My wife and myself decided to have a short break away from the UK and as we did not wish to go by plane or boat, this only left the Eurostar.  We decided to go to Brugge in Belgium on a trip organised by Riviera Travel.

Brugge is better known in the UK as Bruges, in Belgium, although most people can speak a number of languages, official there are 2 languages of Belgium, French and Dutch (more commonly known as Flemish in Belgium). Belgium is roughly divided, in that, Southern Belgium usually speak French, while North Belgium speaks Dutch, Brugge is in the North, hence Brugge is spelt the Dutch way and not Bruges the French.

Our holiday trip started early Wednesday morning by catching East Midlands Trains from Sheffield Station to London St Pancras. Luckily this is now the departure point for all Eurostar journeys and therefore on our arrival at St Pancras we only had to access the Eurostar Terminal, without the need to change London Rail stations. After checking in at Eurostar we then proceeded to go through Passport Control and the Customs.

After boarding the Eurostar to Lille we traveled through the Channel Tunnel to France and on reaching Lille-Europe, met our travel rep and proceeded to our coach for our remaining journey to Brugge.

A free Guide to Brugge

A Map of Brugge Attractions

After arriving at Brugge, we proceed to the Hotel Academie, which would be our accommodation for our 4 day stay in Brugge.

After a short rest we took advantage of the 1/2 hour walking tour, as an introduction to some of the sights of Brugge, mainly as a way of providing a focus of where we were in Brugge.  During this tour some evening eateries were indicated.  That evening we ate at the Bella Epoque.

Next morning, after a hearty and enjoyable breakfast, we went on the 2 hour walking tour of Brugge, this expanded on the short tour of the previous night and showed more sights of Brugge.

Some sights of Brugge

As well as the sights of magnificent buildings, Brugge also has many museums to visit.

After a short rest, it was time for the visit to the brewery of De Halve Maan. This tour was extremely interesting, even more so due to the oratory of the brewery guide. The tour did require going up and down many stairways, some not all that easy to manage, if you were not good at mobility. At one point we were on the roof of the brewery, which gave us excellent views of Brugge.

After finalising the tour and having a sample of the produce, a welcome glass of Zot beer, lunch was par-taken in a nearby cafe.

After a very appetising omelette with salad and a further drink of beer, it was time for the boat trip on the canals, this showed the sights of Brugge from a differing approach.

Boat Cruise

Some views of Brugge from the canal boat

To finalise the day, the evening meal was accommodated at another restaurant close to the hotel.

Shortly after breakfast the next day was a visit to Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc  just round the corner of the hotel, which sold chocolates. These were made in a room which was accessed by going in through the shop to a back room. Here we were given an extremely enjoyable talk and demonstration of how they made their own chocolates for sale in their shop and a taste of one of  the chocolates they make. Yes, ample time was allowed for people to purchase boxes of chocolates before leaving the shop.

On returning to the hotel and a short rest, we went to board a coach for the day trip to Ieper (Dutch) or using the French, Ypres. During this trip as well as a good stay over lunch in Ieper, other stops were made at Hill 62 and the War Cemetery. During the stopover in Ieper ample time was given to have lunch, visit the war museum in the Cloth Hall and also a short walk away to the Menin Gate. Viewing the Trenches and the War Cemetery, certainly brought home to myself and gave me some of an insight of the conditions and the hardship which was undertaken by the soldiers in World War I.

Some views of Trenches at Hill 62

Some views of the War Memorial at Hill 62

Some views of the Ieper Reservoir War Cemetery

In Flanders Field Museum in Cloth Hall, Ieper

Cloth Hall, Menin Gate Memorial and some exhibits in the In Flanders Field Museum

After returning to Brugge, an evening meal was accommodated at another restaurant near the hotel.

Breakfast was taken the next day and the morning was available for sight-seeing Brugge on your own, until boarding the coach in the early afternoon to Lille-Europe to catch the Eurostar back to the UK.

Brugge Holiday Summary

Myself and my wife found this holiday very much to our liking and we would certainly wish to revisit Brugge.  It is a place of very good architectural splendour, with the buildings maintained extremely well.  The only slight problem is the cobbled streets and while adding to the architectural splendour, unless you have good footwear, walking can become tiring.

Regarding the train journey, we found the East Midland Train to be very good, the carriage was clean, both inside the carriage and outside. Once in the carriage, with the electronic seat numbering, it was easy to find our seats. The train was on time both at the start of the journey in Sheffield and arriving at St Pancras. On arriving at St Pancras, I was impressed on how the station has been altered to accommodate both mainline trains and Eurostar.

This is our third experience of Eurostar, previously catching the Eurostar from Ashford International in Kent. This was when the London Eurostar Terminal was Waterloo International.  Then we found  the train was maintained to a very good standard, relating to its cleanliness and carriage design.  On this occasion, however we found the exterior of the carriages to be extremely dirty and the interior, while being very clean, was now very dated.  It was not easy to find the correct carriage, as the dirty exterior was masking the carriage identification, while inside it was not again easy to locate our seats due to the lack of electronic numbering. This did not detract from our enjoyment of starting our holiday. The train did, however, depart on time and was again on time arriving at Lille-Europe.

After leaving the train it was easy to find the travel company rep from the information we had being given. The rep was extremely pleasant and showed us to the coach, which would take us to Brugge.

