. Dating from the 13th century, originally a home for unmarried women, it’s now occupied by Benedictine nuns.A whitewashed tree-lined courtyard. A place to escape the bustling streets rammed with tourists. Swans nest and glide on the adjacent canal. Idyllic.
Feeling peckish we sought out a recommended chocolate shop, Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc on Katelijnestraat. In English Sukerbuyc means “sugar belly”. A family run affair. The girls run the tearooms opposite and the men create chocolate heaven. The cupcakes , banana and vanilla, were superb. As were the complimentary selection of chocolates and cream.
Next door we queued briefly for a Bruges tradition- a boat trip around the intricate maze of canals that cements its reputation as the “Venice of the North “. The canal trip was excellent. Informative with spectacular views.The sun overhead caressed our faces with its warmth and suddenly everything appeared even more gorgeous. Look out for the famous dog, chin resting on a cushion, canal gazing from an open upstairs window. Our Labrador Holly would jump in! We had one dodgy moment as a more than adequately built German lady decided to cross to the opposite side of the boat. For a moment I thought we were going to go the same way as Leo and Kate in Titanic. But the boat held firm!
The Belgians love squares. And at the heart of Bruges is Markt (Market) square.Dominated by the iconic 270ft high Belfry , the view from the top is wonderful.Gaze down at the city and beyond. After negotiating the 366 steps we indulged in Belgian Friets from the frietkoten (chippies) at the foot of this 13th century building. Look for the two green huts.
Gabled houses, cafes, shops and restaurants surround this beautiful square.But today the view was ruined by a modern fun fair. I don’t believe tourists coming to this amazing place want to see a noisy neon flashing intrusion spoiling the ambiance. What a pity! Thankfully we have seen this square in all its true glory, minus the fair some 20 years ago.
The smaller Burg is probably more beautiful than its adjacent neighbour. And today this square offered solace from the grinding Europop destroying the peace next door.
The Gothic Town Hall is stunning. All the buildings date from the 14th to the 19th century. Thankfully Bruges escaped any wartime damage and history is encapsulated in every blink of the eye.
Heilig-Bloedbasilak (Basilica of the Holy Blood) takes its name from a phial supposedly containing a few drops of Christ’s blood brought back from the Crusades.
Meandering slowly back to the coach, we passed the Chip Museum. Yes that’s right. The mighty Belgian chip is far superior to anything the French can do. And this museum celebrates this fact. I’m loving it. The humble spud. From potato to chip, soil to mouth.We didn’t have time to go in- our coach was leaving soon. You could say it was a frying visit.
Fancy a beer? There is a shop here selling over 1000 varieties. A little known fact – each Belgian beer is served in its own individually labelled glass. And beware, they are strong.
Skilled chocolatiers are on every street. Best in the world. Chocolate so good. Free samples in most shops too. White, dark, milk coated and patterned. Today displays of eggs cram the windows. Eggs and windows filled with creativity.
As you can probably guess, yes there is a museum. Choco- Story (the Chocolate museum ) is on St-Jansplein. A must try if you have the time. Bruges knows how to extract every last euro from your wallet or purse.
Oh and before you go try some designer shopping on Steenstraat, Bruges’ main shopping street.
Finally. Horse and carriages clip clop through crowded streets. Beware too the cyclists who don’t seem to know how to brake. And the Japanese who blindly go around Europe, experiencing it through the lens of a camcorder. Abruptly stopping whenever they wish. It takes all sorts.
We are sorry to advise that the Specialist Leisure Group, which includes Shearings, entered administration on 22 May 2020. If you have booked a holiday with Shearings, or you have any questions please visit the Shearings website.