Squeezed between racy Amsterdam and cheese-mongering Paris, Belgium’s Bruges may seem small potatoes at first glance. But this fairy tale-like town has more to offer than Medieval architecture and canals. Foodies and ale-lovers flock to Bruges to indulge in calorific cuisine, craft beer, and some bizarre ways of ingesting chocolate (think: cocaine-style). Here are five things to love about Bruges’ food scene:
Eat, Wear, & Snort Chocolate
Chocoholics beware: Belgium is the chocolate capital of Europe, and you can get your fix in Bruges.
Start at the Choco-Story Museum to get the low down on cacao’s history all the way back to Mayan times. And more importantly, drool over demos on praline techniques and tastings.
Then visit the gazillions of chocolatemakers to stock up on the good stuff. Why are Belgian chocolates are so damn good? It’s because the chocolatiers are only allowed to use natural products. That’s right: there are chocolate laws in Belgium. The use of chocolate is legally restricted to products containing only cocoa butter, cocoa solids, sugar and milk. You know when the government gets involved in chocolate production, it’s gotta be that good.
For something weird and wonderful, meet legendary Dominique Persoone, the man who runs The Chocolate Line. This dude created chocolate lipstick and taught The Rolling Stones to snort chocolate with a Chocolate Shooter that he designed. He also delivered edible chocolate to photographer Spencer Tunick, who smeared over naked Bruges models.
After eight hour days tramping the cobbles, there’s nothing better than sipping a draught Belgium beer with a plate of mussels at one of Bruges’ patios. A word of warning: one-table-one-check is normal here, along with a $2 charge for sharing appetizers.
Or pop into Brugge’s oldest pub – Herberghe Vlissinghe on Bleckerstraat – which dates back to 1515. Although the pub grub menu and beer garden is contemporary, both the building and the furnishings will take you back to life back in the 16th century. Without the Black Plague, that is.
In Bruges, you won’t find the frozen cardboard crap served at Denny’s or the Golden Griddle.In the “old world tea shoppes” and restaurants, Belgian waffles are topped with ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and warm cherries.
And don’t forget about the food carts that serve warm waffles dusted with icing sugar. Oh my dayum.
Belgians take their beer very seriously. With over 650 different kinds, there are even special glasses for each variety of beer, with a shape that’s designed to enhance the flavour.
Mussels with fries is a traditional dish in Bruges, served in a steaming pot of savory broth with a side of frites and homemade mayonnaise. One awesome thing about Belgian mussels: some renditions use Belgian beer in the broth instead of white wine.
A word of advice: only order moules frites if it if there’s an “r” in the month. The season for European mussels is September to April and they can be small and disappointing during the summer months.
IF YOU GO:
Where to Stay
If you want to get the mojo flowing, stay at Hotel Die Swaene for some serious romance, especially in rooms overlooking the canal.
A more modern – and affordable – option is Martin’s Brugge, conveniently situated right behind the Belfry on Oude Burg. It’s also a handy position for buying local fruit, produce, and flowers from colorful Belfort Market which is held every Wednesday morning in front of the Belfry. And the tall clock tower makes a great beacon when navigating your way home after circling the city all day.
What to See/Do:
The Historium is the logical place to start, right in the central plaza of the walled city. Here, you’re transported by film, music, art, aromas and props to the year 1435 via a charming love story.
Take a canal boat trip is a relaxing way to see the city, glimpsing at churches, nunneries, monasteries and 600-year-old bridges, interspersed with picturesque private homes and patios.
For an awesome photo backdrop, go to City Hall with its unique hanging wooden ceilings and ornate architecture and artwork. After more than 600 years it is still the seat of government for the city.
The Belfry – an 83-meter tall bell tower which rings the hour, half hour and quarter hour throughout the day – has the best city views from the top of its 366 stairs which lead to the 47 silver-toned carillon bells.
To appreciate the array of ancient attractions, purchase the Love Brugge City Card – and don sensible walking shoes for traipsing over cobbled streets and winding staircases.
If the Middles Ages aren’t your thing, another fun way to explore the city is via the In Bruges movie map available from the tourist office. The British gangster film, starring Colin Farrell, has added a more modern dimension to Bruges’ charms.