Bruges: The city of good taste

By James Lan

Ceramic miniatures of Bruges' architecture. Photo / Bay Of Plenty Times
Ceramic miniatures of Bruges' architecture. Photo / Bay Of Plenty Times

Visiting Bruges is like wandering about in a 13th-century daydream. It's a stunning, enchanting market town stripped of traffic, tourists, noise and neon - small wonder it's on Unesco's World Heritage List - and the food is sublime.

Bruges is a city rife with inviting cafes and bistros which tempted us at every turn as we braved icy winds and turbulent skies during our city walk.

After admiring the myriad of gabled houses, canals, cobblestone streets and elegant spires, we decided to warm up inside in a beautiful old cafe overlooking the market square (Grote Markt) and the towering Belfry (Belfort).

Keeping our choices strictly local we couldn't resist indulging in the national dish moules et frites (mussels and fries). My pot of steaming mussels fresh from the North Sea was washed down with a glass of Straffe Hendrik (Strong Henry), Bruges' heavenly blonde brew. Straffe Hendrik has injected fresh life in the city's beer trade following last year's resumption of brewing at De Halve Maan (The Half Moon) after it closed for several years.

Founded in the 16th century, De Halve Maan is now the only brewery operating in the heart of the old city.

But the city's gastronomic delights don't end with mussels and beer.

People in Bruges have a sweet tooth and yes, chocolate is at the top of the list. Tasting a city speciality such as a truffle brings together the timeless pairing of place and product - a sensory overload for any chocolate fiend.

Like most things in Bruges, chocolate is considered an artform not just something you enjoy eating. The city takes its chocolate so seriously that it holds an annual festival, Choco-Late (April 28 to May 1), to celebrate its confectionary craftsmanship.

Everything from chocolate sculptures to body painting to handmade chocolates of the highest quality are exhibited by local chocolatiers.

If you can't make the festival then maybe pay a visit to Choco-Story museum on Sint Jansplein, which details the 2600-year history of cacao and chocolate.

If chocolates aren't your thing then try another form of sweet seduction: Dentelles de Bruges. This is the city's thin nutty biscuit and it tastes superb with a stiff coffee.

Sweets aside, one of the most charming features of Bruges is the locals' passion for buying produce from the weekly market in the city centre. Once again, the locals prize quality above all else whether it be fish, meat or fruit.

Visitors can shop among the basket-toting locals as they browse through a selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, local cheeses, meats and jams.

Perhaps it's this unique village-like focus of the market square since its heyday in the 15th century which continues to make Bruges such a beguiling city to visit.


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