Bruges, I think, is one of Europe’s most handsome small cities. That perfectly preserved centre with its fairytale buildings made us feel like we were on a film set or that we’d been transported to another era. The architecture is just stunning with styles ranging from medieval to the nineteenth century. All of that and then those picturesque canals – the icing on an already great cake. We loved everything about Bruges and when you mix in a laidback atmosphere and the fact it is stuffed to the brim with chocolate, chips and beer – perfect is the only way to describe it.
We set off exploring on a Sunday morning, thrilled to find as soon as we got through the city gates there was the most enormous flea market. Son was fascinated – we all were – having never before seen such a huge market with so much “stuff.”
Everything under the sun, it was eclectic and wonderful. We browsed for ages. Son with holiday money to spend, got on with some serious shopping and ended up with a model of a tank in a glass case and an old war medal. One happy customer more than satisfied with these dusty treasures.
A gorgeous smell of warm coconut was wafting through the air, we followed our noses to a stall selling delicious coconut ball things (no idea what they were called) but incredibly tasty, we feasted on a bag of these treats as we strolled.
The centre of Bruges is stunning. Other cities may boast palaces and cathedrals, here there are guildhalls, warehouses, exchanges and the former houses of wealthy merchants. In the fifteenth century Bruges was a centre for the Hanseatic League, a confederation of merchant cities that joined Europe together in trade. It became one of the wealthiest places in medieval Europe. The fairytale mix of gabled houses, magnificent squares, narrow cobblestone streets and meandering canals from those times remain.
We found our way easily to Markt, the centrepiece of the city. It has the huge Belfry tower on one side and dozens of restaurants, shops and bars. We had a drink in one of the bars on our first evening, a lovely setting overlooking the square where we paid three times as much for a drink as a couple of streets along. Lesson learned, we found several places by the canals on subsequent evenings and had drinks for half the price.
A climb to the top of the Bell Tower was our goal for the morning – a bit of a queue as only seventy people can be up there at any one time but a silhouette artist kept us entertained while we waited. We clambered up 366 steps to the top for a panoramic view of the city. Not as bad as it sounds though, you can catch your breath on the way up at the treasury where there is an interesting display on the clock mechanism and the bells. The stairs are extremely narrow and with only one way up and down, sometimes we jammed ourselves against the wall to allow people to pass, other times we hauled ourselves up the steps using a rope. Never a dull moment.
After a bit of people watching in the square, we turned into Breidelstraat past so many lace, chocolate and biscuit shops. Unable to resist the lure of the chocolate, we also browsed in the Christmas shop and left with a Bruges bauble.
Burg was last on the Sunday strolling list – a square with a gorgeous mix of architectural styles and the site of the Town Hall. Built in the late 1300’s this is the oldest town hall in Belgium. A smaller square, I especially loved the old Civil Registry with its gold statues. Son especially loved the ice-cream shop – our next and for him most important of call after all that strolling and tower climbing.