The UNESCO World Heritage city of Bruges is known for making visitors redefine their concepts of romance and tranquility. DW's Eesha Kheny took a trip to northwestern Belgium to experience this magic in person.
After an early flight into Brussels, I caught the next mainline train heading to the coast. There are multiple connections daily, making it an easy one hour train ride from Brussels to Bruges.
On the way, a sudden craving for Belgian waffles led me to make a quick stop in Ghent. A small yet bustling student city, Ghent is well known for its pedestrianized city center lined with medieval buildings and cozy cafes. After a delicious breakfast I climbed up the 91 meter (299 ft.) tall Belfry, one of three Ghent towers, for a bird’s-eye view of St. Bavo’s Cathedral and the rest of the city. Although the exterior of this massive cathedral is interesting, the real highlight is the unique 24-panel altarpiece painted by Hubert and Jan van Eyck in 1432, which can be accessed for an admission fee of 4 euros (US $ 5).
Heading to catch the next connecting train to Bruges, I passed by the impressive 10th century Gravensteen castle and made a mental note to check it out on my next visit. As soon as I settled into my seat, I was mesmerized by the picturesque scenery unfolding outside the train window. The time flew by and very soon I was arriving at my destination.
Bruges: UNESCO World Heritage and contemplation
The charm of Bruges – an exceptionally well preserved city from pre-motorized Europe - lies in the cobbled streets flanked by medieval architecture winding around its swan-filled canals and bridges.
Back in the 13th century, this architectural complex known as a "beguinage" was founded by Margaret of Constantinople for beguines – lay religious women voluntarily adopting apostle values without taking any vows- who lived here together as a community.
On crossing the three-arched stone bridge and entering this complex was like taking a step back in time. Nestled close to the city center, it was a haven of peace where the fast pace of life just faded away. As I sat on a bench, enjoying the sun on this lovely day of spring, I observed a few nuns of the Order of St. Benedict going about their daily routine. In 1927, the beguinage was converted into a convent for these nuns who live in the small white washed houses of this complex. The beguinage also organizes exhibitions showcasing the life from the 17th century.
The legend of Minnewater
It was soon time to continue my exploration. As exited the beguinage I came across a tranquil setting of a small lake with a bridge in the distance. Having spoken to a few residents, I learned that according to a legend, this lake was named after Minna, a girl who was prohibited from marrying her warrior lover Stromberg. To avoid marrying the man her father chose for her she ran away from home, eventually dying from exhaustion in the arms of Stromberg. Hence the name Minnewater which translates into ‘Lake of Love’.
This canalized rectangular shaped lake is surrounded by trees and dotted by brick houses making for a pleasant stroll in any season.
I crossed the lake bridge also known as ‘Lovers Bridge’, thinking of the tragic story, noticing the other couples around me with sad smiles and loving eyes before finally making my way back to the city center.
The skyline of the city is dominated by its landmark: The Belfry of Bruges. A 13th century tower standing tall at a height of 83 meters making it an ideal spot for the best view of Bruges. It is also home to a carillon of 47 bells, which allows the bells to be played by means of a hand keyboard.
As I ascended the 366 steep steps to reach the top, I felt the burn in my legs. Midway, I stopped to catch my breath and take a quick look around the old treasury. The effort of the climb was rewarded with a panoramic view of the city and its surroundings. Stunning though it was I found looking down, I was suddenly uneasy with the distance I was from the ground. I would definitely not recommend travelers who have a fear of heights or tight spaces to pay 12 euros to climb the narrow winding staircase to the top.
Enjoy calories in Belgian
After all the exercise and adventure, it was time to load on some calories by means of lots of divine chocolate. Belgium has been producing chocolate since the early 17th century and its products are well-known throughout the world.
It is an easy task to find chocolate in Bruges since the lanes are dotted with big and small stores. With lavishly decorated windows displaying pralines, truffles and other kinds of chocolates they lure passerbys into the shop. I was one such person immediately drawn into the stores, tasting and buying chocolate, and whilst indulging I was pleasantly surprised by the competitive prices on offer. Now able to tick this chocolate binge off my to-do-list, I ended my trip on a savory note with a visit to a local bar for some tap beer and Belgian potato fries, wondering when I will be able to return to this picture postcard city, because one visit is just not enough.