Guest Post by David Haynes
I’ll start with one of life’s biggest questions, what’s the best Trilogy? Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future, Crocodile Dundee? Well, whatever your particular viewpoint Bruges has its own three things to which it pays constant homage: beer, chips and chocolate, and these three things will form the cornerstone of my tale.
Every year myself and my incredibly fortunate wife Laura go on a mini-break to do a bit of Christmas shopping and enjoy the markets and after the roaring success of Amsterdam last year, this time around we chose Bruges. Again we chose to travel on the P&O ferry as Hull is only pretty easy for us to get to from Leeds and it’s something a bit different from the trains or planes that we normally have to take. They also have a buffet, a mega buffet where should you wish to, you can eat a curry, followed by a roast dinner, followed by another curry. I’m not saying that you should, but if you did then I’d expect that you would feel like a winner for the rest of your days. I do.
We got into Zeebrugge around 10am local time, followed by a short transfer into Bruges taking 30 minutes. Once there, we found our hotel pretty quickly as Bruges is actually quite small just with loads packed into it. This is the first reason I think Bruges is my favourite short break destination as you don’t really need to spend any time orientating yourself and everything is walkable (I reckon one side to the other would take 30 minutes), so no need to negotiate public transport. More winning. Our hotel itself was a lovely 4* called the Rosenburg, so again the SuperBreak product team have done another great job building this break for us as the staff were really helpful, the breakfast was great and the beds were very comfy (and I’m really fussy when it comes to beds).
Prior to our trip we’d reacquainted ourselves with one of our favourite films ‘In Bruges’ as we wanted to visit as many of the film locations as we could, and I’d also spoken to many people around the office who had been before, all of whom said how great Bruges was so we set about our sightseeing with excited abandon. But first we had a coffee and waffle. After said waffle we headed to the Church of our Lady as it is a lovely church in itself, but more to see Michaelangelo’s Madonna with child which is a truly beautiful thing to behold.
Next up was a late lunch of Flemish beef stew and what I thought was a Trappist Beer – it was dark, potent, had a picture of a monk on the glass and was called St Bernardus, but despite all this it had never seen a monk thus I had been duped; it was nice though. Then it was back to the hotel to get changed before moving on to De Haave Maan brewery. I shan’t go into all the details otherwise there would be little point in you going, however it’s the only remaining brewery in Bruges so that’s reason enough. However if you need more convincing the tour is great, as the guide was really funny and engaging and you get a glorious beer at the end of it, all for about 9 Euros pp. We would have settled in for the evening only the bar shuts at 8pm. Their signature beer is ‘Brugse Zot’, with their award winning beer ‘Straffe Hendrick’ deserving all the plaudits it has received. The rest of the evening consisted of more bars largely featuring Leffe, a steak, lots of chips and some Gluhwein (mulled wine) from the market. Day 1 rocked.
Day 2 started with a sore head (as I’d forgotten the advice of De Haave Maan and not drunk enough water the previous evening), however a hearty breakfast later and we were in full ubertourist mode. We started with the archaeological museum as that’s the sort of thing that I love to do. This wasn’t met with much success though as there were no English translations anywhere, so I’d suggest giving this a wide berth unless you’re familiar with the lingo. Next up, like many a seasoned SuperBreaker it was time for a canal cruise (you veterans know what I mean!). Then, during our short queue my darling wife pipes up ‘look at the blue sky and I can feel the sun on my back, we’ve timed this well’, nice one. We set off and it started well, our driver looked a bit like Jason Statham so Laura was happy, and I managed to pass the swans without issue (I’d had an altercation with one a couple of weeks previous) so I was happy, however at the midway point inevitably the heavens opened. They did have brollies, but the edge of one was positioned directly above my crotch, which didn’t work out so well.
Soggy yet undeterred we then headed to the Historium, which was a bit like Yorvik Viking centre or the Dungeons only with videos instead of actors. It was good fun, and finished at the Duvelorium – which is essentially a very swish Duvel themed bar, so we had a couple of beers in order to not appear rude. Your ticket also entitles you to a single free trip to the toilet, so be sure to take full advantage. What follows beer is the need for food, so where else next but the Freitmuseum. The museum itself was pretty good, plenty of purple potatoes to look at if that’s your thing (which are actually quite nice if you’ve never tried one) and the full history of the potato, a bit of Sir Francis Drake etc… but really this is all a prelude to the main attraction…the triple fried chips. No words could ever begin to capture how amazing they are so I won’t bother, but I guarantee there is no better way to spend 1.80 Euro in Bruges; it’s a hefty portion too.
Sated, we decided now would be the best time to go up the bell tower as it had quietened down by mid-afternoon and heading up after any more beers might not be the best idea. The queue was brief, the stairs were many (366 I believe), but there are numerous rest points on the way and the view is definitely worth it. If you’re only in Bruges for the day then this has to be your priority. Once back at ground level it we had time for a final museum, and coincidently we were getting a bit thirsty again so there was only one place to go = the beer museum. Aside from this being one of my favourite subject matters, I thought the museum itself was a really novel experience. Rather than the standard guided tours, you’re given an iPad and headphones at the start and then you wander round the exhibitions scanning barcodes to get the information and answer a quiz at the same time. Naturally the staff member at the start of the tour needs to set the iPad up with the correct language, so when asked please don’t do what the guy in from of me did and say Colorado (or the town/city you live in), otherwise the person behind you, like me, will laugh at you. As you’d expect, when the tour ends you are led into a bar and although not as striking as the Duvelorium the beer is spectacular, plus for a slightly more expensive ticket you can get three small beers to try which is well worth it. Sightseeing done for the day, freshened up at the hotel and then ate out at the Gruuthuis Hof, a restaurant that had been recommended to me and it was a very good recommendation indeed, a booking is essential though.
Our third and final day began with a trip the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Personally I preferred this to the Church of our Lady as it was a lot smaller, intimate and peaceful. The paintwork on the walls and ceiling around the alter is also so beautiful. There’s also a nice little museum full of additional relics which is also well worth a look. Then our final piece of sightseeing was the Choco-story. I thought this was really interesting, and is broadly split into two parts: 1. Aztec culture and the Spanish conquest, then 2. 19th + 20th century European culture and how the chocolate industry innovated and evolved into what we have today, vastly different but equally interesting. There’s also a praline making demonstration every 30 minutes or so, which I thought was the best part, not least for the fact you get a bit of free chocolate out of it!
We rounded off the day with a bit of gift buying in the Christmas markets (technically the purpose for our visit) loading up with as much chocolate, beer and accompanying glassware as we could carry. Top tip – we got our chocolates from a small chocolaterie near the Choco-story called Jan De Clerck and their goods are incredible and a lot cheaper than shops in the main square. Then it was back to the boat and an early night as we were thoroughly done in. Another fabulous short break and I cannot thing of anywhere better to visit in the run up to Christmas.
Top 5 Beers
- Straffe Hendrick
- Brugge Dubbel Palm
- Brugse Zot
- La Trappe (a proper Trappist beer)
Top 5 Fruit Beers
- Liefmans Kreik
- Floris Passion Fruit
- Liefmans Fruitesse
- Hoegaarden Rose
- Mongozo Coconut Beer
Planning your own break in Bruges? Tell us about it in the comments section below!