This small, historic city, and hour’s train ride from Brussels, was a cultural and commercial bridge between northern and southern Europe.
Examining early Flemish paintings produced 600 years ago in Bruges (Brugge in Flemish) you will notice the magnificent clothes worn by saints and sinners. Bruges was one of the many textile centres in medieval times and exported fabrics to many European capitals. Cloth merchants became wealthy enough to commission portraits and altarpieces.
Famous painters flocked to Bruges in search of wealthy patrons. But by the end of the 15th century, Flemish weavers started emigrating to London; merchants and craftsmen and artists went to Antwerp.
Canals linking Bruges to the sea started to silt, the city lacked capital to enlarge the all-important waterway. Gradually, Bruges sunk into obscurity.
This lasted until the beginning of the 19th century, when English tourists in search of the battlefield of Waterloo, near Brussels discovered the enchanted city. Today, Bruges`s main industry is tourism. Tourists come form everywhere and by any means, hitch hiking, by car, by train, on bicycles and even on foot.
The savvy tourist visits Bruges early in the morning and on foot, and then has a typical lunch served by innumerable charming restaurants all over the city, with a fine glass or two of beer. The afternoon can be devoted to exploring some of the museums. (Hanse and Medici exhibition, Memling Museum (www.brugge.be), and to visit chocolate shops or explore the availability of a range of laces (Bruges and Brussels are famous for their lace quality. They even have schools that teach the art)
Bruges was the 2002 European Cultural Capital and has hosted more than its normal share of tourism activity.
The visitors imagination is first captured by the canals that wind their way through the old city, opening up unexpected vistas of Gothic spires, houses precariously clinging to the banks, and narrow stone bridges. The 80 metres high belfry on the market dating from 1280 is visible from everywhere in town.
Just a short block away is the Burg Square surrounded by playful store facades and the Town hall. The Burg Square is a focal point full with restaurants, souvenir shops and little else.
The framer’s market nearby is more interesting and educational. Belgians are gourmets and grow some of the best vegetables and fruits on the continent, produce outstanding cheeses, and brew extraordinarily flavoured beers.
Abbey-brewed Chimay beers are exported to many countries, including Canada.
In the Saint Anna quarter you will have an opportunity to visit the remarkable Jerusalem Church, built papal authorization around 1470 by a Genoese merchant.
Bruges was the link between Baltic countries and Italian city-states of Venice, Genoa, Lombardy and Firenze (Florence).
You can take a city tour or decide on a more interesting walking tour. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes.
When in Bruges you must visit an artisan chocolate and truffle shop just to sample these delectable bits of confectionary.
A visit to Belgium without visiting Bruges is in my opinion, incomplete.