Hello!  Stephanie is busy settling into her new home (see her previous blog, Hello, TriBeCa!) and so I’m pinch-hitting for her on this week’s SJ’s Style Compass.  To quickly introduce myself:  my name is Sarah and I’m the p.r. manager here at Stephanie Johnson.  I’m recently married, and my wedding in late October was followed by a European honeymoon.  When I told Stephanie where our travels were taking us (London, Paris, Amsterdam and Bruges), she quickly decided that Destination: Bruges should be a featured blog on SJ’s Style Compass!

I must confess that prior to the release of the critically-acclaimed, award-winning film, In Bruges, I’d never heard of the small Belgian city.  Seeing the movie was enough to intrigue me, and after a bit of research, we added the trip to our honeymoon itinerary and I’m so very glad we did.  Often called ‘Venice of the North,’ Bruges (‘Brugge’ to locals) is a medieval city set on canals possessing a charm that is simply magical.  Populated by stunning architecture dating back hundreds of years, the romantic mazes of cobblestone streets are crammed with inviting shops, restaurants, bars and cafes.

DO

I highly recommend a canal cruise as one of your first stops upon arrival.  At several points in the city center, you can hop on a boat for a 30 minute guided tour, providing an overview of important historical landmarks and a chance to take in some of the more beautiful sights of the city.  A must!

Walk.  Simply put, Bruges’ cobblestone streets are best explored on foot.  Start at the Market Square and work outward, using the bell tower as a landmark.  Explore Burg Square and its majestic town hall building (over 700 years old!), browse a wide array of great shops (we found a two-story boutique crammed with homemade Christmas ornaments!), and then rest your tired feet at one of the myriad outdoor cafes for a snack, a glass of wine, and some serious people watching!

Bell Tower.  The famous belfry towers over the Market Square and is an absolutely breathtaking sight by day and night.  Purchase a ticket and climb the 366 winding steps to the top and you’ll be greeted by a glorious panorama of the city.

EAT (and DRINK)

I don’t need to tell you that Belgium is famous for its beer, and there are no shortage of great outdoor cafes and bars in which to imbibe Bruges’ best.  One of Bruges’ gems is ‘tBrugs Beertje  Tucked away down a narrow side street, this friendly beerhouse is a real locals spot.  Boasting a menu of over 300 Belgian beers, you can be sure you’ll sample some great brew.  A word to the wise:  many Belgian beers are significantly more potent than what we get here in the states, so be sure to pace yourself and drink plenty of water!

Waffles!  You must try a Belgian waffle and they can be purchased all over the city at anywhere from to-go stands to tearooms.  If you have a sweet tooth, why not conduct your own personal taste test to find the best Bruges has to offer?  I’m partial to the waffles at the tearoom Café au Lait.  Dusted with a bit of powdered sugar and accompanied by a cappuccino, it was the most delicious waffle I’ve ever tasted.

Chocolates!  There are many chocolatiers in Bruges and you can’t really go wrong with any of them, but the rich and luxurious Dumon chocolates were my absolute fave.  The Chocolate Line, a shop that specializes in inventive uses of chocolate (chocolate lipstick anyone?), is also definitely worth a visit.

Mussels!  At nearly every restaurant and outdoor café, you’ll find ‘moules et frites’ (mussels and French fries) on the menu.  You can order them several different ways (including marinated in white wine, yum) but we tasted them au naturel and they were delish.  We tried ours at Venice Restaurant, a lovely European brasserie.

STAY

Housed in an elegant 17th century mansion (and historic monument), Hotel Navarra boasts an excellent location (a stone’s throw from the Market Square but tucked away on a quiet street), a hip lobby bar, ‘The Duke’ that features live jazz on Wednesday and Friday evenings, a pool, sauna and wellness centre, and beautiful outdoor gardens.  Our room was modern and comfortable, and I found it to be more spacious than the average European hotel room, with a great bathroom.  The rates were reasonable and included a full (and delicious!) buffet breakfast in a well-appointed dining room with picture windows facing the street.  But the best thing about Navarra was the excellent service.  Johan at the front desk quickly became our new best friend, ready to help us with all requests and even presenting us with an (out-of-this-world) box of Belgian chocolates upon learning we were on our honeymoon!

GETTING THERE

In the north of Belgium and near the coast, Bruges is most easily accessible by train.  Brussels-Midi station is a quick 2 hours from London via the Eurostar from London’s St. Pancras Station.  Trains from Brussels-Midi to Bruges run every hour, and tickets can be purchased at the station for about 13 Euro.  If you’re flying into Brussels Airport, you can easily catch a train to Bruges from there as well.