Last year we took a short break to Bruges. Such a wonderful place and one of my favourite cities. I took my daughters there a couple of years ago and we stayed in an hotel outside the city. This time, however, we chose the Novotel which is right in the city centre. There is an underground carpark beneath the hotel which meant that we just left the car in there the whole weekend. Bruges is such a compact city that we were able to walk everywhere.
The Novotel has an outdoor pool but the weather wasn’t quite warm enough to sample it.
A 10 min walk up Katelijnestraat took us straight into the city. The Novotel was very comfortable and we would certainly stay there again.
Sightseeing Canal trip
When in Bruges, one of the must do sightseeing trips is to take a boat tour along the canals. There is not much difference between each of the companies. We chose the one with the prettiest window boxes.
The commentary is given in various languages and you are taken on a magical tour through the city to sample the wonders of Flemish architecture. Look out for the dog asleep on the windowsill.
We took a stroll down Wijngaardstraat, browsing the many gift and lace shops until we reached the horse water trough. Turning right here, passed many cafes and over the canal, you will find the entrance to the Begijnhof. This is a large enclosed sanctuary founded in 1245 for women whose husbands were fighting in the Crusades. The women lived in a semi-religious state, but did not take any vows. Today, the Begijnhof is partly occupied by Benedictine Nuns and you are asked to respect the silence and serenity of the area. It is a good idea to go first thing in the morning before the hordes of coach tourists descend, breaking that peace and tranquillity.
At the time of our visit, the Bruges Contemporary Art & Architecture Triennial was taking place and many art installations were dotted around the city on an art trail. In the Begijnhof a dozen wooden tree houses had been installed high up in the tree tops.
Another interesting visit was to the Belfort. Standing 272ft (83m) tall, 366 steps take you to the top for breath-taking views of Bruges. The first time my daughters and I climbed it, we were at the top at midday and it is very loud when the bells strike the hour! Interestingly, the tower leans about 3ft (1m) at the top. The tower contains a carillon of 47 bells which can be played by means of a hand keyboard.
Dille & Kamille in Simon Stevin Plein is an Aladdin’s cave for any kitchen enthusiast. We spent ages investigating all the gadgets and accessories, not knowing what half of them were for. I loved the way the shop was laid out by colour. My daughter was very intrigued by a stainless implement which I wondered if it was a multi-purpose tool for either cutting huge ravioli or pastry tarts. I must look it up. The children found all sorts of interesting things and we came away laden down with purchases.
Ark van Zarren is my absolute favourite. In their room layout they have a red Aga the same colour as my Rayburn. The stone sink looks perfect.
As you step over the threshold, you sense that this is a treasure trove of vintage loveliness. Every nook and cranny has been utilised to its full potential. The ceiling is bursting full of baskets and kitchenalia. They stock Greengate tableware. In the middle of the shop, we discovered the hardware section. Beautiful door knobs, drawer knobs and hooks. At the back of the shop is the most exquisite day bed decorated with lace and drapes. Bedlinen, curtains and fabric spill out from drawers and shelves. I spent a while perusing the bolts of fabric, finally choosing a beautiful, delicate chambray.
Down a little side street off the main street from the market square, we found a row of tiny shops selling lace. Now I couldn’t have a trip to Bruges without coming home with some lace, could I?
I bought some pretty Mason jars in Hema department store. Just perfect for storing lace and buttons, etc.
On the Saturday morning we wandered along the Djiver looking at the stalls in the flea market. It was very busy by the canal, so my husband and I decided to wander off the beaten track and explore the north of the city. The crowds soon thinned and we had a pleasant stroll admiring the architecture. We soon found ourselves out by the Folk Museum and Lace Centre. The Rolweg is one of the oldest streets in Bruges and still maintains that air of timelessness. Beautiful tiny houses adorned with roses and pretty window boxes. Except for the presence of cars, you’d think you’d stepped back in time.
Bruges is the chocolate capital of the world and shop windows are full of intricate displays of exquisite handmade chocolates. My husband was particularly interested in the chocolate tool sets so the children bought him a nut and bolt set.
Just off the market square in the Eiermarkt, we sort out the famous Dumon chocolate shop. It is the quaintest little shop I have ever seen, in typical Flemish style. The shop is now surrounded by more modern architecture which completely dwarfs the tiny little shop.
Inside, you descend down some steps into a heaven of all manner of chocolate. We bought a selection box of handmade chocolates to take home with us.
On the Sunday afternoon my husband and I paid a visit to the Brewery. The children didn’t fancy it and stayed behind at the hotel. The tour is available in various languages, so we booked ourselves onto the next English tour and decided to partake in a small beer whilst we waited for the allotted time. There is a café area outside and we found ourselves a table where we could sit and wait.
When the rest of our tour group assembled we joined them and set off into the brewery. The tour guide was very informative. One of the highlights apparently is climbing out onto the roof top for fantastic views of the city, but sadly it was raining and the roof area was closed off. At the end of the tour, your ticket entitles you to a free pint of beer (or 2 in Mark’s case, as I found the beer a little too strong for my taste!)
Having been before, we knew some of the good restaurants in which to eat. One of our favourites is Carlito’s Pizza restaurant in Hoogstraat. Amazingly I was able to book us a table online direct from the UK at www.carlitos.be
Looking round one day for somewhere to have lunch, we stumbled upon the Gingerbread Tearooms in Sint-Amandsstraat and what a find! Their speciality is bagels. I don’t particularly like bagels as I find them too dull and dry, but these were absolutely delicious. Soft and flavoursome.
Further along the same street are the Humpty Dumpty tearooms which are also very popular. We had to wait a little while to get a table. They also offer takeaway and the delicious baguettes are freshly prepared at the front of the cafe.
Bruges is such a beautiful city and I hope to be able to return there some day.