Sybil Kapoor discovers
five tantalising reasons to visit the Belgian city of Bruges
The Groeningemuseum (00-32-50 44 87 43) has just been
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;
www.pandhotel.be), a converted
eighteenth-century coach house. Tempting cobbled streets, canals and enough
Gothic architecture to satisfy Alfred Waterhouse, lie outside its front
Inside all is calm and
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
Prices start from €185 for a
Hertog Jan (00-32-50 67 34 46; www.hertog-jan.com), 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.
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.
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 (www.thechocolateline.be)
in Simon Stevinplein. Dominique is famous for creating cutting-edge chocolates
such as bitter-chocolate ganache with wasabi, and milk-chocolate ganache with
Then revive yourself
with a glass of local beer at Café Vlissinghe (00-32-50 34 37 37; www.cafevlissinghe.be). 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;
www.eurostar.com) and Tourism
Flanders-Brussels (www.visitflanders.co.uk). Return tickets from London to
Bruges cost from £80.
also offer connecting fares from more than 200 stations in the UK.
This article first appeared in House & Garden in October 2011.