The breathtakingly beautiful City of Bruges, Belgium is one of my very favorite places to visit so we went for a one-day visit - what a lovely birthday present from my family.
Bruges is called the "Venice of the North". This splendid medieval city is one of Belgium's crown jewels. In no other European city are the feel and the look of medieval times so present as here in this city close to the North Sea.
For centuries the canals of Bruges have linked the city to the sea, a guarantee of wealth and prosperity. International merchants built up Bruges into one of the largest Hanse cities.
Today Bruges has a population of about 45.000 people (the old center) or 120.000 people (center together with the suburbs). These numbers clearly show that Bruges is not a tiny miniature city. It ranks, even today, among the important cities of Belgium. It is also the capital and the largest city of the Belgian province of West-Flanders.
It is quite poular with tourists to take a half-hour carriage ride along Bruges´ historic winding streets.
We started our visit with a stroll to one of the many monasteries.
And paid an obligatory and fun visit to my favorite kitchenware store - you can only find DILLE & KAMILLE (dill & chamomile) stores in Belgium and the Netherlands - last August (also around the time of my birthday) I did a whole blog post about one of these amazing stores in the equally charming City of Middleburg (NL).
This is the beautiful red brick wall of a monastery or "Klooster" with wonderful pink and white hydrangeas in full bloom...
...and carved angels watching over the wooden entrance door.
Dominique Persoone, the man who runs The Chocolate Line, is a legend both at home and abroad. The Chocolate Line is one of the three chocolate shops that is mentioned in the Michelin guide. The Chocolate Line delivers pralines to "Hof van Cleve" and "Oud Sluis", top restaurants in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Bruges is a chocolate city par excellence. The city has more than 50 passionate chocolatiers. Bruges is a place where established names and fresh up-and-coming talents certainly complement each other. Here you can both sample the traditional chocolate craft and many new chocolate creations. It is said that nowhere in the world will you find better chocolate.
This is a picture of the seal of the Bruges Chocolate Guild which depicts the Bruges swan (Brugsch Swaentje), a local specialty creation. The exact recipe remains a secret, but amongst the key ingredients are almond paste, "gruut" (a local type of spiced flour) and "kletsekoppen" (a local Bruges biscuit). Created in January 2006, the Bruges swan has been sold in the shops of the city’s officially recognised confectioners, all of whom are members of the Bruges Chocolate Guild.
In one of the countless chocolate stores, you can chose from many varities of chocolate truffles such as these. These lovely truffles are a chocolate confectionery, traditionally made with a chocolate ganache centre coated in chocolate, icing sugar, cocoa powder or chopped toasted nuts (such as hazelnuts, almonds or coconut), usually in a spherical, conical, or curved shape. Other fillings may replace the ganache such as cream, melted chocolate, caramel, nuts, almonds, berries, or other assorted sweet fruits, nougat, fudge, or toffee, mint, chocolate chips, marshmallow, and, popularly, liqueur.
In many of the chocolate stores you will also find very pretty mendiants, a traditional French confection composed of a chocolate disk studded with nuts and dried fruits representing the four mendicant or monastic orders of the Dominicans, Augustinians, Franciscans and Carmelites. Each of the nuts and dried fruits used refer to the color of monastic robes with tradition dictating raisins for the Dominicans, hazelnut for the Augustins, dried fig for Franciscans and almond for Carmelite - you just cannot resist these treats, trust me. I think, David, you know what I am talking about!
There are countless stores and unbelievably pretty buildings to marvel at...
...and countless Cafés and incredible restaurants (there are presently eight star-studded restaurants listed in the Guide Michelin 2013 and thirty-six in the Gault Millau 2013).
Colorful huge flags were on disaplay in many streets throughout the city - this particular one was one of my favorites and it depicts the very popular fiets (bicycles) - although almost all streets of Bruges are one way, they are both ways for bikes. Therefore the bicycling is a very popular way to visit Bruges and its surroundings.
A view of one of the many narrow and utterly charming alleyways...
...and pretty gables.
Bruges is truly a city of bicycles enthusiats, these were parked in the main market place.
World-famous Godiva Chocolatier originated in 1926 in Belgium. The founder and chocolatier Joseph Draps developed a unique formula for a very rich and smooth chocolate and shell-molded designs. In 1926, Draps opened his first Godiva Chocolatier shop on a cobblestone street on Grand Place, Brussels’ central square. Today the GODIVA brand is known – and loved – in over 80 countries around the world. Godiva owns and operates more than 450 boutiques and shops worldwide but this picture was taken in the Godiva store in Bruges - look at these paper cones filled with lovely ripe strawberries dipped in delicious white Godiva chocolate.
