By Sandra Scott
Europe has many wonderful places to visit that are not on the Top 10 destinations for travelers. One such place is Bruges (Brugge in Dutch), a fairy-tale medieval town in the northwest of Belgium often referred to as “The Venice of the North.”
Wandering the cobbled streets past medieval buildings and canals is a step into the past. It is one of Europe’s best preserved cities. For many, the secret is already out; during the busy summer months there is a constant stream of tourists so the best time to visit is in spring.
Get acquainted and soak in the ambiance of the city by walking or cycling around. The streets and laneways are well marked and there are plenty of walking maps in hotel lobbies, cafes and also from one of the three tourist offices. Then see the city from the water. It is designed for picture-taking with overhanging willow trees, bridges, historic homes, and swans. The canals pass through the historic area and the ride is very romantic. The 30-minutes boat tour has multi-lingual guides to share the stories and history of the city and turns around in Minnewater, a picturesque pond with elegant white swans.
Bruges is home to two unique religious objects. Joseph of Arimathea brought the blood of Christ to Belgium from the Holy Land. At certain hours every day visitors can get in line to touch or kiss the cloth with the holy blood. Architecturally the basilica is interesting. It is housed in the Basilica of the Holy Blood with a treasury room that is home to the jewel-studded reliquary which is part of Bruges’ large annual parade on Ascension Day. Only one of Michelangelo’s sculptures left Italy during his lifetime and it is in Bruges. The sculpture is of Mary holding the infant Jesus and is different from some of his others in that it shows Mary looking lovingly at Jesus. Appropriately, it is located in the Church of Our Lady.
Bruges is world renowned for its lace and chocolate so it is not surprising that there are museums devoted to both. The Lace Center is located in an old lace school run by the Sister of the Immaculate Conception. The multimedia displays explain the types of lace, the industry, along with demonstrations and lace-making courses. The Chocolate Museum has everything you wanted to know about chocolate from its beginnings in the Americas to today. Learn why Belgian chocolate is considered to be healthy and of high quality. The tour ends with a demonstration and tasting. There are plenty of places to buy lace and chocolate. And, of course, there is Belgian beer. There is only one brewery in the center of the city — Halve Maan Brewery. The family business stretches back six generations to 1856.Try their famous Bruges Zot (Brugge Fool). It seems that years ago the people of Bruges organized a colorful parade of merrymakers and fools to welcome Maximilian of Austria to their town. When they asked him at the end of the day to provide money for a new madhouse he replied, “Today I have seen nothing but fools. Bruges is already one large madhouse!” Since then the people of Bruges have proudly accepted the name, “Bruges Zotten” (fools of Bruges). While Bruges Zot may be the newest brew, the brewery has been around since the 1500, and in use in “modern” times since 1856.
Don’t miss the Groeninge Museum, strolling through the market, the museum devoted to Salvador Dali and the small commune of Beguinage.