UK / Europe

In Bruges

Sampling the sweet artisanal delights of Belgium’s sometimes overlooked compact, medieval city

Amy Hughes

If your only association with Bruges is the dark, British comedy flick, starring Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes, think again. The compact, medieval city is ideal for an overnight, or weekend break from London. Eurostar is the getaway car, with an easy transfer in Brussels, or a longer layover to take in both cities.

The train station in Bruges is a short taxi ride from the city center where Farrell and Fiennes fans can retrace locations from the movie with a guided map.

Martin's Relais
Quaint luxury: Martin’s Relais

On a side street, just off a typical square, sits Martin’s Relais Hotel, one of a small chain of Dutch properties. Stepping inside is like travelling back in time, into an old, private home of the gentry. A chandelier sparkles in the sitting room, with views of the canal, a fireplace, and strong Dutch coffee and biscuits. Rooms comfortable and conjure images of a resplendent history. Rooms overlook the canal, or a quiet, pretty courtyard.

It’s a short walk to the market square, and beyond, where chocolate shop after chocolate shop seduces the weak, into “just one more taste,” of this city’s pride and joy. We fancied ourselves connoisseurs, as we rated some of the mass produced truffles against the smaller, artisan chocolatiers. There were some surprises, but, generally, the finer the chocolate, the fancier the shop, and the subtler the taste.

Breakfast at Martin’s Relais is in a lovely, rustic room beautifully decorated with provincial wood tables and sideboards, with drawers open and filled with jams, honeys and Belgium’s answer to peanut butter – Speculoos, a more-ish paste of ground cinnamon biscuits. Fluffy scrambled eggs, raisin brioche, charcuterie, and the usual breakfast goodies are enough to last til supper time, or a late afternoon chocolate stop.

Museums about Belgium’s famous frites, and, of course, chocolate, are amusing, but serious art lovers will adore the Picasso gallery. The private institution is supported by a Spanish foundation, which explains its name, but don’t be fooled. Amid the great one’s works, there are plenty of pictures by Matisse, Signac, and others which make up such a vast collection its spread over two buildings.

Ideal start: breakfast at Martin's Relais
Ideal start: breakfast at Martin’s Relais

A 5-hour layover, by choice, in Brussels allows us plenty of time to hit the local Sunday market, just a 20-minute walk from the station. It’s a typical European affair with rows of vintage goods, and traders just as ancient as their wares. A woman with a stall on the outer perimeter sells beautiful white, cotton and linen nightgowns with embroidered trim for a song. Just don’t try getting any of them over your head. She issues stern warning, en Francais, about trying things on for fear customers will rip the precious things.

We navigated the tram system in search of the Horta museum. Set in a residential neighborhood, with a hefty line outside due to its short opening hours, its well worth the wait for a wander around the home of Victor Horta, art nouveau’s most famous architect.

Back at the train station, it’s our last chance for macarons and chocolate. The large shop just before the food court looks like a tourist trap, and it may be, but it more than holds its own in the taste test.

Martin’s Relais

Genthof 4, 8000

Brugge, Belgium

Eurostar

Martin’s Relais

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