One of the great pleasures of living so close to Europe is being able to visit other countries so easily. Australia is a wonderful place to live, but it takes so long to get to your nearest neighbour.
This Weekly Edition is about our two-night driving holiday from the UK to Bruges in Belgium. Some highlights of the city known as the Venice of the North.
We’re travelling with our pals Clare and Dave, which is excellent as we missed out on a trip to Greece with them earlier in the year.
They’re the best travelling companions. We travelled to Italy with them last year and it’s good to be back on the road with them.
We hope you enjoy this special Bruges Edition.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
It’s an excitable drive down to Dover to catch the ferry. The white cliffs wave us off as our ship turns to face the Continent. We sail to Calais and from there it’s only an hour and a half’s drive across the French-Belgian border to Bruges.
I used to enjoy Christina’s wonderment at being able to visit so many countries so easily. I thought it was quite cute. These days – after living in Australia for so long – I completely understand how she feels. Crossing into three different countries in an afternoon blows my mind.
Meanwhile, Clare and Dave look at us with the same amused smile I had with Christina’s excited disbelief years ago.
Dave’s an indefatigable, skilled driver and gets us from the busy port roads of Calais out into the countryside and into the narrow cobbles of Bruges without any problems.
We check into our B&B that Clare discovered and get ready for a bit of exploring.
The B&B – called Tripel B meaning ‘Beer, Bed and Breakfast’ – is kind of incredible. Check out the ratings on Google and Booking.com. They’re the highest we’ve seen.
The owner, Landers, lets us in then takes us to the courtyard for a chat and a beer.
A Bruges local, he’s got so many great tips for visiting the city. We’ll be sharing some of them with you down the road.
There are hundreds of places to stay in Bruges, but if I come back here, I’ll be looking to stay at Tripel B again over all the rest. Its location is amazing, the beds are comfy, the breakfast is excellent and the beers Landers shares with us are on point.
One of our first stops is to check out the Beer Wall at the 2be Bar. It’s an impressive sight and drives us on to the bar proper to grab our first taste of Belgian beer on tap.
We also have some snacks. Sausage, which they wash for you in a specially designed sausage washer (it’s something to see) and some cheese.
We work on our step count as we explore further and further into this pretty little town. And by ‘little’ I mean it. The old town is 1km wide and 2km long, so you can get to know it fairly well in a weekend.
Bruges has a wonderful old-world feel that it’s worked hard to maintain. The horse-drawn carts that clop around the streets really add to the ambience.
Bruges is known as the Venice of the North for a reason. It’s a romantic city, full of pretty canals lined with ancient buildings whose walls drop straight down into the water.
The canal network stems from the great canal that surrounds the old town like a moat and is connected by a long canal that runs all the way to Ostend and the North Sea.
After many beers and a lot of exploring, we finally settle in for dinner at ‘t Bagientje, a lovely restaurant and hotel at the southern end of town. It’s right on the banks of one of the canals and has a very traditional menu.
Best of all, it serves the Belgian/Flemish specialty of ‘stoverij’.
This is a kind of beef stew where the meat has been braised in a dark Belgian beer and the gravy is mixed with the special Ghent mustard. The result is an unctuous, rich, delicious meal with the most tender meat.
This little place is well worth a visit – though like all restaurants in Bruges, it’s a good idea to book beforehand. It makes everything smoother when you arrive.
After dinner, we stroll through the streets of Bruges enjoying the late evening and the quiet streets after a busy day. We’re surprised that a lot of bars and restaurants are closing already, even though it’s still quite early.
We suppose this is because it’s the Belgian Independence Day weekend, though you’d have thought tonight would be a good night to be open.
We continue walking until we’re back at Markt – the town’s main square, where there’s a concert on.
Tripeldagen is a three-day music festival that happens every year and draws big crowds. We enjoy a couple of drinks from one of the beer vans in the square and watch national treasure Willy Sommers get the audience going.
Later, bizzare Belgian dance troupe Baba Yega do a set on stage, which, if you haven’t seen before, is hard to describe. You should probably look them up on YouTube!
Christina is up very early this morning for a look round the town before anyone else is around… but she’s not up before the carters, who are already waiting for eager tourists to ride around town.
As a rule, we don’t like to take rides like these when we’re travelling. The horses are often poorly looked after and made to work in conditions that cause them discomfort. These horses seem well cared for though and seem happy, though they are running on cobbles all day every day, which isn’t good for them.
