Indulge Yourself In BrugesPosted on: 29 May 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
Explore Bruges' beautiful architecture, quirky history, unique shops and gourmet treats.
The Colin Farrell movie In Bruges, which launched in April, will undoubtedly entice even more visitors to beat a path to the door of this chocolate-box Belgian town. Filmed against the medieval backdrop of the compact city that's commonly referred to as the 'Venice of the North', you can't sit through the film without concluding that this is one seriously beautiful place that's well worth a visit.
Ornate palaces, ancient churches, cosy cafes and very-individualistic shops all combine to make this an excellent choice for a short break in Europe. I spent half my childhood in Bruges, and still regularly return to enjoy the architectural splendours and waist-thickening delights of their restaurants.
Other Things To Do
The Great Beguinage - a world heritage preserved convent set in beautiful grounds and open to visitors.
The Chocolate Walk - A designed chocolate walk that takes in all the finest chocolate shops.
Choco-Story - Bruges' very own chocolate dedicated museum to the lovely stuff.
Frite Museum - A new addition opening in May 2008 which documents and has everything dedicated to the humble Belgian frite.
Must See Sights
Bruges positively groans with things to see and do, but there are some sights you just can't afford to miss. One is the Groeninge Museum which houses six centuries of Flemish masterpieces, from Jan van Eyck to Marcel Broodthaers.
Also don't overlook the Gruuthuse Museum, just next door. Set in a 15th-century palace, it houses a quite remarkable collection of applied art, period furniture, valuable tapestries, musical instruments, silverware and pottery from the 13th to the 19th centuries.
Walk off the calories you'll inevitably consume by clambering up the 366 steps of the belfry in the Grote Markt, on the main market square. Look in on the 47 bell carillon which peals out several times a day, and take in the view over the old town - it's a long way up but well worth the climb.
There are literally dozens of churches, galleries and museums worth seeing in Bruges, enough to fill an entire guidebook. One not to miss, though it'd be difficult to, as it's the highest tower in the city, is the 13th century Church of Our Lady. It houses the Madonna by Michelangelo and the splendid tombstones of Mary of Burgundy and her father Charles the Bold.
It's hard to decide where to eat out in Bruges as there are just so many wonderful restaurants.
If I had to choose one though, it would be Den Dyver on Dyver 5. It offers world class cuisine with many traditional Belgian specialities. Note that it's closed Wednesdays.
To meet the locals try 't Zwaantje at Gentpoortvest 70 Residents of Bruges who like the traditional French-Belgian cuisine and want to escape the tourists, end up here. It's located in the historical residence of a marble worker and is a wonderfully relaxing place to spend a night. Trui and Geert, the owners, have decorated the restaurant with baroque woodcarving from the Czech Republic, and the food is simply divine, and less than you'd pay at home.
If you like Belgian beer you're in for a treat in Bruges. Check out one or two of the 1800 - yes, 1800! - on offer at the Strauffe Hendrik brewery.
Another great bar which gets very lively at night is Brugs Beertje, with 300 different brands of beer, at Kemelstraat 5. Try one of the cherry beers, Kriek, and surprise yourself how fruit and hops can taste that good!
The restaurants overlooking the town's noisy and bustling fish market are also worth a special mention, but if it's just a snack you need it's hard to beat a waffle topped with something divine and wicked such as chocolate, caramel or cream, eaten on the hoof.
All in all, not a place for diets, Belgium!
A memorable hotel to rest your weary head is De Orangerie. This 15th century former convent stands on one of the most picturesque canals in the city and because of its careful refurbishment you'll feel more like you're sleeping in an historic monument than a 21st century hotel.
Bruges is a really fun place to shop. No bland High Street names here. The city's packed with small, eclectic, owner-run stores, and whether it's a dress or an original door-handle you seek, you'll find something here.
For original clothing try Boetiek Marazuela at Noordzandstraat 87. It specialises in wonderful Spanish clothing, and is the place to go for original accessories from top designers. It's always fun to visit and there's a cosy corner with Spanish tapas and drinks, ideal for the man in your life as he waits!
For bits and pieces to transform your home visit Elisa's Antiek, brocante en decoratie Josiane Cools, at Eekhoutstraat 1B. They specialise in small items of furniture, paintings, vases, chandeliers, lamps and much more, and they'll ship to UK for reasonable cost.
In the same vein is 'Authentic Interiors & Bloemen en Planten' at Fort Lapin 27 - brilliant for must-have lamps, cushions and tapestries. They have their own furniture workshop.
Looking for souvenirs? In Belgium it's got to be chocolate. Available in any shape you fancy and in countless varieties. The locals are total chocolate addicts, and, it has to be said, chocolate snobs! Every Bruges inhabitant has their own take on who's the best chocolatier, and rivalry is fierce. My advice is to go to whichever one you like the look of - they're all good.
Exquisite lace shops are also found all over Bruges, and Flemish tapestries are another popular buy at reasonable prices.
At the weekends check out the flea markets - the Tourist Board calls them 'antique markets' which is stretching a point a bit, but rake around and you can come up with some lovely trinkets. They're open for business every day along the banks of the canals.
By Katie Wood
You can visit www.brugge.be for more information on Bruges, including more detail on what to see and many hotel options.
Flanders tourism: www.visitflanders.co.uk
Den Dyver: tel: 050/33 60 69 / www.dyver.be
't Zwaantje: tel: 050/34 38 85 / www.hetzwaantje.be
De Orangerie: tel: 050/34 16 49 / www.hotelorangerie.com
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