When we checked in to our hotel, a family-run boutique inn in the heart of the old town of Bruges, I kept looking to see whether I could find something imperfect.
The French windows in our room opened to the canal, making it a romantic and peaceful setting to while away the time.
Although most people visiting Belgium stay in the capital, Brussels, many countrymen and visitors alike agree that Bruges is Belgium’s most beautiful city.
Brussels is a business and political hub, (it is home to many of the European Union offices), but Bruges is where romantics go for a perfect get-away. Old well-maintained stucco and brick mansions line the canals and give the landscape an intimacy that one might find in a small remote village in Europe.
Everything in this compact town is perfect – the market square, the cathedral, the numerous parks all look as if they were crafted by artists of note, which they were.
The city is well preserved and clean. It is almost like a stage set, no, make that a movie set, perhaps a Disney flick?
Every window has lace curtains and flower boxes with geraniums, the buildings are in a good state and the architecture is infinitely interesting. Low-country designs of the Middle Ages were a matter of pride; every detail down to the outline of a window frame is beautifully proportioned. This was an ideal spot for me as a photographer.
Motor vehicles are prohibited in the heart of downtown, except for deliveries during restricted hours, making Bruges one of the easiest walking-cities of the world. The winding cobbled streets, adjacent to the canals, are shared by pedestrians and the occasional horse-drawn carriage. Sweepers follow the horses and keep the streets litter free.
Restaurants serve authentic Belgian food, a strong rival to French cuisine, as well as numerous international dishes. Fresh fish, cooked in numerous ways, is plentiful, as are beautiful homegrown vegetables. Of course, this country is famous for its chocolate (carte d’or is my favourite), a worthy choice for dessert. My own personal favourite Belgian meal is carpes frites plus pommes frites, which would be called ‘fish and chips’ anywhere else, but is in fact a delicacy here in Bruges.
Bruges is called ‘the Venice of Northern Europe’. The city’s golden era was in the Middle Ages when its cloth weavers used the canals to ship the materials to the rest of Europe. Over time the river filled up with silt and the trade route disappeared, and along with it the city’s prosperity. The city fell on bad times, and it was restored to its old glory only in the 20th century. Today, tourism is its biggest business.
If you get tired of walking, you can hop aboard one of the many boats for a picturesque guided canal tour, giving you an entirely different view of the city. Willow trees overhang the banks and swans and ducks frolic in the water. The outlines of the walls, windows and rooftops, are architectural and painterly, perfect as the paintings of some of this country’s most famous artists, found mainly in the city’s art museums.
The only snag during my stay in Bruges was that this otherwise picture perfect city was overcrowded by too many tourists.