Bruges is a storybook canal town near the Belgian coast that offers the perfect setting for any traveler.
Anyone can be at home here -- the hopeless romantic, the whimsical storyteller, the backpack adventurer, the beer-guzzling college kid, or the affluent with a seasoned palate. It's because this place has everything one would hope for in creating a city - the most adorable, architecturally beautiful buildings, friendly locals that speak English better than most Americans, and the best beer in Belgium, arguably the world. To quote Ralph Fiennes from the film 'In Bruges', "How's a fairytale town not somebody's f****** thing?" (pardon my French, or Dutch, whatever it is they speak).
On an iPhone/iPad? Click here to see Jill's video about Bruges Bars
For my husband's 30th birthday, I decided to take him on a self-planned Belgian beer adventure, which ended in Bruges (or Brugge is the Dutch spelling). We stopped at one crowded bar near Markt Square called Cambrinus, where Nick started to hyperventilate as he realized their selection of beer was contained in a book with page after page listing over 300 varieties. We were only there for 2 days -- how could we ever get through all of these? Of course, we could not, but darn it, we were going to try. And try we did. Although the bar we were in at the time had a good selection, we wanted to find quainter, less-touristy bars.
Back at our hotel, Hotel Ter Reien, perfectly perched on a canal near Stadhuis, we used the wi-fi to seek out smaller bars. Our searches kept coming up roses, as in, Cafe Rose Red (Address: Cordoeaniersstraat 18, Brugge). So after a questionable dinner of touristy burgers and fries with mayo at the Frieterie in the Markt Square, we set off to find this hidden gem. We twisted and turned away from the crowds, which seemed like a good sign to me, and came upon a quaint building that houses the Cafe Rose Red and the Hotel Cordoeanier. It was chilly that evening, and the cozy interior seemed especially inviting. There were a few other people present -- mostly in their fifties. Nick and I grabbed a seat and looked around the authentic interior: roses hung from the ceiling, candlelight illuminated a few wooden tables, and soft tunes of jazz floated through the air. I couldn't think of a more perfect place to taste beers with my sweetie.
We were immediately greeted by the friendly server, Gilles, who was especially helpful in guiding our selections based on our preferences and his extensive knowledge. For Nick, he chose a Femme Fatale Amber. And for me, since our previous evening in Chimay revealed my affinity for darker beers like Chimay Blue, Gilles recommended the Trappistes Rochefort #8. We approved of Gilles' first-round recommendations and once again begged his expertise for another beer. This time Nick and I ordered the Carolus Tripel and St. Bernardus Abt 12, respectively. Another home run.
Since the evening was still fairly young, we left the warmth of the Cafe Rose Red and meandered along the cobblestone streets to our next internet find: Staminee de Garre (Address: de Garre 1, Brugge). Though merely steps from Tourist Central, it mercifully remains hidden to the majority of fannypack-toting swarms of people. Finding it was as exciting as discovering a secret passageway: starting from Markt square, we began to walk east along Breidelstraat toward the Burg. Just a few doors down on the right, we looked for a small non-descript archway into an alley between buildings, just before La Belgique Gourmande chocolate store. This was de Garre street. We entered the alleyway and proceeded to the first door in front of us. There is no sign of a bar, just a wooden door and the address of "1" on the outside. We just opened the door and found a miniscule but lively establishment and classical music. We were led up the narrow stairs to an available table on the second floor, where our kind server suggested we partake of the house triple beer, appropriately called de Garre. Nick followed his up with a St. Augustijn. Although the bar had no food menu, they offered cheeses along with our beer order.
Thoroughly stuffed with the finest Belgian beer, Nick and I headed "home" to our hotel on the canal, where we plotted our itinerary for the the next day before going to bed. And our next day included return visits to both Cafe Rose Red and de Garre. I drifted off to a peaceful sleep that incorporated this fairy tale town and its fabulous brews.
What else do we recommend in Bruges?
• Canal ride (worth every penny for the best views of Bruges..but ask your hotel front desk for a discount coupon to save a little dough)
• Tour of Half Moon Brewery (in English!! We accidentally did it in French...we were incredibly lost)
• Walk through Minnewater Park
• Consuming as many Belgian waffles as possible
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