I’m British through and through but nothing says Christmas more passionately than Brugge does each December. The Belgians of course have two celebrations with the Feast of Sint Niklaas coming early in the month!
The city streets are beautifully decked out with twinkling lights and window displays and the main and smaller squares like Market Square and Simon Stevinplein have their stalls selling all kinds of gift, food and drink specialties. It’s a picture book / chocolate box place that you may wander and wonder around in the warmth of their hospitality and friendliness - and in safety.
My ideal 24 hours? I set off on a Friday afternoon straight down the M20 from London and directly into the Eurotunnel terminal from the motorway. Go to the toilet, buy a drink, drive onto the train – 25 minutes of rest – drive off the train, to the end of the tunnel road, turn right and just keep on straight for 55 minutes and there is the Bruges turn-off – 10 minutes later I am parked in the centre. Nothing could be easier and hardly needs a map or GPS!
If I just kept walking around the main central triangle of the city it would only take me some 15 minutes to do so – but there is so much to see that is worthwhile. Ice Skating in Markt, climb the Belfry, eat Flemish beer stew and photograph the canals and picturesque buildings as the sun sets and the sky glows. You are never far away from where your hotel is and it is so easy to take a small break to recuperate and re-energise!
Saturday is market day at Tzand (square next to bus station) – buy wonderful cheeses to take home; visit The Church of our Lady to see the Michelangelo Madonna with Child statue and take a canal boat trip, a museum visit or a romantic Horse and Carriage ride around the cobbled streets. Too much to do – so little time!
Now don’t forget those chocolates, those fresh cream pralines. Much much cheaper than the UK and guaranteed to produce sounds of delight (and quiet munching noises). I also buy ginger bread, chocolate figures and honey waffle biscuits.
Driving home; quickly visit a supermarket in Belgium for very good beer at low prices. Try a jar of Advocaat as this goes great on ice cream or Christmas pudding! Wine is also reasonable in price here.
… and it’s back to Coquilles to catch the train back home. Mission accomplished… Tired and very Happy!
Here’s a link to learn more oldchocolatehouse.com/links.html
Having used the been there to plan a short trip to Belgium I thought it only proper to note down my experiences for the reference of other visitors.
We travelled to Bruges in our own car via ferry from Dover to Calais – for our trip we found that this was the most cost-effective means. The drive from Calais to Bruges is not arduous and took less than 1.5 hours - sat nav makes it all the more simpler and brought us to the door of the Anselmus Hotel in central Bruges.
We found that this was a very comfortable, friendly family-run hotel that we could heartily recommend. It is ideally located close to the central area.
The city is fabulous – we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Take the canal tour and get a view of the local Flemish architecture, visit the Chocolate museum, watch the demo and sample the goods. Have hot chocolate and waffles in one of the street cafes as a mid morning snack or maybe grab a portion of chips and mayo from the mobile frituur in the market square, browse the unique shops – not too much sign of globalisation here!
For our meals we found excellent mussels and frites at Breydel-de-Coninck just off the main square at Breidelstraat 24 and for an alternative evening we could recommend the Grand Café de Comptoir with their excellent selection of international dishes, warm welcome, elegant décor and reasonable prices.
Then there’s the beer, you can visit a local brewery but if it’s the business end of the operation that you are interested in you will not be disappointed by the selection of bars and pubs and the variety of local beers on offer – close your eyes and take your pick.
The following day we visited Ypres (Ieper), about 70 km away, where you cannot fail to be stirred by the tragedy of the first world war. The museum named ‘In Flanders Fields’ in the main square of the town and only a short walk from the Menen Gate really puts a subsequent driving tour of the battlegrounds and cemeteries into vivid perspective.
Near Hill 62 you can view the trenches and let your imagination construct what it must have been like to fight in these conditions. The largest allied cemetery at ‘Tyne Cot' has over 12,000 graves regimentally aligned plus a wall of remembrance with thousands upon thousands of names of those who fell but have no known grave.
Bruges and the locality have much to offer visitors looking for a city break with a difference – I look forward to going again at some stage.
Check out the hotel at en.venere.com/belgium/hotels_brugge/hotel_anselmus.html?fe1&ref=682988, Breydel Restaurant site is www.breydel-deconinc.be/
Keep young children busy in this beautiful city by visiting Astridpark, on Schaarstraat. There's a great little playpark with slides, swings and sandpits and, next to it, a pretty park with ducks and a bandstand to play in.
If you walk from here through Vismart, depending on the time of day, your children will delight in the fish or toys and crafts on display.
Welcoming three-star hotel in a delightful location on a canal and five minutes' walk from the centre of the town. Family-friendly with pleasant bedrooms and a sunny breakfast room. Reasonably priced too. Staying here was an altogether enjoyable experience.
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