Chocolate-Box Charm

Travel | five reasons to go …

Sybil Kapoor discovers five tantalising reasons to visit the Belgian city of Bruges

1 The Flemish Primitives

The Groeningemuseum (00-32-50 44 87 43) has just been renovated.   The new rooms are diffused with a soft light that allows the famous transparent layering of oil-rich colours in Flemish Primitive paintings such as by Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling to glow like jewels.   Buy a Bruges City Card, which will allow you to skip the queues and gain entry to other wonderful collections and buildings, such as the 83-metre-high, thirteenth-century, UNESCO-listed Belfort (bell tower), with its ancient treasury, and the inspiring Memling in Sint-Jan (St-Janshospital), a cathedral-like, twelth-century hospital with its own art collection. After that, slip round the corner to the restored Apotheek, and you will find a similar pocket of preserved time, complete with creaking floor boards, courtyard garden and shelves of potions and powders.

2 The Pand Hotel

Walking around the centre of Bruges, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is like stepping into a Vermeer painting, with its play of light, half-seen courtyards and gabled brick houses.   Close to the city’s heart is The Pand Hotel (00-32-50 34 06 66;, a converted eighteenth-century coach house. Tempting cobbled streets, canals and enough Gothic architecture to satisfy Alfred Waterhouse, lie outside its front door.   Inside all is calm and comfort.   The intimate rooms are decorated with Ralph Lauren fabrics and filled with antiques. Downstairs, you can linger over a wonderful breakfast in a sunny courtyard, or take afternoon chocolate in the velvet-draped bar while planning your next bike ride or canal trip.   Prices start from €185 for a double room.

3   Hertog Jan

Hertog Jan (00-32-50 67 34 46;, an elegant restaurant in the suburbs, just a 10-minute drive from the centre, is the place to visit now if you love innovative cooking.   Not yet mentioned in many of the tourist guides, Gert de Mangeleer, is a young, self-taught chef who has already won two Michelin-stars for his utterly delicious combinations of local ingredients.   Imagine, seared scallop in the lightest smoked-Jerusalem-artichoke broth with a little sweet artichoke purée and a hint of acidity. For a more traditional (and cheaper) approach, eat at Bistro Refter (00-32-50 44 49 00), little sister of three-Michelin-starred De Karmeliet. Try its gorgeous spit-roasted chicken with tarragon sauce and chips.   A set menu costs 35€ euros. 

4 Begijnhuisje Museum

Once you tire of the busy tourist sites, step into the peaceful Begijnhuisje area, a group of medieval, seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century buildings that, from 1245, housed members of the lay, female order, the Beguines.   Here, too, is the Begijnhuisje Museum, a tiny cottage that will transport you back to domestic life in the seventeenth century. Everything about this place exudes tranquillity, from the sparsely furnished bedroom across the private courtyard to the pretty Delft-tiled kitchen, where the tiles depict biblical scenes with remarkably jolly-looking characters.

5 Chocolate and beer

Tempting chocolate shops lie around every cobbled-street corner, and fragrant Belgium beer is sold in all the cafes.   Be sure to visit Dominique Persoone’s The Chocolate Line ( in Simon Stevinplein. Dominique is famous for creating cutting-edge chocolates such as bitter-chocolate ganache with wasabi, and milk-chocolate ganache with bay leaves.   Then revive yourself with a glass of local beer at Café Vlissinghe (00-32-50 34 37 37; Half hidden down a narrow, shady street, this ancient pub dates back to 1515.   Sip some locally brewed Halve Maan beer such as a delicately floral Brugse zot Blond or honeyed, hoppy Straffe Hendrik, in its an ancient panelled room.

Ways and Means

Sybil Kapoor travelled as a guest of Eurostar (08432 186186; and Tourism Flanders-Brussels ( Return tickets from London to Bruges cost from £80.   Eurostar also offer connecting fares from more than 200 stations in the UK.

This article first appeared in House & Garden in October 2011.


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