Where to eat in Bruges, Brussels
By Rebecca Almond
It’s 11am and I’m sipping coffee by the window of a tucked-away café watching the world go by. And what a beautiful world this is… horse-drawn carriages parading the cobbled streets, frostbitten trees lining meandering canals, medieval buildings (each one with its own features) adorned with twinkling lights, the smell of chocolate wafting through the air to the tune of carols played out of speakers dotted around the market squares. So this is Christmas! It sounds like I’m in a fantasy land, but I’m not dreaming – welcome to Bruges…
Whether your interests lie in history and architecture, scenic waterside walks or great food and drink, this city in the Flemish region of Northwest Belgium has it all in spades. There’s the imposing Sint-Salvator cathedral, the bustling Grote Markt (where, from late November until early January, you’ll find the much-lauded Christmas market… and flowing hot spiced wine or vin chaud) as well as a peppering of museums in which you can while away the hours.
A carriage ride or canal boat tour is a novel way to see the sights, or you could hire a bike and map your own route. Venture away from the heart of the city and a cycle (or stroll) along the surrounding canals will take you by the city gates and a cluster of four 18th-century windmills (at one time there were 25), then navigate your way back to the centre using the towering Belfry (Bruges’s bell tower) as your guide – at 83 metres high, you can’t miss it.
But if you do get lost, don’t worry – in fact, I’d encourage it. Even the quiet residential streets are worth exploring, and there’s sure to be a pub or tearoom nearby where you can refuel.
A word of advice: when it comes to beer, there is A LOT of choice in Belgium and many are 11% alcohol plus. In the first bar we visit, an encyclopedic drinks menu sends my other half all of fluster, causing him to push it aside and point amateurishly at the nearest beer pump. Unless you’ve done your research, your best bet is to ask the barman (all are incredibly friendly – and patient!) for their recommendations based on your preference: dark, pale, blonde, fruity…. Top brews we tasted were Orval and Rochefort 6 (both brewed by Trappist monks), Duvel and La Corne, which is served in a rather fetching horn-shaped glass…
As for places to eat, again the choice is vast. For lunch, a waffle and cup of hot chocolate on the market as you watch ice skaters whizz by is sure to give you that festive feel, or you could visit one of the many delis to pick up some freshly baked bread and a hunk of oud-brugge cheese to munch on the hoof. If a sit-down-by-the-fire snack is what you crave, there are countless eateries with special lunch menu offers to tempt you.
During our visit, each night’s dinner took a similar form – moules to start, usually followed by a Flemish stew with frites and a gooey chocolate pud of some description, if we had room. Otherwise it was late-night indulging in treats we’d picked up from some of the city’s many chocolate shops. With around 40 chocolateries lining the streets, it’s impossible to get round them all in a weekend (a challenge some might relish), but one worth a visit is Chocolatier Dumon, located a stone’s throw from the Grote Markt, whose milk chocolate mendiants I’m still hankering for.
As Ralph Fiennes’ character said of the city in the crime-comedy In Bruges, “It’s a fairytale town… How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s thing?” I defy anyone to come here and not fall for its charm.
Zalig Kerstfeest (Merry Christmas)!