5 years, 10 months ago
Bruges suits winter best. Don’t believe us? Close your eyes and picture a Flemish landscape painting – we’re thinking oil on board, smallish, belfries and canals, grey and golden palette, low winter sun. See, it’s always winter isn’t it? Now we’re not saying avoid the capital of West Flanders in the spring or summer, it’s just that when it comes to seasons, Bruges really does winter rather well.
credit: Wolfgang Staudt
Of course it helps that the centre of the city is almost entirely medieval and manages to stay ancient and intact without feeling dusty or creepy. And the abundance of canals and lack of traffic adds to a general sense of calm you just don’t associate with hordes of visitors in shorts and sunnies herding round Europe like a summer plague. Then there’s Bruges’ secret Christmas shopping weapon: no matter how footsore and despondent and cash poor you are, step into a chocolatier and just breathe. Nothing in the world makes you more peaceful than the sweet scent of delicious melted chocolate and those happy smiles can’t be found in a tussle over the last Xbox One.
credit: Mark Turner
So now we’ve got chocolate, canals and old masters out of the way, what else would make you want to be ‘In Bruges’ this winter?
To keep it simple we’re going to stick to the city centre. A canal striped oval affectionately known as ‘The Egg’, the iconic Medieval heart of Bruges is one of those places that’s difficult to find words for. The most common response is a series of small sighs, sentences started and tailed off into awed silence and – we’re not ashamed to admit – a few almost tearing-up moments. If we tell you that Bruges employs a full-time Carillonneur to ring the 48 bells of its magnificent 13th century belfry, you get the idea. There are regular free bell ringing concerts and if you can think of a better, more romantic and perfect job than this we look forward to hearing about it.
credit: Wolfgang Staudt
But then Bruges has always enjoyed a bit of a reputation for just being itself, probably why the likes of Jan Van Eyck and Memling chose to live and work here for part of their illustrious careers. Although it would be naïve of us not to acknowledge the city’s vast and obvious wealth as part of that artistic equation. Bruges is home to the only Michelangelo Buonarroti sculpture to have left Italy in the artist’s lifetime – the poignant Madonna and Child in the transept of the city’s Church of Our Lady.
Bruges is definitely to be done on foot and in friendly Belgium fashion, the city makes it nice and easy for you by providing reasonable parking and excellent signposting. To get your bearings, we suggest cosy clothes and a cool beer on one of the many squares. Please go old school here and get a paper map because there’s nothing more Bruges than sitting around, taking your time and deciding what to do (or not do) next.
credit: Sean Munson
For inveterate sightseers (honestly there’s no shame in that here) you can’t miss The Beguinage. Definitely one of our favourite destinations in the city in terms of concept and charm. If you were widowed or abandoned or just a woman down on your luck in the days when women didn’t have much say in anything, a Bequinage wasn’t just refuge it was a place where you could live and work and thrive without having to join an Order or retreat from the world. Some of the world’s most beautiful art comes from the unsung heroines of Europe’s Beguinage and Bruges is a fine example.
At the other end of the spectrum, The Basilica of the Holy Blood is slightly overblown in bits for our taste but it has without a doubt one of the most graceful and beautiful staircases we have ever seen and if you like ‘relics’ this is home to a winding cloth reputedly soaked in Christ’s blood.
Bruges is Flemish to its core, so along with the canals there are of course countless ancient canal houses and wandering around wrapped up warm against the chill, stopping occasionally for hot chocolate (or more of that famous beer) you’d be forgiven for completely losing your sense of the 21st century. But that’s fine, it’s what being in Bruges is really about.
Maybe that’s why the city does winter so well. There’s an innate understanding of timelessness, respect for ancient traditions like lacemaking and bell ringing. People live in beautiful old homes and walk to work and take time to talk in the market squares. It’s quiet and peaceful but you’ll always find something surprising and intriguing just when you least expect it. We’d be happy to visit Bruges at any time of the year, but we just can’t get over how very good it is in winter.
credit: Wolfgang Staudt
Featured image by David H. Chu