Of beer, chips and chocolate
Bruges has been dubbed “the world’s chocolate capital”– and with a chocolate shop round every corner and even a chocolate museum, it’s not difficult to see why.
Chocolate aside, Bruges, which is easily accessible from the port of Zeebrugge, is a great place to visit at any time of the year with its quaint cobbled streets, grand architecture and network of canals. There are also countless bars, cafes and restaurants, from authentic pubs to trendy eating places and famous gourmet restaurants, and accommodation to suit all pockets. There are famous landmarks to visit – the historic city centre is a Unesco World Heritage site – as well as offbeat and more traditional museums and great shopping.
Bruges boasts no fewer than 47 chocolate shops, some more quirky than others, including that of chocolatier Dominique Persoone, who designed the chocolate shooter. At The Chocolate Line, chocolate aficionados can use the device to send a blast of cocoa powder up the nose – a truly strange sensation and a unique way to get a chocolate high.
All things chocolate are found at Choco-Story, the chocolate museum devoted to the history of the cocoa bean and its by-product, and where chocolates are made by hand and sampled on the premises.
Belgium is also reckoned to have invented the potato chip and there is even a museum dedicated to that other diet essential when visiting Bruges. The Frietmuseum claims the title of the first and only museum dedicated to chips. Here you see how the potato originated in Peru more than 10 000 years ago, and learn just about all there is to know about chips. A necessary part of this learning experience is to sample some – complete with a generous dollop of mayonnaise in true Belgian style, naturally.
Belgian beer is regarded by many as among the best, so many visitors are keen to tour the De Halve Maan family brewery – the city’s last working one – and museum. There are some steep flights of stairs to negotiate, but the reward is a panoramic view of Bruges from the roof and a welcome glass of the house brew, Brugse Zot (Bruges Fool), in the family’s tavern afterwards.
With calories mounting, you may feel a need for exercise. My solution was a gentle cycle ride from the centre of Bruges to the nearby town of Damme. Motorists readily give way to cyclists. The cobbles of Bruges don’t afford a comfortable ride but once outside the town, the track follows a much smoother, canal-side cycle path.
Riding alongside the Damse Vaart is fun and a much greener way to reach your destination. After about half an hour, taking in the peaceful Belgian countryside dotted with grazing cattle, picturesque Damme comes into view. More sedate than its neighbour, Damme takes its name from its origins as a fishing village that grew up by a dam. Despite the tourists, it retains a certain charm. A stroll through Damme’s quiet streets reveals some interesting architecture. A view of the town can be enjoyed from the top of the tower of the Church of Our Lady.
Damme is renowned for its gastronomy and boasts 25 restaurants, including the Taverne De Spieghel. It serves the traditional Flemish dish of waterzooi, a delicious chicken stew, washed down with a glass of the local brew – the potent Damse Tripel. The town is also a favoured haunt for book lovers.
The leisurely option for the return to Bruges is a boat ride on board the Lamme Goedzak along the Damse Vaart.
Three spires dominate the Bruges skyline. The Belfry towers over the market square (Grote Markt), and visitors who climb the 366 steps get a panoramic view across the city. The brick tower of the Church of Our Lady is the highest of its kind in Europe, and the spire of Saint Saviour’s Cathedral has been renovated.
One of the prettiest parts of Bruges is the Minnewater, where you can cross the bridge to enter the Beguinage – a religious community for women founded in the 13th century.
You can go through Bruges via its canals or join the many travellers who explore the city on foot – but then there is the danger involved in walking past so many fabulous chocolate shops. – Belfast Telegraph