Brugge or Bruges (the former the Flemish name, the latter, French) was not a place that I was particularly excited about seeing. After having seen Amsterdam and Dusseldorf, Cologne, it gets a little predictable – the horse drawn carriages, cobbled streets, the pre-war architecture, the churches, the feeling of being in a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, yadda yadda.
So I was somewhat sceptical when we made our plans to visit Brugge (I prefer the Flemish name to the French), and read up a bit about what to expect, in the hope of finding something that jumped out as being different. I also watch Rick Steves’ video on youtube and the places he suggested (he recommends trying Dumon cholocates and the Chocolate Line, in case you were wondering). But it was all falling into that familiar pattern of churches – marketsquare – cobbled streets – breweries…. you get the drift.
But staying for a weekend there, Brugge knocked the sceptic out of me.
So why am I waxing so lyrical about this very touristy town?The pictures I took tell half the story of the town. What the pictures can’t describe is the way the dreamy wonderland casts a spell, simply by the warmth of its friendly people, and the beauty that lies in every little shop window, every little nook and corner.
And the food, oh my God the food.
We started at the station itself, wolfing down waffles in chocolate sauce and Flemish fries in curry sauce at a small restaurant that was part of a chain. And the hubby kept laughing at me becasue I just kept nodding my head and saying “These are the best fries ever” and then a minute later “these are the best waffles ever”.
If you plan to go to Brugge, do try this one place called Cambrinus, which I believe is something of a local legend. They have around 400 beers (!) on the menu. But the one thing that Maria, the owner of our homestay, recommended (I’ll come to Maria in a bit) was the rabbit stew. “Incomparabile” she said. And so we tried it and it was indeed, incomparable, slow cooked in prunes and beer and served with applesauce. And not to gloss over the rabbit stew itself, but the side dish of potato balls that came with it was also, in my opinion, “ïncomparabile”. We also had a salmon and asparagus salad and a fine tiramisu, but it was the rabbit that outran (ha ha ) everything else.
When in Belgium, you can’t resist trying out the chocolates, which are beyond par, by the way. We tried the cuban cigar (very good, mild cigar flavour) and chilli (no particlar chilli taste) chocolates at The Chocolate Line and packed a slab to bake with for later.
A few things that caught my eye:
Speculoos! Have been in love with the spreads ever since I heard about them in the purplefoodie. The biscuit is nice, but the spreads are what get me. Belgium, the birth place of speculoos. You can read about more on this delicious biscuit here.
Unique vinegar flavours
And the breakfast that we had at Maria’s house:
A hearty English breakfast, homemade jam, omelettes, bread, pate and flavoured butter, with tea and coffee. Peppered with conversation. Maria, a wonderfully charming, ebullient matronly lady, who stole my heart with her beautiful house, where we were lucky to stay as guests. If you ever do visit Brugge, please avoid the touristy hotels and go for a bed and breakfast experience. Preferably at Maria’s charming villa , Het Colletienje, which she lets out to guests. And if you are lucky, like we were, you get to hear about the many adventures she had, including her “Incredible”trip to India. She lived in Italy for several years we had a lovely time chatting over breakfast – us in English and she in a mix of Italian and Flemish and English – and seeing her family albums. A wonderful lady who left a lasting impression.
Notes: prices mentioned on hostelworld and other sites do not mention that the breakfast is part of the package, bonus!
In general, my recommendation to a person travelling to Brugge would be to walk around, and try not to be too spell bound by the first beautiful shop that you see such as this one:
Becasue then you will see one that is even prettier like this one:
And try not to stuff yourself with too much fries (dammit they are too good), because you need to make some space for the kriek beer (cherry flavoured beer), or one of the many local tap beers.
And when you tire of all the beauty around you and the food inside you, then you may want to visit one of the several churches, in particular the Chapel of the Holy Blood of Jesus, where the relics of the blood of Christ lie, and the Madonna of Bruges, which has the only Michealangelo Pieta sculpture outside of Italy.
Avoid the GroteMarkt for eating, drinking and souvenir shopping, because this main square is extremely crowded and over-priced. Try to walk the city, instead of a guided tour or a cycle. Its a city best enjoyed on foot.