The only clues I had were that we had never been before and to pack for the very cold weather! About a week before our trip he let slip that we were going to Poland, somewhere he has always wanted to visit and so I put two and two together and guessed it was Krakow… it took everything in me to resist looking up Krakow and start planning what we would do when we got there. This was his baby and he was organising everything, and I think it was the most relaxed I’ve ever been before a holiday. When we got to the airport he handed me a cardboard package, my travel guide, we were going to Bruges! He had bluffed me, I was so surprised, so excited and so glad I had resisted the temptation to start planning our trip to Krakow!
We both love exploring new cities and want the same from our travels… to immerse ourselves in the local culture, soak up the atmospheres, admire the sights and sounds, indulge in the local food and lose ourselves wandering the streets. For us it’s about getting away from the everyday mental load and letting go, giving us some head space so we can feel inspired and just be. We arrived at our guesthouse Number 11. We usually always stay in boutique hotels so this was a bit different, quirky, creaky and really beautiful. We dropped our bags and went to explore.
01. You Can Walk Everywhere
The center is small, a hub of meandering cobbled streets lined with chocolate box shop fronts and gothic brick buildings opening onto vast squares, surrounded by bars and cafes. Walking is by far the best way to see and experience Bruges but the canal boat tours are a must giving you another perspective of the captivating city.
02. It's A Chocolate Lovers Paradise
You cannot escape the delicious Belgian chocolate with chocolate shops at every turn the sweet smell intoxicates the air. Our first stop when we arrived in Bruges after we dropped our bags was a chocolate shop. We were looking for somewhere to grab some lunch but were enticed inside the beautiful shop facade by an assault on our senses. The three days that followed included many hours admiring, learning about and sampling chocolate. From the giant decorated slabs that were like works of art to the chocolate sculptures and the handcrafted chocolates to the more risqué creations, there really was something for everyone… unless that is you don’t like chocolate!
03. There Are So Many Great Restaurants
We were struck by how many restaurants lined the streets in Bruges, there’s so much choice. As with most cities, it’s best to steer away from the main tourist areas, but you really don’t have to go far. We learned very quickly that you need to make reservations as their evening hours aren’t late, as you would expect, most restaurants talking last orders at 9.30, so they book out very quickly. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to sample their famous Mussels as it was off season but I really enjoy the seafood that was on offer. On our last evening, we dined in Rock Fort and they not only served the most elegant gins but I had a king crab and vegetable pasta dish that I’m still dreaming about!
04. The Architecture Is Magical
What can I say, it’s a beautiful city and to really see and appreciate the architecture you have to look up. I was struck by the statues of Mary high up on the corners of buildings, surprising you in the most unexpected of places. The mainly neo-Gothic brick architecture is mixed with touches of art nouveau design and Flemish design, a magical combination in my eyes. On a sunny day the city comes alive with colour, the striking building set off against the blue sky. If you walk to the edge of the medieval city you come across the ramparts which reveals three wooden windmills dating from 1770, It’s like stepping into a fairytale.
05. You Have To Sample The Local Drinks
In Bruges, the drinks of choice are beer and gin. I’m not a beer drinker but my husband is and he indulged in some beer tasting, which to my surprise was served with chocolate! I, on the other hand, was very happy to discover that the Belgians love their gin, with most bars and restaurants offering a vast array of choices from local producers. My favorite was a local sweet gin served with rosewater tonic and garnished with rose petals.
We enjoyed our trip to Bruges so much we’re already scheming our return, as part of a much bigger summer trip with our daughters when our youngest is a little older and we’re done with buggies. We’re planning to drive through Belgium stopping off at Bruges among other places on our way to the Netherlands, I can’t wait!