If you’re planning your next foodie city break, why not head to picture-perfect Bruges in the Flanders region of Belgium? We spent a gluttonous few days there at Easter and were seduced by food and architecture alike.
A stone’s throw from Brussels, it’s a fittingly sumptuous medieval backdrop to eat and drink yourself into a sleepy stupor with a side of gentle sightseeing. World-class beer, a chocolaterie on every street corner and a healthy smattering of Michelin-starred eateries – what more could you want?
Here are my foodie top 5…
#1 Amuse your bouche
The ‘Flemish Foodies’ may have put neighbouring Ghent on the map but Bistro Bruut (Chef: Bruno Timperman) shows the locavore movement is alive and well here too. Fresh, seasonal produce is served up with inventive flair and confidence. The set 4/5 course menu is only revealed on arrival so bring an open mind! Think: whelks, dried chilli, celery; smoked eel, turnips, dashi broth; white chocolate semifreddo, apple, thai basil. The menu format and 2-man brigade means it’s cracking value too. For even better value, go for lunch.
#2 Splash out
Bruges currently boasts 15 Michelin-starred restaurants, from the giddy contemporary heights of 3* Hertog Jan (Chef: Gert De Mangeleer) set on a working farm, to the classic cuisine of 1* Den Gouden Harynck (Chef: Philippe Serruys), a culinary institution (38 years and counting…) in the historic heart of town. Eating at the latter is worth it just for Chef Philippe’s amusing post-prandial anecdote warning of the perils of Belgian beer – one too many one sunny afternoon before dinner at long-time friend Geert Van Hecke’s (of 3* De Karmeliet fame) abode meant he was unable to utter a word all evening. He claims not to have touched the 10% stuff since…
Bruges was pretty much built for an impromptu pub crawl. Some of the best, all (crucially) walking distance apart: De Garre (De Garre 1 – tucked down an unfeasibly narrow alleyway, olde worlde setting, try their house blonde Tripel De Garre); Cambrinus (Philipstockstraat 19 – bustling beer hall, boasts a dizzying 400 beers and hearty grub); and ‘t Brugs Beertje (Kemelstraat 5 – excellent choice, cosy atmosphere). Take your beer seriously and catch a tour of the Half Moon brewery – good value, informative, and a glass of their unpasteurised Brugse Zot Blond is included. Take a stroll around the beautiful beguinage next door to sober up afterwards.
For even more beer, pop into the city’s oldest tavern, the 16th century Herberg Vlissinghe (Blekersstraat 2) hidden away in the Saint Anne district. With original wood-panelling and a cosy fire inside for the winter, and a suntrapped courtyard and petanque pit for the summer, it’s a pretty great pub. Rent bicycles and check out the windmills and canal up the road.
If you’re a chocoholic, welcome to paradise. As well as the big names, check out Dominique Persoone’s award-winning The Chocolate Line on pretty Simon Stevin Square. A self-appointed ‘shock-o-latier’, expect weird and wonderful flavour combinations. Think bacon quinoa, hemp and soy…
Make like a local and eat chips. It ain’t highbrow but it has to be done and, frankly, you’ll need something to soak up all the beer. For the best, head to one of the two chip stalls on the Markt. Walk up the famous belfry for a post-chip workout and unrivaled views of the city.
Need to sleep it off?
There are grand hotels aplenty in Bruges but for something a little more intimate, head to Huis Koning – technically a B&B but it feels more like a boutique hotel. Set in a beautiful 17th century house on the canal, the three guestrooms are stylish and modern with lovely personal touches, and Lynn (co-owner with husband Peter) leaves homemade treats in your room to return to after a day of sightseeing – chocolate mousse or frangipane tarts anyone? Eating the perfect breakfast in the perfectly Instagram-able open plan kitchen-dining area made me want to move in permanently.
Got more time? Check out my foodie guide to 24 hours in Ghent, just 30 minutes away by train…
Source: Words and photos by pip & little blue. Originally published in Le Petit Journal, the Le Cordon Bleu London student newsletter.