About Sasha H
Lives in Healey, United Kingdom
Since Jan 2015
I’ve swum with wild dolphins in the Maldives, fed baby kangaroos in Australia, spent hours in the shopping malls of Dubai and crash-landed a hot-air balloon in Poland – having spent the last decade travelling and freelancing, I am a joyful, nosy traveller, always meeting new experiences head on. I enjoy digging into the culture, listening to what’s happening around me and taking thousands of photos on the way. Thanks to two decades of travelling extensively through Europe, the Middle and Far East and the Caribbean, I know the cities and countries I write about inside out. And even though I live in the Yorkshire Dales – surely the most beautiful place on earth – I never lose my enthusiasm for skiing in Zermatt, visiting my favourite cities in Italy and Poland or discovering new places to shop in Dubai.
Points of Interest & Landmarks
Points of Interest & Landmarks
Architectural Buildings, Sacred & Religious Sites, Historic Sites
History Museums, Art Museums
Historic Sites, Historic Walking Areas
Lessons & Workshops, Factory Outlets, Gift & Specialty Shops, Specialty Museums, History Museums
Visitors to Bruges can orient themselves to the city by taking a boat trip around the canals: Float past medieval palaces and warehouses, glimpse the Belfry tower, and duck under bridges. There are five departure points, with the two along Dijver being closest to the great central piazzas of Markt and Burg.
The heart of Bruges lies in the Markt, the vast square surrounded by gabled medieval palaces and dominated by the Belfry, which is the city’s most iconic landmark and dates in part back to 1240. The ornate central tower is the tallest in Belgium; on a clear day it is possible to see the coast from the top. The lower floors of the Belfry, originally the city’s trading halls, are now given over to the Museum-Gallery Xpo Dalí for a suitably eccentric retrospective of Spain’s famous surrealist artist. The city’s main tourist office is housed in a wonderfully ornate Gothic Revivalist palace opposite the Belfry, and the square is lined with typically Flemish eateries with seats under colorful awnings.
A relative newcomer on the Bruges cultural circuit, the Historium sits above the tourist office in the Markt, and it's the best place to start an exploration of the city. Through interactive displays, film, music, and holograms, the history of Bruges’s 15th century heyday is brought to life in an entertaining and educational way.
The second of Bruges’s great central squares is steps away from the Markt and showcases some of the most beautiful medieval palaces in Belgium, which were mostly civic buildings. Masterpieces include the Palace of the Liberty of Bruges, which was formerly the city’s law court, and its over-blown 16th-century council chambers. The gilded Stadhuis (Town Hall) next door was built in 1376 and is the oldest administrative building in Belgium. Its façade is decorated with replicas of statues by Jan van Eyck and inside, the Gothic Hall is adorned with glowing, gilded 19th-century murals depicting highlights from the city’s turbulent history.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood squats next to the Stadhuis in the corner of the Burg, a 12th-century Romanesque chapel with Gothic upper floors. The exterior is colonnaded and covered with lacy arches, the interior is of mind-boggling richness, and there is a small ecclesiastical museum to explore too. The church houses a much-revered relic of Christ in the form of a cloth smeared in his blood, reputedly wiped from his body by Joseph of Arimathea after the Crucifixion.
There are more than 700 beers brewed in Belgium, from fruit, white, and wheat beers to monastery-brewed Trappist ales, lagers, strong dubbels, tripels, and yeasty lambic beers. The Beer Museum provides a high-tech overview of the growth of the brewing industry in Bruges, nattily guided by iPad, also educating visitors on the various types of ale and explaining how to pair beers with food. Visitors learn about beer provenance through touchscreens, and the tour ends in the tasting room, where there is plenty of opportunity to sample several unusual beers.
By early evening, the cafés of the Markt and Burg are well and truly buzzing; now is the time for an aperitif before heading here to Breydel-De Coninc for a blowout seafood supper of shellfish, lobster, and the favorite Flemish waterzooï stew with fish and vegetables in a creamy sauce. Named after Flemish heroes Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, who led an uprising against the city’s wealthy rulers in 1302, the restaurant has a simple interior with stripped pine floors and wooden tables, and it's one of the best fish restaurants in Bruges. Prices can be accordingly high, although the pails of mussels is good value for money.
