Photos & Article by Virginia Miller
The romance of Bruges cannot be overstated. I was delightfully surprised to arrive in the small, intimate city of narrow cobblestone roads and horse drawn carriages to be one of the more romantic cities I’ve visited (and I’ve been to 25 cities around the globe just this year alone): partly due to its intimate size and approachability, partly due to its fairy tale architecture and interlocked waterways, not too far removed from the canals of Venice.
Hotel Die Swaene was my home base, a velvet-strewn respite of dreamy paintings, drippy chandeliers and a quiet bar behind thick curtains that feels like one’s one private drawing room straight out of an 19th century movie. The bamboo-surrounded pool and spa under a glass ceiling are added bonuses. The rooms themselves were a bit dowdy comparatively but I didn’t spend much time there.
I indulged in morning cappuccinos on the sunny rooftop garden of a cafe, savoring the Belgian ritual of chocolate or mini-pastries served with coffee. I scoured chocolate shops, tasting a range of truffles, some better than others – there’s a surprising excess of milk chocolate and other over-sugary chocolates vs. the dark, complex, artisan chocolate I seek out around the world. Nonetheless, I stumbled upon some worthwhile chocolate.
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A bucket of Belgian frites (thick-cut fries) and a glass of rosé orbeer is a quintessential Belgian experience, particularly on a sunny afternoon at a sidewalk table in a large, bustling square, as was the case at Restaurant Poules Moules. Better yet, a heaping bowl moules and frites (mussels and fries).
Streetside Belgian waffles, hearty meat stews or platters of sausages and sauerkraut… and, of course, Belgian beer. In indulged in it all. Bierbrasserie Cambrinus, in an atmospheric 1699 brick building, was a favorite for its casual, traditional Belgian food and extensive novel of beers – pages and pages worth – even if neglectful service left a little (or a lot) to be desired. I sipped a double-hopped De Ranke XX Bitter (which is found easily here at home at places like Healthy Spirits) or Van Steenberge Leute bokbier, a bright brown ale.
My favorite bar was off a narrow alley in an even more narrow building: La Garre stocks over 130 Belgian, Trappist and craft beers, particularly of the craft kind, offering the likes of most of the Oerbier line on draft alongside house brews.
Hotel Die Swaene