During the approx 1 hour coach journey, the rep provided us with information regarding the hotel, Brugge itself and the itinerary of the stay. To help understand the information being given about Brugge, we were each given  a map of the city showing the roads and places of interest.  On each persons map the rep had also written their hotel room number, which saved time at the hotel, as all each person had to do was ask for their respective room key.

As mentioned, on the first night we ate at the Bella Epoque, which is a place I would highly recommend, as we could not fault anything, the meal was good quality, service to a high standard and the restaurant atmosphere just to our liking.  When we return to Brugge we would certainly wish to revisit the Bella Epoque. The only slight problem was that it was a good 10 – 15 minutes walk from the hotel, but when there it was worth it.  Unfortunately, as it is with the restaurants in Brugge, they do not open every night, the Bella Epoque does not open on a Thursday evening.

The following day, Thursday we went on the 2 hour walking tour of  Brugge and although this was taken at  a leisurely pace, it could become tiring, due to the cobbled streets.  The tour itself was extremely interesting and some of the attractions visited were Minnewater, Beguinage, Church of our Lady. a view of the Canals of Brugge and many more finishing in the Market Square. At Minnewater you will be able to see the Swans of Brugge.

Legend as it that in 1488 Maximilian of Austria invaded Brugge and while his army had gone else where the people of Brugge rebelled and imprisoned Maximilian with a resident of Brugge Pieter Lanchals, known as ‘long neck’, who had shown his support, in Craenenburg house (now the Cafe Craenenburg) at the Market Square.  Lanchals was taken to trial and found guilty of helping Maximilian and sentenced to death, by being beheaded. On Maximilian’s army return, he regained power, then as a punishment, forced the city to keep swans in the canals for eternity Swans,  because of their long necks, supposedly a reference to Pieter Lanchals.

Every day since then, the locals of Brugge have seen that the swans are fed daily at Minnewater, the exception being during the ‘Bird Flu‘ out break of 2006, when the people of Brugge rounded up all the Brugge swans and took them to a place of safety and they were not brought back until the out break had passed.  You may ask how they knew which were Brugge swans from others, who came just to be fed. The answer being, when new swans (cygnets) are born than are tagged showing a number, which not only indicates how many were born, but also the year of their birth and their wings are clipped. The swan is well thought of in Brugge and to this day you can see images of swans in Brugge wherever you go,  be that monuments, statues, crests, etc. If the legend is true, then it appears to be a punishment welcomed by the population of Brugge.

There are many walking tours of Brugge that can be experienced, this is another walking tour of Brugge, although this was not a tour we experienced, but it does include some of the attractions which were seen by ourselves on our tour and shows many more.

After our walking tour we also had an enjoyable visit to the De Halve Maan brewery and a pleasant boat cruise on some of the canals of Brugge.

The next day after the visit to Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc we went on the coach trip to Ieper (Ypres).  Our first stop was at Hill 62 on the Ypres Salient, here you could walk up the hill to see the War Memorial. On descending back down to the coach and before re-boarding it you could go and view the museum, which contained artifacts from World War I, found nearby, and on going through the museum you could go and view a section of the trenches. Whether it is a usual event, but the presence of a lone Scottish Piper certainly added to the  solemnity of the occasion.

We then made our way to Ieper for a lunch stopover, which also allowed time to go into the Cloth Hall and go round the In Flanders Field Museum, which contained many exhibits from World War I. To fully take in all that was being shown in the museum you would need more time than this stopover was allowing, but at least you could, in the brief visit be able to ascertain whether you would wish to make a return visit another day when you had more time available.  Just a short walk away you could go and view the Menin Gate Memorial.

On re-boarding the coach the next stop, was the Ieper Reservoir War Cemetery, where 2613 Commonwealth soldiers are buried.

This trip, taking into account all the places visited, brought home to me, more insight to The Great War 1914-1918.

During our stay we found all the trips had been organised to perfection, with the rep being very organised in how he dealt with each and every trip.

Staying at the Hotel Academie we could not have wished for a better hotel.  The general areas of the hotel were always kept clean and tidy, as was our own bedroom. The staff were very efficient and friendly, making you feel as they welcomed you staying at the hotel. The only meals being provided by the hotel was breakfast, which catered for all tastes, with the food and drinks available being very varied.

Brugge its self, the Hotel and their staff, the organised trips and the travel company rep all added to the enjoyment of our stay in Brugge.

Some thought, either by the travel company or their rep, or both, with regards to the trips had been undertaken, as without question all the trips were organised perfectly. Where people from the places being visited  took charge, being the brewery, Chocolate making and canal boat cruise, the person added to the enjoyment of the visit in their oratorical manner, being very knowledgeable with the right amount of humor included.

On the coach back to Lille to catch the Eurostar back to the UK, the rep ensured we all knew what we needed to do to ensure a smooth boarding of the Eurostar.  My only discomfort was the standard of Lille-Europe Station.  If it was not an Eurostar Terminal it may not have been so obvious, but it is evident that except for building of the Eurostar Terminal within the station, no thought has been given to the increased traveller traffic being an Eurostar Terminal would create prior to entering the Eurostar Terminal. The waiting room was cramped and exceedingly dirty, there being insufficient seating for mainline travellers and those for Eurostar. Lille railway station would appear to be a provincial station into which Eurostar has been thrust upon.  If Eurostar was not there, then I would assume the station would be adequate for just the mainline travellers.

All in all a very enjoyable holiday in Brugge, Riviera Travel has appeared to think of everything and leading up to departure their administration could not be faulted. We will certainly book again with Riviera Travel and would sometime go back to Brugge.