For those who prefer treats without chocolate, there are famous macarons, a sweet meringue-based confection made with eggs, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond, and food colouring. The macaron is commonly filled with ganache, buttercream or jam filling sandwiched between two biscuits. The name is derived from the Italian word macarone, maccarone or maccherone, the Italian meringue.In Bruges you can find them in every conceivable color and flavor combination - actually, they are even available in four different varieties at that rather famous fast food restaurant with the golden arches - that´s Belgium.
More bicycles and sight-seeing in the main market square or Markt - it is dominated by its Belfry, for centuries the city’s foremost edifice and the perfect look-out in case of war, fire or any other calamity. You can still climb to the top of this medieval tower as a narrow, steep staircase of 366 steps leads to the top of the 83-metre-high building, which leans about a metre to the east - for those of you who are interested in not so mainstream movies, this is the building that was a central feature of the 2008 film "In Bruges" a 2008 British-American black comedy.
At the foot of the Belfry is the statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck. These two popular heroes of Bruges resisted French oppression and consequently played an important part during the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302. Their statue looks out onto the Gothic revival style Provinciaal Hof (Provincial Palace).
Bruges local police - on bicycles! "CSI: Bruges", no doubt!
You can also choose to take a rather romantic and individual tour in the heart of Bruges´ medieval centre, a tour in a horse-drawn carriage will take you along the canals and over the typical small bridges (you can hear them throughout the city and they are fast). The coach driver will explain the city to you, and halfway through the tour, the horse (and the passengers) get a rest...
...at the Beguinage or "The Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde" with its whitewashed house fronts, tranquil convent garden and beguinage museum that was founded in 1245. Today the nuns of the Order of Saint Benedict inhabit the site.
More alleyways and Cafés...
...and a visit with Tintin and his dog Milou - "The Adventures of Tintin" ("Les Aventures de Tintin") is a series of comic albums created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi (1907–1983), who wrote under the pen name of Hergé. The series is one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century.
More chocolate wrapped every so elegantly in golden paper...
...or placed in paper cut-outs resembling the old buildings in Bruges...
...or with papers that looked like paintings depicting one of the many bridges and more buildings in the city.
And, of course, there is the artisinal Belgian beers and ales with the most delightful names, labels, bottle designs and flavors you will ever taste and see or ever come across - did you notice the "Hercule Stout" - a nod to Hercule Poirot a fictional Belgian detective, created by Agatha Christie - along with Miss Marple, Poirot is one of Christie's most famous and long-lived characters.
This was just one if the countless glasses - there seems to be a different glass for almost every kind of beer that is available at this famous Bruges beer store...
...and quite a few of them can be marveled at when walking along the so-called "Wall of Beers" - quite popular with tourists I might add (Mary, do you recognize the three girls wearing the Aspen caps...).
This stately, late Gothic building is called Perez de Malvenda House. This striking 15th-century mansion was restored from the rafters to the cellar in neo-Gothic style and nowadays accommodates the shop that sells not only local specialties like the famous Avocaat (egg liquor) but also many of the above mentioned beers and chocolates.
If you rather not take the bike or tour the city by horse-drawn carriage and prefer to see the city from a different angle, why not take one of the frequent canal boat tours. During the half-hour boat trip you are treated to some fantastic views of monuments and historical buildings. A tour through the canals of Bruges takes you through a major part of the city - also extremly popular with the many tourists that were visiting that day, actaully every day.
This is a statue of Saint Nepomuk watching over the bridge with the same name....
...more lovely gables.
Golden statues gracing the Basilica of the Holy Blood (Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed).
This double chapel consists of the Romanesque Church of Saint Basil (1139-1149) on the ground floor and the Basilica on the first floor, rebuilt in Gothic revival style in the 19th century. The Relic of the Holy Blood is kept in the Basilica.
After this virtual tour of some of the most wonderful places and things to visit and look at and things to taste while in Bruges, all that is left to say at the end of PART I of my Bruges post is that "when visiting Belgium, make sure to stop by Bruges - this Belgian city is certainly worth a visit"!
Part II of my two-part mini series will feature one of the most beloved and famous and utterly delightful Speculoos bakeries in Bruges...