LIFE IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES
It is so photogenic at every turn, it’s like a film set,” Gary Jung says. “Guests often ask, ‘is the city really authentic and do people actually live here’? In fact, it’s so well preserved that someone who lived in Bruges (Brugge) during the 15th century could still find their way walking the streets today.” As someone who has guided tours across Europe for 28 seasons as an Insight Vacations travel director, Gary is as enchanted with Bruges’ medieval Old Town now as he was 35 years ago. “It’s not just an exceptionally photogenic city for tourists, but a city really enjoyed by the locals.”
Before you meet the home of Belgium beer and chocolate for yourself, Gary has these tips:
EXPLORE ALL ANGLES
I recommend people explore the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city centre both by day and night. Explore the small alleyways and cobblestoned streets on foot, take a scenic open-top canal cruise, and then perhaps take a romantic evening horse-drawn carriage ride. As there are always many day trippers, evenings will seem more relaxed and the city yours to enjoy. Also, tap into a local expert to guide you toward neighbourhoods such as Onze-Lieve-Vrouw Quarter, where you can visit the Beguinage (a home for religious women that dates from the 13th century).
SWEET LIKE CHOCOLATE
Belgium is famous for some of the best chocolates in the world. Godiva, Cote D’Or, Pierre Marcolini, Neuhaus are all great, but my favourite is Leonidas with over 100 types of luxury chocolates to choose from.
I also like Chocolates Sukerbuyc in Katelijnestraat, a family business producing handmade chocolate. Close by is Choco-Story, a museum telling how cocoa beans seduced us.
FRIES WITH THAT?
Belgium has a popular “fry culture” and you can find some of the best fries in Bruges at the two street food stands in front of the Belfry Tower. Add mayonnaise or curry ketchup. To take it one step further, The Frietmuseum is the first and only museum in the world dedicated to potato fries.
NOT JUST ABOUT FOOD
Many guests are surprised by the quality of museums in Bruges with top collections of art works (Memling and Groeninge collections).
An artistic treasure is Madonna of Bruges, a marble sculpture by Michelangelo of Mary and the child Jesus, in the Church of Our Lady. This exquisite sculpture was the master’s only work to leave Italy in his lifetime.
DRINK TO BE CULTURED
In 2016, UNESCO inscribed Belgium Beer Culture on their list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and with more than 1600 different varieties, you’ll have your work cut out for you sampling them. Some excellent beers to try are: Westmalle Tripel, a Trappist blond ale brewed to a high strength; Duvel Tripel Hop Citra; and St Bernardus Wit. Belgian wit beers are brewed with wheat and make great thirst-quenchers.
Visiting ‘t Poatersgat is practically mandatory when in Bruges. It’s probably the city’s most famous pub and part of its charm comes from being hidden in the basement of a historic building; the other is more about candlelight, the cosy sitting area, great music and the many beers.
History buffs should head for Cafe Vlissinghe, the oldest tavern in Bruges, established since 1515. Legend has it Peter Paul Rubens paid for his beer with paintings here, and emperor Charlemagne had a stormy romance with the innkeeper’s wife.
Sint-Annarei canal is in picture-perfect Bruges, Belgium, a city that dates back to the 15th century and is loved by tourists and locals alike.