By Alexandra Taylor
Having traveled throughout the main tourist bound cities in Europe and having a particular desire to eat waffles, decadent chocolate, pomme frites, and try a variety of other Belgian delicacies, I found myself booking my travels for a week in Belgium. Beginning in the city of Bruges or as the Dutch call it Brugge, I was unaware of the riveting history which had unfolded in this medieval time capsule of a city in the Flemish Region of Belgium. I spent several days falling in love with the gorgeous city, taking in the winding cobbled streets and strolling along the breathtaking canals; I truly felt I was in a fairy tale of sorts.
The city of Bruges has indeed become a prime destination for European travelers to take in a few days of R & R and get lost in the romance and tranquility of the preserved medieval city.
The restored city of Bruges stands today as one of the remaining historical medieval European landmarks untouched by years of transformation and development. With restrictions, which regulate construction of the facades of buildings and the need of permits to build new structures, the center city has been well preserved. Bruges was a place of prosperity and trade throughout the Middle Ages, known for its importing and trade of silks, lace, fur, and wine. Enjoy the architectural marvels that have made the city what it is today, revealing varied styles and influences from the French and Dutch, and even a touch of flair from the Spanish.
I began my stay in Bruges at the Die Swaene Hotel, a quaint and elegant hotel with 30 charmingly ornamented rooms overlooking a scenic canal. A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the Die Swaene provides a pleasant and welcoming stay. The hotel is situated in a building dating back through the 18th century, and is equipped with ample charm and allure. The hotel is ornate in its historic appeal. The Die Swaene is situated within a five-minute walk to the main center market (markt) and an even closer distance to the Burg, the central square of the city, housing the town hall (Stadhuis), which dates back to the 14th century.
Upon arrival at the Die Swaene, guests can savor an afternoon cocktail or a small bite to eat in the hotel’s bar and lounge, and for dinner stroll across the canal and enjoy a night at the Hotel’s fine dining restaurant, Kaffe Pergola, which offers decadent dishes such as filet of monkfish with marinated fennel and polenta, and a sautéed sweetbread with rhubarb chutney and a sorbet of buttermilk. Die Swaene can also offer a moment of relaxation in the hotel’s indoor heated swimming pool or sauna and spa. Be sure to wake up in time for the breakfast in the hotel’s spacious dining area, offering a wide array of breakfast choices. I found myself looking forward to the lovely breakfast accommodations throughout my stays in Belgium; they indeed surpassed my expectations of a typical American continental service. With a helpful staff and a great location the Die Swaene was a great start to my week of relaxation and indulgence.
The ornate structures, desirable chocolate shops, and drifting canals will keep you busy throughout the day in Bruges, but be sure to take some time to tour the city’s historic landmarks and institutions, which house breathtaking art – including an original sculpture, Madonna and Child, created by Michelangelo in 1504.
With a stay at Bruges’ luxury hotel Martin’s Orangerie positioned along the striking Den Dijver canal, you’ll be sure to marvel in a moment of relaxation and take in the breathtaking surroundings. Martin’s Orangerie, an affiliate of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, provides accommodations in a revived convent structure dating to the 15th century. The hotel features 20 rooms, all varied in style, with luxurious amenities as well as a waterside terrace and quaint lounge perfect for reading or chatting by the fireplace or sipping a glass of wine and taking in the romantic allure. The décor and ambiance is inviting, relaxing, and sumptuous in making the guest comfortable in one’s surroundings. With antique furniture, lovely oil paintings, and feeling of being in a home, the hotel far transcends a typical generic hotel atmosphere. Enjoy a scrumptious buffet breakfast of fresh fruits, champagne, a variety of pastries, delicious grain bread and much more in the dining room, on the terrace, or in your guest room.
Martin’s Orangerie: Kartuizerinnenstraat 10 B-8000 Brugge – http://www.martins-hotels.com/en/hotel/orangerie. Tel: +32-(0)50 341 649
The very accommodating staff will greet you with smiles and lead you to the best restaurants and shops in town. Upon arrival, I took a suggested boat tour of the city throughout all of the main canals, which provides an astounding view of all the serene points in Bruges. Martin’s Orangerie provides a complimentary voucher for a tour of the city starting in the Burg. I would greatly encourage taking the tour, as it brings all the fantasy of this beautiful city to the fore, with a new acknowledgment of the city’s past. The two hour tour permits you to linger in the streets, admiring the brilliant city design. With a fabulously vibrant and information-savvy tour guide like Andrew (who will most likely greet you, since he is one of the only tour guides in the city), you’ll learn a lot while laughing at all of his jokes. The hotel can also plan museum touring trips, horse and carriage rides, and much more.
Don’t forget to try a delicious Belgian waffle paired with a hot chocolate or Belgian Beer, easily accessible at one of the many restaurants encircling the main Markt. The Markt is surrounded by old step-gabled houses of different colors and sizes, creating a great backdrop for sitting in the center of the plaza square and enjoying a snack of frites (fries) with ketchup, mayonnaise, or one of the other many sauces (from one of the two frietkotjes along the square). For a great taste of Belgian beer, try De Garre, a tiny pub popular among the city residents for serving some of the city’s most delicious beers.
As my trip in Bruges wound down, I chose to explore eastern Bruges to get a feel for the city outside of the usual tourist sights. As an avid traveling enthusiast, I know that some of the best experiences are found beyond the tourist attractions. My last day was spent with a stay at Hotel Adornes, a restored mansion positioned to the east of the center of Bruges; it’s about a 15 minute walk from the Markt and a 5 minute bike ride. The last day of my travel was the day that I became mesmerized with the small European city.
Upon my arrival to Hotel Adornes, I was pleasantly greeted by the lovely, red step-gabled faà§ade that overlooked a picturesque canal. Entering the small and quaint hotel was like arriving at an enchanting home. The owner greeted me and showed me to my lovely room with exposed wooden pillars, two large windows looking over the canal, and a beautifully refined bathroom. The hotel has 20 rooms from single to deluxe, a lovely dining room with a large rustic fireplace, and exposed wood paneling throughout. The complimentary breakfast buffet was delightful and once more continued my week of indulging.
Hotel Adornes: Sint Annarei 26, Bruges 8000, Belgium
Tel: +32 +32 50 341336. http://www.adornes.be/
Complimentary bikes are set in the back courtyard of Hotel Adornes, a gorgeous area with surrounding brick exteriors, and a lovely patio setting. Using the bike as my means to explore the city on the last day of my trip allowed me to see Bruges more intimately and discover places that I had not yet found on foot. First I explored the Windmills on the Kruisvest along the outer canal of the main city center. Most residents of Bruges use bikes as their main source of transportation, and since there’s a limit on driving throughout the city, this made it easier to navigate without having to battle traffic. You can also explore Minnewaterpark by bike: a beautiful and romantic tree-lined park and lake that elevates the splendor of the city.
A city not to be missed in your future European travels; Bruges (Brugge) will bring out your romantic side and provide a relaxing and picturesque holiday.