Just a few weeks before the Netherlands and Belgium went into lockdown, we visited our Belgian neighbours to do some ‘city scouting’ and uncover Fine Fleur experiences, Bruges and Ghent style! Turns out, each of us Fine Fleurs has our own ‘coup de coeur’ and below we reveal why. The question remains: which is yours? (it’s ok to say ‘both’)
We decided to travel by train and after a comfortable 3 hour journey (first class is always a good idea!) we arrive in the heart of Bruges. Firmly placed on the map by Colin Farrell’s 2008 ‘In Bruges’, the Flemish capital serves up even more than the film promises. A stereotype perhaps (but like all good stereotypes, not without reason) there’s a distinctly fairytale quality to Bruges – a fairytale I was delighted to step into!
I was blown away by all the famous sights this enchanting city has to offer: from the Jerusalem chapel situated in a medieval estate, we walk down to the market square ‘Grand place’ with its ancient guildhalls. Next up (and deep breath here, we’re about to pack a lot in) a private visit to old but luxurious almshouses, the fish market, Our Lady’s church with the famous Michelangelo’s Virgin and Child, and the city’s four remaining windmills. Last, but by no means least, we reach the famous Belfry Tower with its spectacular views over the city (although with 366 steps to reach the top, the view from below seems equally beguiling!) All this by foot and in around 3 hours. Phew.
And we’re in good company. Our guide who, by the way, had the honor of being the Belgian queen’s guide of choice some years back, spices things up with some juicy tales alongside tasty food pitstops – and we get to enjoy heart-shaped waffles (it’s love at first bite) alongside handmade Belgian chocolates in a favorite family-owned shop. Naturally, we immediately decide that a chocolate tasting workshop is a must on our next visit… but for now, we’ve worked up a thirst. It’s time to make our way for a behind the scenes tour at a local brewery and meet the daughter running the show (who run the world?) in this family of sixth generation brewers. What is particularly special about the brewery is that they have their very own beer pipeline – two miles of travelling beer makes its pilgrimage from a bottling plant outside the city borders to the brewery, located in a UNESCO heritage spot, where 12,000 bottles of beer are filled daily. Cheers to that! A significant investment, but one much appreciated by the locals as this ingenious system clears their beloved city of unsightly large beer trucks. We learn how their tasty beer, only available in Belgium, is brewed and one (make that five) tastings later, we stumble out and head for the train station, onwards to Ghent. On our way, we pass the wonderful boutique hotel Van Cleef and embark on an impromptu site inspection with the owner’s son. With its modern, hip vibe it’s a refreshing contrast to the historic city, and no detail has gone uncovered in fitting out this 16 bedroom maison, where the likes of Hermès and Missoni fabrics find their home.
As a farewell, we are told the story of Bruges’ famous swan couple: a father locked up his daughter in the 13th century because she refused to marry the man he had chosen for her (yikes!). While sitting in the cellar of her house adjacent to the canal, two beautiful swans would keep her company. Once freed, she donated a fortune to the city so that the kind swan couple’s offspring would be looked after for the rest of time. Since then, swans are seen everywhere in Bruges!