Travelers are still stuck at home for the most part during this global pandemic, but it doesn’t keep us wanderers from reminiscing about past trips and planning our next adventure when we can emerge from the lock-downs. My family is planning a wonderful trip to the Adriatic once Americans are allowed to go abroad again. But as I long to escape from my everyday surroundings, my mind takes me to the beautiful places I have been to and cannot help but recall the beauty of Bruges. There is so much to say about this beautiful city it leaves me breathless.
Open the Map and find the small country that sits atop western France. This small country is Belgium, famous for beer, chocolate, waffles and the location of the seat of the EU government. Brussels is the bustling capital city. But a small city of just over a 100,000 in the Flanders region is where I recommend travelers go to see old Europe amidst canals and castles where the sound of horses and carriages is substituted for car engines and motorcycles.
The name Bruges is thought to be the from the Old Dutch word for bridge. Having over 80 canals it is referred to as the Venice of the North. Bruges has a fascinating history, being key to the prosperous wool trade and starting the world’s first stock exchange called the Bourse. Its port made official the first trade route from northern Europe by sea to the Mediterranean. Then Bruges was where the finest lace was made, known the world over. There are many castles and medieval buildings in Bruges because it was spared destruction in both World Wars. For tourists, it is a preserved medieval city where they can feel transported back in time and listen to the beat of horse hooves as they explore the beautiful brick city.
For those who love to walk, Bruges is by far the best city in Europe to see on foot. Its historic city center affords even those less athletic the chance to walk to all the sights. I visited Bruges the summer of 2017 with my mother and sister. We had just been to Paris and decided to see a new place. Very different from the crowds and limestone buildings of Paris, Bruges was quiet, charming and its buildings were made of brick since there was no nearby quarry.
I was struck by the quiet, canals and swans. There were hardly any cars in the city center where the historic sights are. Many restaurants had outdoor dining and the fish was always fresh. The tapestries and lace made for the best souvenirs to bring home. When in Bruges there are many lovely sights to see.
There are plenty of beautiful old churches to see in Bruges. I visited Church of Our Lady, built in the 13th century. This Gothic brick building boasts the tallest structure in the city, a 379 foot tower. But its real claim to fame is the white marble Madonna and Child, sculpted by Michelangelo in 1504. The other church I visited was the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Burg Square built in 1157. Legend says the relic inside a glass tube is a piece of blood stained fabric, supposedly the blood of Christ brought to the church in the 12th century following a Crusade.
A canal boat ride is a must when in Bruge. There are 80 canals and five places to catch a boat around the city center. You can take one of the half-hour rides to get a pretty and peaceful perspective of the city, or use the boats as your transportation as you tour the many sights.
The Groeningmuseum, once an old abbey, is perfect for art lovers interested in Flemish paintings. There are Jan Van Eyck paintings there, as well as other old masters from Belgium.
Walking the brick streets and taking in the scenic views is all that is needed to appreciate this enchanting place. Start your day at Burg Square and admire the colorful 12th century Town Hall and people-watch as you enjoy coffee and waffles. The carriages line up here so if your feet need a rest, hire one the carriages to take you through the city where the views are enhanced with the sound of the horse hooves and the creaking of the wooden wheels.
For all you dads, you’ll appreciate something about Bruges that no other city in the world has: a real beer pipeline. Belgian beer is considered the best in the world by many connoisseurs. One of the oldest breweries that has made beer for 500 years is in Bruges city center. Its product was in high demand but trucks could not drive through the old medieval streets. Rather than move locations, a two mile long underground pipeline was built in 2016 to take the beer from the historic brewery to a bottling plant on the outskirts of the city.
If you want a charming place to stay consider Hotel Heritage. It is a boutique hotel reflecting all the charm of this city. It is a member of the Relais and Chateaux brand which has become a favorite of my family.
So when this pandemic subsides, Open the Map! Discover the fairytale charm that awaits in Bruges. The water, the swans, the weeping willows dipping into the current and the preserved brick buildings will leave you breathless.