With Colin Farrell in Bruges

On the trail of two Ir­ish hit­men in a gen­teel city of great di­ver­sity

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - FRONT PAGE - Ju­dith Elen was a guest of Visit Flan­ders and Rail Europe. JU­DITH ELEN


“A great place to die,” Ir­ish ac­tor Colin Farrell ob­served, writ­ing in the vis­i­tors’ book of Re­lais Bour­gondisch Cruyce (Bur­gundy Cross Inn), the small, luxe ho­tel with a rich past and present that was home to cast mem­bers of the 2008 hit film In Bruges. As Ir­ish hit­men, Farrell and co-star Bren­dan Glee­son con­front death here in Bruges, as did Valois duke Philip the Good, about 550 years ear­lier. The Bur­gun­dian Valois dukes, 15th-cen­tury ri­vals of the French crown, mar­ried into Bruges, where they built cas­tles and held court with great princely pageantry. They lived well, en­rich­ing the city and its mer­chants, whose stepped-gable houses, civic build­ings and art sur­vive. The Old Town is a vi­brant mu­seum of their relics. But Bruges, an hour by train from Brus­sels, or two from Lon­don, also has a quirky mod­ern style. Ja­panese artist Toyo Ito’s pav­il­ion and pool on The Burg city square is a mod­ern rar­ity, but the city’s cob­bled streets and old build­ings fos­ter ec­cen­tric­ity. Its heart pulses with in­di­vid­ual takes on the past, such as Re­lais Bour­gondisch Cruyce, which started life as a canal­side mer­chant’s house (with gates in its wa­tery cel­lars for me­dieval traders’ boat-dock­ing). Arm your­self with a Bruges City Card and ex­plore un­usual gal­leries and a net­work of pho­to­genic canals. A half-hour Bruges by Boat canal tour gives you a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive from the wa­ter of trail­ing tree branches and cruis­ing white swans. Boats leave from five land­ing stages, March to mid-Novem­ber. It’s a free trip with the City Card; from €46 ($70) for 48 hours. More: bruggecity­card.be.


There are mu­se­ums de­voted to di­a­monds, beer, tor­ture, lace, Bel­gian fries, choco­late and lamps. Open to vis­i­tors, one of Europe’s old­est pre­served hos­pi­tals, Sint-Jan­shos­pi­taal, has wards, fur­ni­ture, paint­ings, an apothe­cary and herb gar­den, and chapel. In a set of 17th-cen­tury almshouses, Volk­skun­de­mu­seum fea­tures tra­di­tional work­shops (cobblers, coop­ers, and milliners), class­room, inn, do­mes­tic in­te­ri­ors, and the his­tory of the city’s tra­di­tional pup­pet show, Den Uyl. Art mu­se­ums are equally di­verse. Groeninge­mu­seum spans Bel­gian art his­tory from the Flem­ish Prim­i­tives (Jan van Eyck and Hans Mem­ling), the mu­seum’s spe­cial­ity, to post-war mod­erns. In the Pi­casso Mu­seum’s dark-pan­elled rooms and cor­ri­dors, 120 of his orig­i­nal en­grav­ings, draw­ings, il­lus­tra­tions, ce­ram­ics and paint­ings ac­com­pany 200 works by friends such as Marc Cha­gall, Au­guste Renoir, Henri Matisse, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar De­gas, Ge­orges Braque and Claude Monet. Or im­bibe his­tory in the sin­gle won­drous room of poly­chrome-frescoed walls and vaulted ceil­ings at the 14th-cen­tury Stad­huis (City Hall) on The Burg. More: be­zoek­ers.brugge.be/mu­se­ums-and-places-of-in­ter­est.


The Princely (those Bur­gun­dian dukes again) Beguinage Ten Wi­jn­gaarde was founded in 1245. The last of the Beguines, semi-monas­tic Catholic religieuse, lived here un­til 1926. The white-painted, steppedgable houses, with dark roofs and a con­vent gar­den, are now a UNESCO World Her­itage site oc­cu­pied by Bene­dic­tine nuns since the late 1920s. The Beguinage (free en­try) opens daily (there’s a mu­seum in one of the 17th­cen­tury houses), 6.30am to 6.30pm (on the dot). Dif­fer­ent hours (and en­try fee) for the Beguinale House.


