In Bruges, Belgium travel guide: A behind the scenes look

Belfort Markt. Photo: Jan DarthetWould you take holiday tips from a pair of hitmen? If you have caught the 2008 black comedy, In Bruges, you are probably ready to give it a go. The English film, which follows the adventures of a pair of criminals laying low after a botched hit, is set in the lovely Belgian city of Bruges, or Brugge, as the locals call it. With the medieval streetscapes stealing every scene, this film does for Bruges’ tourism industry what Peter Jackson’s movies have done for New Zealand’s.  Our hit list helps you make the most of any stay. TO MARKET, TO MARKET

Way before New Yorkers invented Fifth Avenue, the good folk of Bruges strutted their stuff at the Grote Markt, or big market. The ornately gabled medieval buildings, built by the town’s powerful guilds, are a perfect illustration of the medieval art of bling. WATER WORLD

Shh, don’t tell Venice, but Bruges’ network of charming canals may be the city’s most underrated attraction. With fewer tourists than you will find in the Italian city, you can follow the waterways to explore the city without getting swamped by crowds. Our favourite is the romantic Groenerei​, or green canal, lined with trees, creepers and elegant mansions. The best vantage point is from the Peerdebrug​, or Horse Bridge. BEER NECESSITIES

They’re a thirsty mob in Bruges: this little town once had no fewer than 54 breweries within its walls. The sole survivor, De Halve Maan​, is going strong: to avoid the traffic jams caused by its many delivery trucks, they are currently building build a 3km pipeline under the city streets to pump the beer to their bottling facility outside town. Sign up for one of the regular brewery tours, or just sample some wares in the airy tasting room. The Brugse Zot lager is a popular choice; for something stronger, try the Straffe Hendrik.

halvemaan.beART ATTACK

Like Florence, Bruges was once the epicentre of an artistic revolution. Back in the 15th and 16th centuries, the likes of Jan van Eyck​ and Hans Memling​ used oil paints to create a new type of art, one that moved away from traditional religious imagery to celebrate the riches of the real world. The sumptuous canvases on display in the Groeninge Museum include portraits of Bruges’ elite clad in rich furs and velvets and bedecked with dazzling jewellery, as seductive as any advertisement in Vogue.

bezoekers.brugge.beCIRCLING THE SQUARE

The Grote Markt​ is only one of Bruges’ grand squares. Just a short walk away is the Burg, once the town’s administrative centre and still one of its most imposing spaces. Amid the grand Gothic architecture, keep an eye out for the 14th century city hall, or Stadhuis​, bedecked with statues of the Counts of Flanders and their Countesses. Its interior is equally impressive, particularly the wooden ceiling in the Gothic Hall. A geometric bunker by Toyo Ito, sitting in a pool of water, brings a striking contemporary touch to the square.  TENDER MERCIES

Few people guess the purpose of the mighty medieval building located next to the Church of Our Lady. For hundreds of years, Saint John’s Hospital was a place of shelter for pilgrims, travellers and the sick. Today it is a museum which displays not just medical artefacts, but also furniture, sculpture and silverware. Keep an eye out for the gorgeous caskets, altarpieces and the art on display in the chapel.

bezoekers.brugge.beUPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS

The two-storey Basilica of the Holy Blood has a distinctly split personality. The downstairs chapel is a masterpiece of minimalism, a starkly lovely 12th century Romanesque room. The riotously decorated chapel upstairs, which allegedly houses a vial containing the blood of Christ, is a complete contrast.


Ever notice how often women get left out of history? Take the Crusades. European men streamed towards to Jerusalem, driven by religious fervour and a killing fever. But what about the women they left behind? Some retreated to a nunnery; others chose a more sociable option. Bruges’ Begijnhof​, or Beguinage, was a tranquil retreat that let women stay in touch with the outside world. Its whitewashed houses, shaded by trees and fringed by a daffodil-covered law, are appealing even today.

bezoekers.brugge.beMARBLE MARY

The mighty Church of Our Lady took 700 years to build; locals grumble that the current renovations may take almost as long. Scaffolding means the soaring interiors lose their impact, and the famous royal tombs are also temporarily off-limits. However, you can still check out the church’s most famous exhibit, a serene Madonna and Child by Michelangelo that is the only one of his creations to leave Italy during his lifetime. TOWERING ABOVE

The mighty 83 metre Belfry plays a key role in the film, In Bruges. If you are up for climbing 366 steps, you will get an amazing view of the rooftops and the snaking silver canals. The tower used to have a wooden spire, but after it burnt down for the third time in 1741, the locals gave up and left it as it is now.


Emirates operates 84 flights per week from Australia to Dubai with a daily onwards connection to Brussels, from where there are regular train services to Bruges; phone 1300 303 777; see emirates杭州夜网m/au. STAYING THERE

With its intimate canalside setting and romantic rooms, Die Swaene​ is one of Bruges’ most charming lodgings, rooms from $250, see At Steenhouwersdijk​ 1; see slh杭州夜网m. EATING THERE

Everyone wants a smart little diner like Quatre Mains just around the corner. The lucky folk of Bruges get to drop in for their delicious shrimp bisque whenever they like. At Philipstockstraat​ 8; see facebook杭州夜网m/4mains. DRINKING THERE

An easily-overlooked door leads down to t’Poatersgat​, a gorgeous vaulted cellar bar. A great place to sample Belgian beer, with 120 different varieties on tap. At Vlaamingstraat 82; see facebook杭州夜网m/t-Poatersgat.

The writer travelled courtesy of Visit Flanders and Emirates Airlines.

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