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Travel & Holidays in later life


Sightseeing by boat through the historic centre of BrugesThanks to the Chunnel, weekend trips are booming to the Belgian art city of Bruges. The timings have never been better. Leave St Pancras by Eurostar, and 2 hours' later you're in Brussels Midi, connecting with a one-hour train journey to Bruges at no extra charge.. 

Taking your own car by Le Shuttle from Folkestone, or Dover-Calais ferry, Bruges is only 90 minutes away via the A16 motorway which by-passes the coastal resorts. 

For a city which prospers from ultra-modern transport links, Bruges turns its face firmly towards the past. In a world where progress is multi-storey living in a cage of steel, glass and concrete, nothing is built in Bruges unless it totally harmonises with the medieval surroundings. 

The result is northern Europe's best-preserved medieval city. But behind the Middle Ages facade is a 21st-century lifestyle. 

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Getting there:
Park at Bruges Central Station with free bus to the centre. 

Numerous coach companies feature Bruges in their tours to Belgium.

More information: 
Tourist Information Bureau, Bruges, Concertgebouw,  Zand 34.
Open daily 10-18 hrs (Thursday: 10-20 hrs) for information and 
ticket sales. Tel: +32-50-44-46-46 
Tourism-Flanders, Flanders House, 1a Cavendish Square, London W1G OLD. Tel: 0207 307 7738. 

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Bruges is supreme among the art cities of Flanders. Much of the city is quite unchanged since the 15th and 16th centuries, just the way it was painted by world-famous artists hundreds of years ago.

The Belfry, dating from 1280, is the city's dominating landmarkThe city has it all: a Belfry which was rebuilt in 1280; the oldest Town Hall in Belgium, dating from 1376; the Basilica of the Holy Blood where a Crusader relic has been kept since 1149. 

Bruges has a dreamy character, with a web of canals crossed by hump-backed bridges. Pleasure boats cruise along waterways which are lined with mellow 15th-century walls. 

Some bridges are so low that passengers must crouch in the boat to avoid damaging the masonry with their heads. Hundreds of swans float peacefully on Minnewater, the Lake of Love.

Cars are hidden away, instead of littering the streets. Visiting motorists can park cheaply outside the main waterway girdle by the railway station, where taxis and low-profile buses are based. But you can walk anywhere, inside 20 minutes.

Bruges grew before the age of city planning and grid layouts. The essential city is egg-shaped, ringed by a waterway that acted like a moat around the ancient ramparts. The heart of Bruges is the Market Square area and the Burg. 

In octopus style, eight main streets radiate to the original bastion gates, of which four have been preserved. Otherwise only the city gate names remain. Outside the line of the waterway is the 20th-century ring road. 

Cobbled streets are lined with gingerbread houses. There's delight in venturing down little side turnings, to make your own discoveries. Alleys lead into courtyards and sanctuaries such as the Begijnhof, where lace-coiffed women lived as a self-supporting community. 

Bruges by night offers another magic, along streets where outdoor neon signs are forbidden, and lighting comes from wrought-iron lanterns.

There is good choice of restaurants for a celebration dinner. Romantics then go clattering over the cobbles in a horse-drawn carriage, and admire the canal-side reflections of floodlit monuments. 

Bruges offers many ways to pack a city break with interest, romance and a touch of luxury. You can enjoy the medieval world in modern comfort. 

Typical gable-end architecture around the Market Square.. At ground level, most of these buildings are cafes or restaurants.For anyone on a shopping spree, or looking for gifts, Bruges has 53 lace shops, tightly spaced along the main tourist trails. For centuries lace-making was a traditional pin-money activity of working women, seeking to boost the family income.

Today, most of the annual three million visitors to Bruges want to buy at least one souvenir lace handkerchief. If they had to satisfy that demand, the remaining lace-makers of Bruges wouldn't have any fingers left. So it's Taiwan to the rescue, keeping the lace shops well stocked with beautifully-made products.

The cost of a superb tablecloth of genuine Bruges hand-made lace - a future family heirloom - will run to three or four figures in pounds. But you can always buy very acceptable factory-made facsimiles at lower cost, thanks to Taiwan.

For anyone with a sweet tooth, Belgium is heaven where chocolates are famed for quality. Bruges supports as many confectionery stores as lace shops. Mouth-watering displays of chocolates are featured in many peculiar shapes and designs, besides nougat, marzipan and hand-made pralines.

For somewhat more balanced eating, you can relax in a traditional tavern and settle into a hearty Flemish meal, packed with calories. Belgium is no place for Weightwatchers, but you can always diet afterwards. 
Canalside view in the heart of the city.
If you're just there for the beer, Belgium offers three or four hundred different brews, each having its loyal fans. It's all part of the Belgian beer culture, in a land of dedicated drinkers.

To help visitors take the happy memories back home, beer-souvenir shops in Bruges sell presentation mini-crates of bottled beer, each demanding its specialised drinking glass.

A car driver could load his boot with several hundred bottles, all different, without the UK Customs raising an eyebrow.


Read what else to see in Belgium

BELGIUM - Flanders in a nutshell

ANTWERP for Rubens and rocks

BRUSSELS - visiting a Grande Place 

FLANDERS - Visit Ypres for Flanders Fields

GHENT - A central base for Belgium's art cities

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Good Beer Guide to Belgium  by Tim Webb - Very well informed CAMRA guide, with details of the 170 breweries and 1100 beers in regular production, and lists the best hand-picked bars in Bruges and the other major tourist cities.

Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp and Ghent (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides) - Covers all four of the great art cities of Flanders, listing out the Top Ten sights, museums, restaurants, chocolate shops etc in each city.

Flemish Cities Explored: Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Mechelen, Leuven and Ostend (Pallas for Pleasure)  by Anthony Blunt - Excellent choice for anyone who wants to stay longer in Belgium, and explore the highlights in detail on foot.

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