LIFE IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCO­LATES

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - ASK THE TOUR GUIDE - CE­LESTE MITCHELL

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.

PIC­TURE: IS­TOCK

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.

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