In a light-flooded gallery built in the late 1920s, the Groeninge stands among Belgium’s premier art museums, with a specialist collection of Flemish masterpieces from the 15th to the 20th centuries. Highlights include works by Flemish Primitive artists Jan van Eyck, Hieronymus Bosch, and Hans Memling, and the story continues with portraits by Sir Anthony van Dyck, the romantic paintings of James Ensor, and a sterling collection from homegrown Belgian Surrealists Paul Delvaux and René Magritte. Almost next door to the Groeningemuseum is the Gothic Gruuthuse, a lavishly appointed mansion built by a 15th-century nobleman who obviously lived in some considerable style. The vast courtyard and decorative doorways prepare the way for the opulent interior, adorned with elaborately carved fireplaces, oak balconies and gilded wooden ceilings. Set against this splendid background is a fine assembly of silverware, ceramics, glassware and tapestries showcasing the very best of 15th-century Flemish decorative arts.
The earliest wards in the Sint-Janshospitaal (Hospital of St John) date back to the 13th century, and did not close until 1976. Inside there’s a 17th-century apothecary still displaying rows of glass medicine bottles and medieval hospital wards filled with stomach-turning surgical instruments. However the highlight of a visit is the religious artwork by Flemish Primitive Hans Memling, who was one of Bruges’s most prominent artists in the 15th century. Displayed in the hospital’s former chapel, his masterpieces include the gleaming, golden Ursula Shrine and a sublime three-paneled altarpiece. Also housed in the former wards of the Hospital of St John, the Expo Bruges is an oft-overlooked modern-art museum that offers a wander through Impressionism to Picasso, with a collection of several hundred sketches, lithographs and prints by the likes of Monet and Rodin, Magritte and Miró.
The Begijnhof sits in a tranquil grassy courtyard planted with trees. It was founded in 1245 for women who vowed to remain celibate, but without taking religious vows. For centuries, the Beguines were responsible for caring for the sick and injured in St John’s Hospital. Today the Begijnhof is run by Benedictine nuns and its neat lines of gabled, whitewashed houses still have an air of calm that is rare in tourist-packed Bruges; one of the houses contains a small museum relating the history of the Beguines, who left their historic home as recently as 1976.
As one of Bruges’s few remaining family-owned breweries, the Half Moon has operated on its present site since 1856 and now offers tours of its former brewhouse. The brewery still produces its notorious Brugse Zot (Bruges Fool) and extra-strong Straffe Hendrik. Both can be sampled in the smart on-site brasserie, which has a pretty courtyard for impromptu summer-afternoon beer tastings.
De Vier Winden is virtually at the foot of the Belfry on the Markt, and prices are amazingly good for views of this caliber, especially when the tower is romantically floodlit at night. The cooking may not be haute cuisine but the standard is consistently good, and the cheap meal deals of mussels, seafood platters, and crème brûlée never lets its punters down.
Belgians are besotted with chocolate; Choco-Story nips through the coca bean’s history, from its origins among the Mayans, to hot chocolate becoming the tipple of choice among Europe’s aristocracy in the 1500s, to a look at modern-day production processes. With lots of Aztec artifacts and Limoges china to admire, the exhibition continues through to chocolate-making displays and a chance to taste the finished product.
Like chocolate, fries are something of a national obsession in Belgium, served thin and sprinkled with salt. So it’s only appropriate that a museum dedicated to the humble spud has opened in Bruges. It’s housed in the 14th-century Gothic Saaihaile and delivers hard facts about the potato from its origins in Peru to the Irish Potato Famine; and there’s an entertaining film about the progress of the spud from seed to frozen fry. Visitors of course have a chance to sample the wares at the end of the tour!
In the 15th century there were more than 2,000 lace makers in Bruges, so hats off to the ladies at the Lace Center, who are determined to pass their dying craft on to the next generation. Part workshop and part museum, this is the place to go to see intricately patterned lace shawls and tablecloths flying off the bobbins at the daily demonstrations between 2pm and 5pm. Of course, there’s inevitably an opportunity to purchase lace at the end of a visit, and although prices are steep, at least visitors can be assured that all the lace here is handmade.
With chandeliers glinting in the candlelight, Le Chef et Moi — a romantic little restaurant featuring a tiny menu showcasing seasonal ingredients — is fast becoming the go-to destination on the Bruges dining scene. Owner-chef Stefaan Cardinael cooks up a storm — dishes include scallops, sole, venison, and a signature ginger and hazlenut cheesecake — while his partner Caroline Saeys oversees the fine wine list. Just the spot for a gastronomic feast in lovely Bruges.