There is noth­ing se­date or re­tir­ing about OnzeLieve-Vrouwek­erk, the Church of Our Lady, in the city cen­tre. Its 115.5m me­dieval brick tower is the world’s sec­ond high­est of its kind. In­side this chaotic trea­sure cave, gold-robed stat­ues, soar­ing mar­ble col­umns, high-arched win­dows, painted sepul­chres, a gold­crowned Vir­gin above an of­fer­ing of white lilies, and count­less pre­cious arte­facts vie with scaf­fold­ing and cor­doned-off ar­eas, where an­cient fig­ures carved into the stone wall are emerg­ing, un­cov­ered dur­ing restora­tions. A prized pos­ses­sion is Michelan­gelo’s life-size whitemar­ble Madonna and Child. Take a leisurely canal­side walk to Our Lady of the Pot­tery (Onze-Lieve-VrouwterPot­terie), a 13th-cen­tury nuns’ hospi­tal for pil­grims and trav­ellers, now a mu­seum of monas­tic relics, early nurs­ing ob­jects and paint­ings; its gothic church also has a baroque in­te­rior crammed with arte­facts.


Seek­ing a spec­tac­u­lar view, vis­i­tors queue to climb the nar­row, wind­ing 366-step stair­way of the 83m Bel­fry, scene of mur­der and may­hem in In Bruges. Pink, mir­rored Gallery Xpo, in the tower, houses Sal­vador Dali graph­ics and stat­ues.


Bril­liantly coloured ta­pes­tries, lace (look for an­tique pieces at mar­kets), linen (Linen House is good value) and choco­late are tra­di­tional sou­venirs. But by­pass choco­late beer stein dis­plays and head for The Choco­late Line (Si­mon Steven­plein, 19), an in­no­va­tive lo­cal creator. Fam­ily busi­ness Pra­linette is the place for hand­made del­i­ca­cies from finest sugar-free choco­late and Patis­serie Academie has Gault-Mil­lau’s im­pri­matur for pas­tries. Ex­plore Di­jver An­tique Mar­ket (week­ends, March-Novem­ber); food and flower mar­kets (on Wed­nes­days, Mar­ket Square) and the open-sided old Fish Mar­ket (Vis­markt) for photo ops. En­cy­clopaedic vin­tage shop Madame Mim is at Hoogstraat, 29. More: the­chocolate­line.be; pra­linette.be; patis­seriea­cademie.be.


An hour and a half’s walk out of town along a pic­turesque canal leads to Bruges’s four sur­viv­ing wind­mills atop the city’s an­cient ram­parts. Two mills are open to the pub­lic: the 1770s Sint-Jan­shuis­molen and Koeleweimolen. Steep wooden steps (like sturdy, nearver­ti­cal lad­ders) lead up the out­side wall to a high door; in­side, see a work­ing grain mill and spec­tac­u­lar views.


Slip into charm­ing, four-star Ho­tel De Orangerie and pass the flower-decked atrium to find a snug, se­cluded cor­ner lounge bar known as Salon. Though open to the pub­lic, I re­main undis­turbed, curled in a deep, but­ton-stud­ded lounge, cock­tail in hand, amid fresh flow­ers and canal views. More: hotelo­r­angerie.be.


Cel­e­brated young chef Bernard Bonte cham­pi­ons in­no­va­tion at Bonte B. Amuse-bouches in­clude goat’s cheese cream, miso crumbs and crunchy savoury pra­line; shards of crys­talline salt pierce whipped ta­ble but­ter. Chicken wafts in on a po­tent aroma of truf­fles, fol­low­ing an en­tree of ra­zor clams, tiny orange mus­sels (at their best in July-Au­gust), mi­cro leaves, purees and Asian flavours. At the tra­di­tional end of the spec­trum, 400-year-old eat­ing house De Koetse serves dishes such as wa­ter­zooi (fish or chicken soup with pota­toes), steaks from a big open grill, fresh-daily North Sea fish (the sole me­u­nière is heav­enly), mus­sels, lob­sters and eel. More: restau­rant­bon­teb.be; dekoetse-brugge.be. 10 At Grand Ho­tel Cas­sel­bergh, a few gue­strooms high in the roof re­tain their me­dieval ceil­ing b beams and rus­tic air. Else­where, the ho­tel is pala­tial, with wide stair­cases, chan­de­liers, paint­ings, 118 deeply com­fort­able cham­bers, and a spa in the 13th-cen­tury cel­lars. Or, with 16 in­di­vid­u­ally styled gue­strooms, Re­lais Bour­gondisch Cruyce (pic­tured) stands di­rectly over the canal. Com­fort­able an­tiques, rugs, flow­ers and valu­able orig­i­nal paint­ings, a water­side tea ter­race and beau­ti­ful break­fast room (sip morn­ing cof­fee at Glee­son’s favourite canal­side win­dow), spell in­ti­macy and wel­com­ing warmth. More: grand­hotel­cas­sel­bergh.com; re­lais­bour­gondis­checruyce.be.

Bel­fry Tower and Di­jver Canal, top; Groen­ing­mu­seum, known for its Flem­ish art, cen­tre right; The Choco­late Line, cen­tre left; Bren­dan Glee­son, left, and Colin Farrell in In Bruges, above; one of Bruges’s four sur­viv­ing wind­mills, be­low

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