When my wife asked me where I'd like to go for my birthday weekend I didn't hesitate to ask if we could go to Bruges.
After seeing the Colin Farrell film 'In Bruges' I was impressed how stunning this beautiful city was and not being that keen on flying plus living in the South East, it's less than an hours drive from Dunkirk!
We travelled with DFDS Seaways which is a 2 hour crossing from Dover and with 24 crossings daily you'll be able to find a time slot that suits you from wherever you're travelling from. Prices with four people and a car start from as little as £29 each way, but as it was the wife and I, we went 1st class for a little peace and quiet and that all important wi-fi access.
We were both astonished how easy it was to drive to Bruges and straight into the heart of the city centre. My wife who was driving was panicking whether she should be driving down the historic narrow cobbled streets, but nevertheless we had to get to our destination which was the simply charming Pand Hotel situated on a quiet street just of the Dijver area.
The Pand Hotel was an 18th Century carriage house that's been transformed into delightful boutique hotel that's a member of the illustrious "Small Luxury Hotels of the World" which are notable for their exceptional quality.
As soon as we arrived our bags were taken by the ever so polite and friendly staff and as we were arrived a little early had complimentary drinks brought to us from the cosy bar to where we were waiting in the gorgeous library where the large open fire, panelled walls, bookcases, antiques and fine art really sets the scene for a visit to a prominent world heritage site.
Moving on to our beautiful room; one of the junior suites which boasts air-con, jacuzzi, flat-screen dvd to name a few, was decorated in tasteful Ralph Lauren fabrics and stunning marble en-suite bathroom, we unpacked in haste to see what Bruge had to offer.
At the end of our street 'Pandreitje', is probably one of the most attractive views in Bruges, looking across the the Dijver river from Rozenhoedkaai you can see the hotel used in the film 'In Bruges' with the famous Belfry in the background. There's a great bar/cafe called 'T Klein Venetie' (Little Venice) which we would frequent a few times whilst passing, may I recommend you try the 'Bourgogne des Flandres' dark beer alongside a plate of cheese and salami with mustard - yum!
Walking along from 'Wollestraat' (Wool Street) you enter the heart of the city called 'The Markt' (The Market) Square where the 12th century Belfry is located and you can get an amazing view from the top of the 366 stairs but be prepared to queue, and 'The Provincial Court' which stands on the former site of the 'Waterhalle' next to which is the excellent 'Historium' walkthrough experience which is a medieval look at the golden age of Bruges.
Also around the square are various eateries, but can be very busy and made us go off hunting for somewhere else to eat which lets you explore places that you may not have found. Additionally, this is where the horse and carriage trips go from, although we decided against this it as it was €40, not bad when you've a group of people but when there's just the two, a little expensive.
On our first evening meal we found ourselves at 'T Fonteintje' (The Wash Basin) on the corner at 'Simon Stevin Square' where I enjoyed a big pot of Mussels and fries washed down with a few glasses of wine. This is where we found out the reality that nearly everywhere to eat in Bruges is rather expensive. We were pre-warned that you're talking on average between €25 and €30 just for a main course without any drinks. The sun was setting and we had full view of the pretty square and cobbled streets in front of us with every so often a horse and carriage trotting past, so that reminded me that I was on a short holiday, but I don't think we could afford to live there!
After a good nights sleep at The Pand what better way to start the day than with Champagne breakfast. Not just a selection of bread, cold meats and cheese, fresh fruit, yoghurt and cereals, but fresh cooked eggs 3 ways, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes all cooked in front of you on an old Arga stove! Served in an exquisite country-style breakfast room with white linen and silver teapots with full waiter service by the charming Ignace and makes you feel like royalty! Today was going to be educational as we were only here for a short stay wanted to see the main sights.
