Brugge, Belgium. She's Pretty Alright.
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
In planning for a recent European trip, we were stuck between the Normandy Coast and Spa, Belgium for a Formula 1 race and required an "interlude" from being neither here nor there. Surveying the map, calculating distances and realizing we would require rest from the pace of our travels (read as a lot of one night stays with many miles in between), the dot on the map we pointed to and settled on was Brugge. Brugge would be our Belgium fix for great beer, waffles, moules and chocolate. Belgium, of course, has much more depth than that, but that would momentarily be the shallow end of the pool, the Belgian world view we wanted to wade in. We wanted to get "fat" in Brugge, loosen our pants, burp loudly, rub our bellies and unload mentally. Like most European cities, Brugge has a historical/religious center of town which has expanded outwards with the march of time. The center of Brugge is filled with old cobbled streets, open air squares and stone bridged canals that give it a Venetian, Amsterdam like feel. If you failed to take note by now, historic Brugge is a feast for the eyes.
Our Airbnb was on Hoogstraat, a perfect historic center location within walking distance of the heart of Brugge. We found underground parking nearby to stash our rental car for the next few days and decided to make Brugge ours. We set out on foot in the coolness of the early evening, looking to get lost in the city. No sooner had our walk began, we followed the din of noise and found ourselves in Markt Central Plaza. The Plaza, having four corners, can be entered from any direction, however once you do find your way in, it feels as if the history of Brugge has opened its arms to you. The Provincial Court, the Historium Brugge and the Belfry of Brugge are all here. There are food offerings of all types as the Markt Central Plaza is a gathering place, maybe "thee" gathering place. You can sit and dine on the plaza and watch the world go by if you chose to do so.
One of the hallmarks of Belgium is beer. Seems the monks knew a thing or two about making the delicious brew. Brugge has it's share of breweries and one of the oldest homegrown masters would be the Brewery Bourgogne de Flanders. We scheduled time for a tour and it was time well spent and best spent by sampling the product. Their signature beer? You guessed it or maybe you didn't, is the Bourgogne of Flanders, which is a mix of lambic and brown beer. Once paired it offers a refreshing magical taste, part sweet tart, part brown ale. We also visited Le Trappiste Brugge. If you've never been, beer heaven starts closer to hell as Le Trappiste is underground, but once you descend the stairs, it's as if you've entered a basement abbey. This must have been where cool monks hung out (dude, whoa!). They have a tremendous offering, typically 17 beers or so on tap and with guest beers and bottles as well. If beer is a religion, this is where you bathe in your faith. We purchased a flight of beer to sample and finished the visit with individual glasses of the brew we liked best. Yes, nearer to thee my lord, nearer to thee. My lord, well he serves beer clearly.
If you have a chance to visit them both, do. The Brewery Bourgogne de Flanders also has a nice riverside deck where you can people watch while you enjoy a glass of one of Belgium's finest.
After a night of drinking, we made our way to breakfast and had the obligatory Belgian waffle. We should have chosen a better place for waffles (small non-descript lunch/breakfast place with disinterested staff members), but these were just fine, they were. I mean it was sticky, sweet, syrupy and crunchy golden goodness embodied in the offering. After the nom nom, we got our itch to see all of historic Belgium and you can do that by bike. From the center of Brugge, rent a bike and then pedal to your hearts content as you ride along the bespoked outer ring of the city that follows the Vesten River. You'll encounter parks, windmills and trails of all types. Here's a chance for a little cultural immersion as you get to see Belgians at work and play.
Brugge is a big restaurant town with chefs from regions all over, but also a few local chefs discovering their Flemish roots. Think of it as Belgian Soul Food or Comfort Food, it's hearty and made to fill you up. Here's a partial list of Belgian home grown goodness - Mussels, Fries, Meatballs, Flemish Stew, Grey Shrimp Croquettes, Eel in the Green, Rabbit with Prunes, Sausage and Mash and Steal Tartare and Martino Sandwich.
There are many things to do and see in Brugge, from canal rides (they looked nice, but no I can't even), history to be uncovered and food to indulge in. Brugge is friendly, clean and just this side of wonderful. And....they have beer, ample amounts of copious goodness. That my friends should "almost" be reason enough to go.