We won’t be taking a ride this trip either – and not just because it’s around €50pp for a 15-minute ride – but having the carts running through the streets does add to the old-world feel to Bruges.
This morning, we’ve taken up the challenge of climbing the Belfort Belfry. The tower’s visible from almost anywhere in the city and you can see it in one of the earlier photos.
Known as the Belfry of Bruges, the Belfort Belfry and Carillon takes pride of place in the Markt and draws thousands of visitors every year.
The tower is 83 metres tall and gives a wonderful view out over Bruges. We can even see our house from here – just behind that double row of trees.
It’s a challenging climb up though: 366 steps in a precipitous spiral. It’s a good idea to get here as soon as the tower opens at 9.30 as there’s a limit to the number of people allowed up and there’s only one staircase.
You don’t want to be passing too many people in either direction. There’s not much space up there. The climb is worth it though and every 15 minutes the bells at the top sound, moved by the world’s biggest brass drum.
Post-climb, we’re lured into La Belgique Gourmande – a chocolate and beer shop on Brugge Wolle. This is an excellent shop with some beautiful handmade Belgian chocolates for sale.
There’s also an amazing array of Belgian beers here, which makes me very happy as you can see!
Before we get stuck into the chocolates – or beer for that matter – convention insists we have lunch first. We stop in at the House of Waffles, right next door to the Bruges Torture Museum (well worth a visit too by the way).
The waffles in this region aren’t all sweet. In fact the style of the Brussels Waffle is in fact savoury. The House of Waffles offers a delicious range of waffles – from smoked salmon to this all-day breakfast phenomenon.
It’s finally beer O’ clock and we go on the hunt for a likely bar to try. On our wanderings, Christina spots her bar, which is very exciting.
We don’t stop here though and head further into town for drinks in a variety of different bars we’ll be sharing with you in the coming weeks.
One tip we will give though comes from the very good advice of our B&B host. From Christina’s Bar, we delve into the narrow laneways beside the canals until we find De Garre, which is in one of the smallest streets in the city.
It’s in an old house that goes up three levels. At the same time, it feels like you’re in a little medieval cottage, with thick walls and exposed beams.
De Garre not only offers over 130 different beers, it also has its own brewery and self-named beer on tap.
On our perambulations, we discover some beautiful sights. From enormous doors of ancient churches to bridged canals with waterside flowers.
Bruges is a stunning destination. It’s easy to see why they call it the Venice of the North. The good thing is – compared to its Italian counterpart – this town hasn’t been bludgeoned by tourism to the point where neither visitors nor locals seem to enjoy the focus.
After a delicious meal at a local steakhouse we found by chance (Grillkasteeltje has amazing food and wonderful service), we find a little bar to sit for our last beers of the night.
Brasserie Brugge Die Scone has the perfect outdoor patio for the warm evening and an excellent glass of Chimay.
Dave and I also enjoy a cigar while we’re here. Earlier today, we stopped at the best cigar shop I’ve ever been to – superb service and pristinely kept cigars at La Casa Del Tabaco.
I’m enjoying an Oliva Serie V, which seems appropriate for where we are. The Oliva brand is now owned by a Belgian family, the Cortès.
It’s a wonderful smoke and shows that just because it’s not a Cuban Habanos (the tobacco comes from Nicaragua), a cigar can still be good.
The things to see in Bruges are certainly one highlight, but the food here is definitely another. Right next door to our B&B is this treasure trove of cheese (try saying that five times!).
We stop in here just before we leave for some three-year-old aged gouda, which is not only very well-priced but bloody delicious too.
As the light finally goes from our last night in Bruges, we’re treated to this cobalt sky. It’s 11:15pm and almost time for bed.
We’ve got a few hours of travel tomorrow – 90 minutes to Calais, then another 90 on the ferry and three hours from Dover to home. And we have to be back in time to pick the dogs up from their ‘hotel’.
It’s off to bed.
Bruges is an interesting, beautiful city with plenty to offer visitors. In fact it seems that Bruges is only just now being discovered by mainstream tourism – and locals are also starting to realise this.
With any emerging destination, you tend to get a mix of the savvy and parochial who are respectively thrilled and repelled by the change in their city, and there’s a fair bit of evidence of that in Bruges.
But if you’re ok to deal with the occasional “closed!” shouted at you when you enter a bar or have eyes rolled at you if you haven’t booked a restaurant table, Bruges has so much to offer.
The sights, food and beer are worth the trip, and the happy enthusiasm and kindness of most Belgian locals make your time in Bruges fulfilling and fun.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this Weekly Edition.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx