Holidays: Venice of the North; It Is One of Europe's Most Beautiful Medieval Cities. BOB HAYWOOD Visits Bruges on a Week's Holiday Selected from the Sunday Mercury's Famous Reader Travel Service Range

Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England), May 27, 2007 | Go to article overview

Holidays: Venice of the North; It Is One of Europe's Most Beautiful Medieval Cities. BOB HAYWOOD Visits Bruges on a Week's Holiday Selected from the Sunday Mercury's Famous Reader Travel Service Range


Byline: BOB HAYWOOD

BRUGES has been described as the Venice of the North.

But this tag upsets the proud people of Bruges. They say Venice is the Bruges of the South.

There are many similarities between these two leading European city break destinations.

For a start, both are stunningly beautiful Medieval towns, each criss-crossed with canals.

But trying to decide whether Bruges or Venice has the edge is as pointless as comparing apples and oranges. They are - while in some ways alike - simply different.

The solution is to see both. My wife and I flew to Venice last year - and were entranced.

This year, we went to the pride of Belgium by coach and were enraptured.

We travelled with Riviera Travel, of Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire - one of the companies included in the Sunday Mercury Reader Travel programme.

It was the first time my wife and I had been on a coach holiday and I must say that being on the move for 11 hours is gruelling.

But there are plus points, not least sailing through Customs and immigration at Dover instead of having to check in at the airport three hours in advance of the flight.

And not having to wait an eternity to collect your bags from the luggage carousel.

We stayed at the Martin's Brugge hotel in the heart of the old quarter of Bruges, right next door to the magnificent Belfry landmark which overlooks the sweeping Market Square.

It is promoted as a boutique hotel - very modern and minimalist - and our room was bijou, well-furnished and equipped but a little on the snug side with panoramic views of a gravelled flat roof.

Our four-day, three-night stay included breakfast which was served in a light and airy restaurant. The food was well-prepared and the choice extensive.

Bruges is a visual delight. It was once a major European centre for commerce, finance, religion and culture.

Ironically, it has survived virtually untouched because of neglect after its status faded as the centuries rolled by. The worthy burghers of Bruges had no cash to keep replacing the buildings, so the street scene stayed unaltered.

Thank goodness for civic poverty.

As well as Market Square - with a hatful of lovely buildings - there is the nearby Burg Square, which is smaller but almost as impressive.

Here you'll see two of the many unmissable attractions in Bruges. One is the City Hall (not the outside which you can't miss but the Aldermen's Room inside, which is jawdropping in its Gothic splendour).

The other is the museum next door which houses what is probably the most intricate and elaborate carved wooden fireplaces in the world. It might sound dull, but it ain't.

The Church of Our Lady houses many art treasures, including Michelangelo's Madonna and Child, which is carved out of pure Carrera marble. We went to Bruges in mid-March, at the beginning of the visitor season, and the weather was fortunately unseasonally dry and bright. The following week it snowed! In late Spring and during the summer, the town gets very busy so it may be worth taking a gamble on chilly and wet weather at either end of the year.

No visit to Bruges would be complete without a trip on the canals which is pleasant enough, if a trifle cramped.

Our Sunday Mercury Reader Travel break included the services of a tour manager, who organised a walking tour of the city and visits to a brewery and chocolate-maker. …

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