Bruges is enchanting and also, somehow, immediately comforting and familiar. It reminds you of an old bedtime story or nursery rhyme, except in this classic tale there are no big bad wolves or witches, and the only danger lurks in eating too many chocolates or sipping too many fine craft beers. Of course, there is also the frightful moment when you realize that you won’t be staying here forever.
We had taken the train to Bruges after 3 days in Paris so were already in a European state of strolling, yet this “Venice of the North,” with its romantic canals, pristine parks, and preserved medieval architecture slowed our stroll to a loiter. It really is a page out of a fairy tale with big-wheeled bicycles meandering by over thick, uneven cobblestones while swans peacefully preen themselves along calm canals, undisturbed by the occasional boat of tourists floating by snapping pics. Every turn is a painting, every bridge a photo-op, and every chocolaterie dangerously inviting.
And indulge we did, not only in the delicious Belgian chocolate, but the food, the wine, the waffles, the pastries. We left our hotel one morning for a long walk yet found ourselves pausing for pastries and tea not a block away. But that’s what Bruges does; it allows you to acknowledge and enjoy the moment. Everything about this quaint city is sumptuous and meant to be explored.
With only two nights at the beautiful and historic Heritage Hotel, we had but a glimpse of what the city had to offer. I’m afraid we didn’t dig into the history as much as we wanted, opting instead to wander along the canals, stroll lazily through the squares, and eat and drink often. We did manage to visit the Church of our Lady, the city’s tallest structure that also houses what is believed to be Michelangelo’s only sculpture to have left Italy during his life, the Madonna of Bruges, significant also because it differs from earlier representations of the Madonna and child where she is cradling her son and looking directly at the viewer or her son.
I hesitate to say “only” two nights, because for some, that would be enough, lest you hazard getting used to sheer splendour at every turn. But it is small enough that a short stop here would suffice and one could confidently cross it off a travel bucket list. A brief stay, perhaps, but it was enough to get Bruges solidly in the top 5 of our European destinations. After this, we took a train to Brussels and then a short flight to Berlin.