WIN­TER WON­DER­LAND

Is greeted by tid­ings of choco­late and beer in Bruges

London Evening Standard (West End Final B) - ES Magazine - - Travel - Edited by Alex Clark

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

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