Is greeted by tidings of chocolate and beer in Bruges
In the film In Bruges, Colin Farrell’s character considers hell to be a lifetime spent in the medieval city. It took my friends and me just one glug of glühwein and a glimpse of the festive Markt — the main square — to know we had been granted a weekend of heavenly merriment.
The wooden stalls were selling trinkets, novelty hats and knitwear, but the real magic is in the setting. The 12th-century square is lined with step-gabled brick buildings, which had been decorated like individual Christmas trees with lights and festive foliage. As the Flemish remix of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ played into the cold night, skaters took a final spin on the central ice rink, a little unsteadily: the glühwein comes with a shot of Amaretto, the hot chocolate is served with rum, even the pancakes come doused in Grand Marnier.
On the south side of the Markt, the turreted Belfort adds to the fairy-tale feel when its 47-bell carillon chimes forth across the city. Enticed by the less tuneful sound of a violin and feetstomping, we stumbled on a party in the belfry’s courtyard. Welcomed with a plate of steaming mussels, we settled in for an evening of festive cheer, which ended with shots of jenever, Dutch gin — purely for warmth, as the mercury hovered at zero.
When it does plummet below, skaters take to the 16km of canals that dissect the city and give it the nickname ‘the Venice of the North’. Our Airbnb apartment, the Golden Hand, looked out over a stretch of canal flanked by quiet cobbled streets. The flat, in the servants’ quarters of an 18th-century house, had been stylishly renovated by owners Pascale and Bart, who had erected a Christmas tree in our honour.
The next morning we went for breakfast at one of Bruges’ best patisseries, Servaas Van Mullem. Founded by a committee member of the National Society of Patissiers, this third-generation patisserie has upheld its standards; the pains aux raisins were gooey and the melt-in-yourmouth croissants called for seconds.
If you’re looking for serious gifts, then the best shopping is in the streets off the square. Every other shop is a chocolatier with mouthwatering displays of praline shells and powdered truffles. Our favourite, Depla, featured a towering devil made