Bruges - The Medieval Capital of Europe

May Swan-Easton on 06 September 2008
My birthday weekend treat started the minute I stepped aboard the Eurostar train at St Pancras station. I was very impressed with the ease and speed of check-in which can be done up to 30 minutes before departure. Before I knew it, I was sitting in my very comfortable seat being offered a choice of hot or cold breakfast with tea / coffee. There are 3 classes to choose from: Standard, Leisure Select & Business Premier and they have dedicated carriages for each. With reserved seating and comfortable seats the journey slipped past very quickly. I had to change trains and platforms at Brussels to connect with a regional train to Bruges. The whole journey from St Pancreas to Bruges took approximately 3hrs 20mins. The railway station at Bruges is 15 minutes from the town centre and taxis are in abundance at the front entrance of the station.

I stayed for 2 nights at the 4* De Tuilerieen Hotel which is housed in a noble residence with authentic character dating back to 15th century and embellished by traditional interiors. Situated next to the beautiful Den Dijver canal, the hotel features 45 elegant rooms, a cosy bar with open fireplace and candles, sauna, covered heated swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and steam bath. I indulged myself in the morning with the champagne breakfast buffet on offer and then stepped outside the main doors to find myself in the very heart of this pretty and charming city.

Bruges is sometimes called the Venice of the north with its maze of waterways and romantic bridges. Sightseeing is plentiful and is mostly done on foot. This UNESCO World Heritage site has more than 50 bridges, with Peerdenbrug being the most ancient. For something more unusual head to the Barge Bridge linking the Bargeplein at the edge of the city with the Minnewater Park, asymmetrical and painted a vibrant red, the bridge is shaped like a reptile. Climb the 366 stairs to the top of Bruges belfry for an outstanding view; visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood (40F) to see where it is thought to be the final resting place of Christ's blood; wander the grounds of the Beguine's Convent (famously painted by Winston Churchill) which features a group of houses built around a little garden planted with poplar trees and is still inhabited by Benedictine sisters. I was lucky enough to hear the choir singing in the Church when I visited on Sunday morning. Join a 45 minute guided tour of ‘The Half Moon’ brewery and sample a glass of its brew included at the end of the tour and take one of the many boat rides on offer to see the canals from a different perspective.

I purchased lots of Belgium chocolate from the huge choice of gaily coloured chocolate shops that adorn the streets and also purchased some beautiful Belgium lace from one of the many lace shops.

Despite its petite size, there's plenty of nightlife on offer in Bruges. Pick up a free copy of Agenda Brugge from the tourist office for a list of evening events.

I took a horse drawn carriage ride from the main square to a wonderful restaurant for dinner called 'T Oud Kanthuys which offered a varied menu at good prices. The food was excellent as was the service.

An excellent journey from Bruges to London St Pancras with an easy connection at Brussels and a hot dinner on board Eurostar plus copious amounts of complimentary champagne (I think one of my party had let on it was my birthday). I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend trip to Bruges - the medieval capital of Europe and only a train ride away!