Belgium has been on my wanderlust list for many years, not just because of the world famous Belgium chocolate… well maybe a little bit, but the movie ‘In Bruges’ drew my attention to this beautiful country. This is precisely where my Belgium chocolate gorged adventure began.
In all fairness I did very little planning on my trip to Bruges, I know, some of you may be gasping at the thought of that. In my head, I wanted to aimlessly roam the streets finding those hidden gems that I instinctively knew would be awaiting me. I wasn’t wrong.
We flew into Brussels South Charleroi Airport from Manchester; the flight was only about an hour and fifteen minutes long, great if you’re a nervy flyer. We used Flibco, a low-cost coach transfer service that links many of Belgium’s towns and cities, with fares starting as little as 5€. As someone who loath coach trips I can honestly say it was a very comfortable journey. The road trip to Bruges took around two hours in total, just enough time to figure out where our hotel was on the map and to daydream about my expectations of Bruges.
Arriving in Bruges was magical, exactly how I had imagined it. We immediately threw our luggage in the room and ran straight out the door; we couldn’t wait to go and explore! Staying at the NH Brugge turned out to be in the perfect location, only a stone’s throw away from the centre of Bruges.
The winter sun was fading fast, but that didn’t matter everything was shining under the moonlight and stars. It made everything look more magical and romantic. I may have been drunk on the free chocolate samples at this point, but the Belfry of Bruges was a majestic sight, like a medieval skyscraper. You really did feel like you were in the 13th century. After spending the rest of the evening hunting for more chocolate we staggered back to the hotel, clutching our stomachs for an early night.
Day two started early and in search of coffee and pastries. We stumbled on the Gingerbread Tea Room, a small independent coffee and cake shop, located down a little back lane but still close to the centre of Bruges. Despite its tiny size, the atmosphere was warm and welcoming, even cosy I would say. The staff apparently loved working there as they went the extra mile with every customer and always had a smile on their face. We even got treated to an extra little something with our cups of coffee, and you guessed it more free chocolate. A must see if you are looking for a warm drink in a quiet and quaint gem.
After we had our fill of coffee and pastry delights, we racked our brains of what else Belgium was famous for, ah ha… BEER! The time was only 11 am, but we were on holiday, so all the rules are thrown out of the window. We asked locals where the best place was to find the best beer to sample, their answer was the family-run Halve Maan Brewery. This is where we found our newest obsession, Brugse Zot Blond. The king of blonde ale that all other blondes are compared with. It is brewed with four different malts to give it a unique and distinctively full-bodied taste, with a sweet malt finish.
Let’s just say we lost track of time at the brewery and our bellies were crying out for Belgium waffles. We staggered, very elegantly of course, to a waffle shop that we only judged from its outside. I would tell you the name, but to be honest, names were not on the agenda, waffles were. I wish I’d taken the name down because they were AMAZING and did the trick sobering us up a little. Don’t worry I intend to return to find this waffle heaven on a revisit.
To sober up completely, we meandered along all the little cobbled streets imagining what it would be like to live in Bruges. The thought was a beautiful one, even the hoards of tourist in the summer wouldn’t put me off. You could never tire seeing the picturesque surroundings at all.
Before we knew it, it was time to get out of our everyday clothes and smarten up for our dinner reservation. Once we’d changed and looking semi-reasonable in an unusually quick amount of time, we decided to head to a bar for a little chaser before our reservation. With the help of Google maps, we found the perfect small place nearby. It had Gin in the name, we LOVE Gin, so that was the deal breaker right there.
The Brugse Gin Club was where our night started. We were greeted with thousands of different types of Gin. It was a Gin utopia. Not only that but the actual bar itself had quirks. It looked like someone’s kitchen; someone’s very lovely kitchen, a Gin kitchen. I thought I’d died and gone to Gin heaven! A staff member came over to our table to take our drinks order and introduced himself as Edward; we soon realised that it was, in fact, the actual owner of the bar.
Edward was very polite and asked what type of Gin flavours we liked. We didn’t have a clue. There were so many varieties out there and far too much choice even to start to narrow it down. Edward offered us help in choosing the perfect Gin. Within seconds he’d brought us a few bottles to smell and taste. After painstakingly picking our base flavour, the owner scurried off to his kitchen to create a masterful cocktail. Our drinks arrived, and they were out of this world good. I could have had many refills until it was a blur, but we had dinner to attend.
Edward was very knowledgeable about Gin, and you could tell it was his passion in life. This place was certainly a hidden gem, and if you’re a Gin lover, this is the place to go.
It was only a hop, a skip and a jump to our dinner reservation, literally around the corner. The first thing you notice is the grand doors to the Parkrestaurant; we just knew this was going to be one amazingly hearty meal. We had booked before our trip; this restaurant is quite exclusive and always full. The restaurant is owned by two brothers, Axel and Frédéric Bruggeman. It was opened in 1989 – almost as old as me. There are many menu options. We decided to go the whole hog and have the all-inclusive package, a four-course meal with paired wines for 74€. You might think that’s a bit pricey, but it was the food highlight of the trip. The menu is described as ‘old-fashioned wining and dining,’ and it indeed wasn’t telling tales.
I enjoyed every moment as soon as I stepped through the door, the staff were attentive from the word go. The restaurant decor was a classic taste with multiple rooms each having their style; I felt as though it wouldn’t have been out of place in ‘The Great Gatsby’ movie. We were seated with a glass of champagne; I’m not one for turning my nose up at champagne, so this was already going well.
The food was outstanding, and by the end of the meal, we were suitably full and tipsy (Tip: the waiter will keep topping your wine glass up for you!). The meal ended with a British cup of tea(much to the delight of the staff) and some scrumptious macaroons… and more chocolate. I can say, with my hand on my heart that this was indeed one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had at a restaurant.
Morning came, and it was time to say our goodbyes. We took our last stroll through the beautiful little cobbled streets vowing that we would see them again. Although our visit to Bruges was short and sweet, we still managed to pack in loads. I cannot recommend Bruges enough. This place is a must on anyone’s bucket list. It has everything your heart desires; in our case chocolate… lots of chocolate.
Jamie Carter | @mrjamiecarter