My wife Adele wanted to see the 'Madonna by Michelangelo' at the 'Church of Our Lady' just off 'Mariastraat'. The tower of the church is the tallest structure in Bruges and the 2nd tallest brickwork tower in the world. At the moment the church is have some internal floor restoration but you can still look at the Madonna and beautiful Nave.
After a relaxing pint of Jupiler at the 'De Wijngaert' bar and grill on 'Noordstraat' (North Street) we headed towards 'Begijnhof', a bizarre courtyard surrounded by identical living quarters used by sisterhoods of the roman catholic church. Although slightly eerie, very tranquil after the hustle and bustle of the busy narrow streets.
Onwards we strolled up past where the horse and carts stop to drink from the horse-head fountain to the outskirts of Bruges to an area called 'Minnewater' (Lake of Love). This is where the canal boats turn where hundreds of swans gather oblivious to them, legend goes the people of Bruges murdered a town administrator Pieter Lanchals. His name meaning long neck and the Lanchals family coat of arms featuring a white swan, Maximillian cursed Bruges to have to keep swans on their lakes eternally, but nevertheless makes for a pretty spectacle.
After seeing the canal boats in action and not having done the horse and carriage I enquired on a price and being only €8 each for half an hour tour I immediately booked us on the next canal trip. This is an absolute must and I recommend on doing this first as you can see places that you may have missed otherwise.
By the evening we were really struggling to decide where we wanted to eat and as it was getting late we decided on the Irish Bar 'Delany's' near 'Burg' which to be honest is something I don't make a habit of as I'm a believer of "when in Rome" and all that. However to be honest I really enjoyed it and highly endorse the Irish stew for not just being tasty and comforting, but very filling and cheap!
Day three, after breakfast we headed back towards the 'Mariastraat' area and the 'Memling in Sint-Jan - Hospitaalmuseum' at 'Old St. John's Hospital' one of Europe's oldest surviving hospital buildings. Dating from the middle ages Brothers and Sisters cared for for sick pilgrims and travellers and left behind an amazing array of fine art and fascinating medical artifacts.
A short walk to 'Walplein' brings you to my favourite building and an absolute must, the 'De Halve Maan' (The Half Moon) brewery! The only active brewery left in Bruges that when you buy your €7 ticket for the 45 minute tour includes a cold glass of either 'Brugse Zot' or 'Straffe Hendrik'. The tour takes you around the current brewing facility, then takes you back in time and the amusing guide tells you the history of the owners and processes involved. Be warned though there's a lot of climbing up vertical steps, but when you get to the top of the building you get an amazing panoramic view over Bruges.
After buying Belgium chocolates for gifts, we headed back the 'The Markt' and spent a good while in the 'Historium' as mentioned earlier, at the end of the tour the bar was sadly closed so we headed up 'Philipstockstraat' to a bar that was recommended to us called the 'Cambrinus' Bierbrasserie which has a reported 400 types of beers! We managed to get a table, but as this bar/restaurant is so popular we had to give it up in an hour as it was booked. I was getting in a bit of a kerfuffle as there's so much to choose from so I ended up getting a standard pint of Jupiler as I was so thirsty! After calming down and reading the drinks list we opted for the rack of four taster beers to sample the different styles and Adele instantly took a liking to the cherry fruit beer. With our hour up, we took our beer to the bar to specimen tasty and the not so tasty; the 'Brugs Witbeer' was supposed to have hints of lemon and coriander, but just tasted of seawater! Adele asked the waitress if there was a slot for a table and luckily we managed to get one by the bar and ordered a three course set meal including the delicious Flemish stew for €25. You could quite easily spend the whole evening as there's such a great atmosphere.
Our last afternoon consisted of taking in the sights of the beautiful surrounding streets and by the canals. There's nothing nicer than just chilling out at our now local bar 'Little Venice' by the 'Dijver' canal watching the world go by before our drive back to Dunkirk. By now I was just getting to know my way around the city and it's quite surprising how compact it really is and when we come back, which we will one day, I'm going bring my bike to explore a bit further.