Lace, churches and chocolate: the medieval city of Bruges lies in Western Flanders and is the gateway to Belgium’s coast. Once a prestigious trading town, the silting of its canals in the 15th century resulted in partial desertion. The 400 year lull which followed explains its reputation as a ‘city out of time’. It does indeed transport you back through history with its thirteenth century architecture and meandering canals. During the day it can be very crowded with tourists, especially in the summer. Evenings and off season are when the city becomes most atmospheric, whitewashed almshouses to be discovered down sleepy streets to the sound of horse’s hooves and chiming bells.
The oval moat which surrounds Bruges traces the line of the original walls, the whole city neatly packed within. It is thus perfect for exploration on foot. At the centre are two squares. Orientate yourself in Markt with a coffee and a look at your map in one of the many cafes. Horse drawn carriages and mediaeval-style town houses give you an idea of the city’s character. Be sure to time your visit with the ringing of the Belfry bells for an echo of thirteenth century Bruges. This UNESCO protected tower rises from a market place of the same era. The climb to the top should be next on your agenda. 366 steps lead up for a spectacular view over the city.
There are several excellent walking routes around the city, and an abundance of bike hire outlets. As Bruges’ best kept secrets are scattered throughout the streets these are ideal ways to get around. For a more laid-back view, take a canal tour and follow the routes of medieval merchants.
Visit the Gothic Hall for an overview of the town’s history. The audio guide is excellent and takes you through the local scenes shown in wood carvings and murals. If you are lucky enough to visit in May then you can witness some of this history in action during the Hold Blood Procession. The drops of Christ’s blood which are housed in the basilica are paraded through the streets of the city as part of a medieval style procession.
Another fascinating highlight is the Begijnhof, former home to a Catholic order of unmarried women and still occupied by single ladies today. A mini, enclosed village, the quaintness of this set up is what makes it so special, with daffodils covering the lawns during spring.
A day of indulgence is best begun at the Choco-Story. Watch and learn about the chocolate making process whilst, most importantly, sampling the goods. Continue your exploration of Belgium’s culinary specialities by visiting Brouwerij De Halve Mann, a family brewery. Take a guided tour to learn about the history and process to increase your appreciation of the pint at the end.
The St Anna Quarter should not be missed, despite its nickname of ‘Forgotten Corner’. Exploring the streets is a pleasure in itself, with gingerbread-house architecture and windmills. Watch local women making lace the traditional way at the Lace Centre. Explore the churches, and stumble upon tiny museums filled with local treasures.
Last Edit by sophie mcgovern on 30/09/2011 EDIT NOW >>