This article is part of the series “A Short Break in Flanders, Belgium”A Short Break in Flanders, Belgium – Bruges (Part One) A Short Break in Flanders, Belgium – Bruges (Part Two) A Short Break in Flanders, Belgium – Antwerp
Welcome back (I am assuming you have read Part One, but if not may I suggest that starting with the first article in a series is a good idea? Thanks.)
This #ShortbreakInFlanders campaign was created by the Nordic Travel Bloggers collective working together with #VisitFlanders and #BrusselsAirlines. The aim is to promote Flanders as a destination for a, er, short break. I chose to focus on food and drink as well as cultural sights, leaving the whole Flanders Fields experience for two of the other bloggers to cover.
Full disclosure: my trip was sponsored by Visit Flanders, Visit Bruges and Brussels Airines but all opinions are my own, as they always are.
After a very long first day in Flanders, it was good to get a reasonable night’s sleep and even better to know that I had the day to myself to explore. Two of our group headed off at dawn (well, nearly) to go visit Flanders Fields, while the rest of us had until 1930 to do what we wanted. My kind of blog trip, to be honest…and Toke and I had made the smart decision to keep hold of our rental bikes too, which gave us even more opportunity to cover what the city has to offer.
I was up quite early and hit the cobbles for a run before breakfast at the hotel, after which I saddled up to meet Toke at a brewery. A good plan, right?
Exploring Bruges by bike and on foot
Bruges IS beautiful. If the weather is good, it is even more beautiful. You would have to be a seriously jaded person (or suicidal hitman*) not to agree.
(*Lost? This is an “In Bruges” reference – just watch the damn film once you are done here.)
So the best thing you can do is wander. Or ride. Or both. You’ll go down one cobbled street and suddenly see something like this:
This hopelessly romantic spot is called the Lake of Love. A few blocks on, and you’ll find one of these:
You’ll find a lot of windmills, actually, as well as green spaces, delightful-looking bars and restaurants and the people who actually live here going about their business seemingly oblivious to the throngs of visitors.
During my two days in the city, I failed to find an ugly building or litter-strewn street. There are a LOT of tourists in the peak months of summer, but wait until the worst of the crowds have gone – or perhaps even better, visit in the off-season) and you won’t find this an issue.
As this was late August, things were apparently “beginning to quieten down”, so you can imagine how the end of July must be. Bruges is a tiny place with a tiny year-round population facing the same dilemma as Barcelona and other larger cities – it needs the tourists, but needs to breathe too.
As well as avoiding the absolute peak times to visit, another trick is to get out early. This is one of the major benefits of my bizarre recent addiction to running – all you need to pack is your shoes and running clothes and you have a great excuse to get up early and see a different side of a town. In truth I have always done this but before I used to walk or cycle, now I run. I cover more distance, can take a point-and-shoot camera with me and allegedly there are health benefits to all that huffing and puffing, too.
These last few shots were all taken before 8 am, hence the lack of people and great light. Yeah, the camera isn’t great quality but still.
Before I knew it the time had come to bike across town to meet up with Toke for lunch.
De Halve Maan Brewery and Brasserie
Belgians love their beer, and Bruges is no exception. You will find excellent beer everywhere, but nothing beats visiting the source. De Halve Maan is still owned by the same Maes family who have been producing the golden nectar since 1856 and using their own unique recipes.
Or why not all three?
The agony of choice…
Brugse Zot is the most famous beer produced by De Halve Maan, and is very tasty.
So we started with one of those. The brewery (marketed as a “home brewery”) opened to the public in 1997 offering tours and of course a tavern with the stuff on tap.
There is also an excellent brasserie with great food to go with all that beer. We chose to go for the 2 course option for EUR 20 – a bargain.
I’m a big fan of Gazpacho, but don’t get to try it so often and this one was really good.
Local cheese to go with the local beer – did you know that scientifically, beer is a better partner for cheese than wine? Google it if you don’t believe me.
We decided not to take the tour this time but you can see both old and new equipment in the tavern.
As you can see here, the production area is behind glass walls at one end of the building. There is also a pleasant outdoor area if you want to sit in the sun.
I especially liked the menu design.
The old newspaper style is cool, huh?
It also contains a little tourist information for when you finally wrench yourself out of the brewery (believe me, it is not easy.)
We did in the end, though, as we had some important sightseeing to do.
But there is one thing you HAVE to know about this place before I sign off – De Halve Maan found a unique solution to the inevitable chaos caused by transporting barrels of beer by truck in the old city.
Instead of taking the obvious but very boring step of moving production to the suburbs, they installed a beer pipeline between the inner city brewery in the inner city and the bottling plant which is more than 3 kilometres away.
When In Fucking Bruges…
…there are a few must-dos. Have a beer at the bar on the square where Ray meets Harry (the terrace of De Beurze – nearby Cafe Central (at the hotel of the same name) is also seen in the film).
And of course go up the 83-metre high bell tower (resisting the temptation to insult the guy in the ticket booth – having the right amount to pay is a good idea 🙂 )
And naturally taking in the view, which is spectacular.
Even though it is securely fenced in (I shot these pics through the mesh) so you are well-protected from ending your days the same way as Ken.
The Belfry of Bruges has 366 steps and Ray was right about needing to be in good physical shape to reach the top.
Ain’t no bar like a Belgian beer bar
Bruges has more bars than you can hope to visit in a weekend (although having said that…)
One that you should not miss is Cafe Vlissinghe, the oldest one in Bruges that traces its history back to 1515.
It’s a great place to relax day or night with a friendly atmosphere and of course excellent beer (s0me of which are brewed especially for the cafe.)
The beer garden is really nice too, and features a petanque area if you fancy a game with the locals.
Did you say beer?
I realise this article is rather beer-focused, but I mean come on – this is Belgium. And this, dear reader, is the selection I found at the closest mini-supermarket to the hotel. This is not a beer store, it is a tiny convenience store.
Coming from Norway, I could almost feel my heart break thinking about the equivalent range back home – not to mention the astronomical prices.
Belgium, I will be back.
Dinner: Gran Kaffee de Passage
First of all let me apologise for not having any usable pictures from the lovely Gran Kaffee de Passage where we met with the rest of the group for dinner. It was just too low-lit and cozy (it had nothing to do with my beer consumption.)
This is a really nice place to enjoy traditional Flemish classics with extremely friendly and attentive service, and I will return.
Hotel de Medici
We spent our two nights in Bruges at the 4-star Hotel de Medici, a large establishment located in a quiet area of town just minutes from the action.
It is perhaps more of a business-style hotel than I would have picked if I had been choosing my accommodation myself, but the rooms are spacious and have all the amenities you could require for a comfortable stay.
The bed was very good, despite being two single beds rather than a proper double (this is quite common in central Europe, so ask first if you want one big bed instead of two pushed together).
The decor was a little dark for my tastes but certainly in keeping with old Bruges style, despite being relatively modern (we stayed in the modern extension at the rear of the building, the canal-facing rooms are more old-school.)
A book of the Buddha’s teachings made a nice change from a Gideon Bible…
Tea and coffee making facilities are always welcome, as is a fridge. You gotta keep that Belgian beer cold, after all.
The desk was a good size to work at and storage space was ample.
The bathroom was small and dated – but had everything I needed.
The bathtub was a bonus, although a little too short for me.
The water pressure was good from the shower but the floor got flooded given the minimal protection offered by the glass here.
Breakfast was good and all in all the Hotel de Medici is a good option for those wanting a central but quiet location. Having a secure garage to store our rental bikes was also a plus point.