Fly to Bruges, the Belgian Venice, and enjoy it’s medieval charms
Bruges may not be the only northern European city to evoke Italy’s stunning Venice, or have the moniker bestowed, but it is certainly one of the prettiest. This small city is capital of West Flanders and stretches to the Belgian coast – a prime spot that gave rise to trade and wealth that has left its mark for all to enjoy today.
Its stunning old town has much of its medieval architecture intact and is one of Europe’s best-preserved, easily justifying its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is this ancient, small and perfectly formed centre that proffers the breathtaking charm. Wander its streets and cross its bridges, taking in the buildings as you go. A particularly beautiful spot is the Groenerei or Green Canal, and from Peerdebrug, the Horse Bridge, spy the beautiful mansions that line the canal and view the cathedral tower.
For something dramatic, and a building that displays the city’s old wealth, make your way to the Burg, the central square. Although many of the buildings were rebuilt – though still many centuries ago so there is much to marvel – the old town hall, the Stadhuis, is Belgium’s oldest and dates back to the 14th century. Its gothic splendour is something to behold, and also take a moment to see the first floor’s stunning wooden ceiling.
It isn’t just the quaint photo opportunities that make the city a must for a short break. There is the spectacular art at the Groeninge museum which houses one of the best collections of 15th and 16th century art in Europe. There is also a full spectrum of visual delights on show, with high points including the Flemish Primitives, the exceptional Jan van Eycks, as well as the Flemish Expressionists and many post-war pieces.
Local food is also a must. Brave the queues and go in search of the perfect frites from numerous stands in the city centre. Two that are often hailed the best are Frit-Flagey and Maison Antoine and are certainly worth a try. If you prefer not to eat on the go head to Den Gouden Harynck for their 5-course tasting menu or venture a 10km-drive southwest of the city centre to Zedelgem. Here find one of the best restaurants in the country, Hertog Jan, which boasts 3 Michelin stars thanks to the spectacular creations by chefs Gert De Mangeleer and Joachim Boudens.
For places to stay there are the luxurious and the simply charming to suit your mood. Hotel Dukes’ Palace is the only 5-star hotel in the city and offers a very central location and the requisite polish. For something with a more boutique feel try The Van Cleef, housed in a grand Italianate mansion once home to the Van Cleef dynasty and now oozing contemporary style and run like a private residence to offer a haven in the city.
As one of Europe’s most finely preserved medieval cities, Bruges lures with its history, its pretty canals, its art and fine food. Take a break this winter and explore some of its many delights, all neatly contained in an easy to walk and very pretty package.
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