With its cobbled streets, gabled houses, tall spires and winding canals, Bruges is the most photogenic city in Europe. It’s a walker’s paradise which means that the keen photographer is kept busy as at every turning there is a scene worth capturing - especially if you're into photographing Medieval buildings. And when the lights go on at night time, Bruges takes on another character altogether, ghostlike, ethereal or romantic, depending on your mood. It is a dazzling city - and it's got chocolate too!
Bruges - No High Rises, No Ugly Modernity. Just Class
Chocolate, beer, lace, mussels and waffles. What's not to love about a city that provides such food. The horse & carriage rides and trips on canals makes it a top European city.
The Planners missed out on Bruges
That the city is so well preserved is due to the fact that it seemed to fall into a slumber when the trades on which it was founded, diamond and lace, died away about half a millenium ago. The result is that the town is free of the scourge of some modern developments and there are no high rises.
Not that there’s anything wrong with sky-scrapers and high-rises, but looking at parts of London, I think much of it would have been better left as Sir Christopher Wren designed it, showcasing beautiful buildings and streets leading up to them, piazzas and squares setting them off, and the skyline uncluttered except for the gantries along the Thames.
Bruges suffered so such horrors, and this beautifully preserved city can be celebrated today for its Medieval buildings, its massive squares, and its charming alleyways.
In Bruges, if you climb to the top of the belfry in the main square you see only turrets and towers and a sea of red roofs.
Bruges and the Chocolate Story
I can never decide if the Belgians prefer beer to chocolate, or vice versa, but certainly the prevalence of both in shops and restaurants testifies to their love of the beverage and the product of the cocoa bean. One place I always visit on my trips there is the Chocolate Story, a four-floor museum dedicated to the history of the bean. The story never fails to fascinate. Visitors learn the customs, beliefs and everyday lives of the Mayans and the Aztecs, how they used cocoa as an offering to the gods, how they used cocoa as currency and as a drink and how the Spaniards adopted the drink, but added sugar to it. Throughout history, chocolate has defined the user and it was made only by craftsman until the 19th century, when industrialisation gradually took over chocolate production.
The tour ends with a tasting of some of the delicious chocolates we have seen being made. Recipes are given if anyone wants them, but honestly, to make this quality of chocolate demands a super-cook, so I just buy mine.
What to do in Bruges
Bruges is an eclectic mix of grand squares, magnificent buildings, smart cafés, waterways, bridges, horse-drawn carriages and good restaurants where everyone seems to be scoffing mussels and frites followed by waffles. The first square to check out is The Markt, and if you can get there before the tourist buses arrive (usually about 10 a.m.) you will see it at its best. Then head for the Burg, the other big square where the buildings have gold-flecked façades which glitter in the sunlight.
Take a boat trip (yes, it’s touristy but it has to be done, rather like a Gondola ride in Venice) and the sights as you ride along are supberb. Off the boat, it’s worth walking to the romantic Lake of Love with its gliding swans and enjoying a coffee or lunch along the river bank, and definitely a waffle and strawberries in summer.
When sightseeing becomes too tiring, sitting at one of the cafés in any of the squares is a pleasant way to pass and hour or two, people watching while drinking good coffee or good chocolate, or some of the local blonde or rouge beer. The streets and alleyways are full of interesting little shops selling goods made of lace, chocolates (of course) and the usual tourist stuff, but there are also some excellent high-end fashion and shoe shops.
It’s worth hiring a cycle if you have more than a day or two in the city and heading north for the quaint little village of Damme. This is easily reached, along the canal path, past the windmills, in about 30 minutes. I would not advise cycling in central Bruges as this requires nerves of steel and an ability to avoid carriages as well as people.
Bruges is a capital city that has a charm most others have lost. Its Medieval buildings and streets standing where they were meant to stand are a delight to behold. We should all cherish Bruges.