Hotel Floris Karos, Hoefijzerlaan, Bruges, Belgium
Brugge is a city that could have sprung from the pages of a Gothic fairy tale. Its cobbled streets, spidery canals, and medieval churches are remarkably well-preserved, having been spared the devastation that saw much of Belgium leveled during the 20th-century wars. The secret got out years ago, though, and avoiding weekends and high season is often the only way to skirt the crowds that flood its many boutique hotels.
Indeed, tourism has long been the principal industry here, and preservation orders and strict bylaws ensure that the center looks much as it did during its medieval pomp (how the modern—and modern-looking—Concertgebouw Brugge concert venue on ‘t Zand got planning permission is still a matter of heated debate).
Today, the center is encircled by a ring road that loosely follows the line of the city's medieval ramparts. The ancient gates—Smedenpoort, Ezelpoort, Kruispoort, and Gentpoort—still stand along this route, and due to the city's size, all of its best sights, such as the impressive basilica or the Groeningemuseum, home to some of the finest paintings by Belgium’s famed Flemish Primitive artists, can easily be reached on foot.
In modern times, Brugge has developed a reputation for culinary indulgence. More than 50 chocolate shops cram its narrow streets; there’s even a museum dedicated to the history of cacao, while local artisans such as The Chocolate Line’s Dominique Persoone have gained international recognition. At the time of writing, Brugge also boasted as many three-starred Michelin restaurants as London. True, prices tend to be on the high side, but there are literally hundreds of places to dine, with some excellent seafood and traditional Belgian cuisine to be found across the city.
For many, though, beer is the main draw, with a number of Brugge’s bars and estaminets considered among the finest around by connoisseurs. The city once housed nearly 60 breweries in its heyday, though today only a few remain–-look out for local Fort Lapin, Straffe Hendrik, and Brugse Zot beers. For other beer-related activities, head to the Brugge Beer Museum or for a brewery tour at De Halve Maan
In truth, though, little changes in Brugge. It’s a city that has been both liberated and constricted by its tourist appeal, and like its famed chocolate, it is best sampled in small doses—preferably one or two nights at the most. However, when the day-trippers head home and the shadows draw in, the wonderfully eerie, Gothic charm of this remarkable city emerges. To stroll its cobbled byways is to be transported back in time, and while you’ll never have them all to yourself, it really is one of the most atmospheric places in Europe.
“Somewhere within the dingy casing lay the ancient city,” wrote Graham Greene of BRUGES, “like a notorious jewel, too stared at, talked of, and trafficked over”. And it’s true that Bruges’s reputation as one of the most perfectly preserved medieval cities in western Europe has made it the most popular tourist destination in Belgium, packed with visitors throughout the season. Inevitably, the crowds tend to overwhelm the city, but you’d be mad to come to Flanders and miss the place: its museums hold some of the country’s finest collections of Flemish art, and its intimate, winding streets, woven around a skein of narrow canals and lined with gorgeous ancient buildings, live up to even the most inflated tourist hype.
The obvious place to start an exploration of the city is in the two principal squares: the Markt, overlooked by the mighty belfry, and the Burg, flanked by the city’s most impressive architectural ensemble. Almost within shouting distance, along the Dijver, are the three main museums, among which the Groeninge offers a wonderful sample of early Flemish art. Another short hop brings you to St Janshospitaal and the important paintings of the fifteenth-century artist Hans Memling,as well as Bruges’s most impressive churches, the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk and St-Salvatorskathedraal.
Further afield, the gentle canals and maze-like cobbled streets of eastern Bruges – stretching out from Jan van Eyckplein – are extraordinarily pretty. The most characteristic architectural feature is the crow-step gable, popular from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century and revived by the restorers of the 1880s and later, but there are also expansive Georgian-style mansions and humble, homely cottages. There are one or two obvious targets here, principally the Kantcentrum (Lace Centre), where you can buy locally made lace and watch its manufacture, and the city’s most unusual church, the adjacent Jeruzalemkerk. Above all, however, eastern Bruges excels in the detail, surprising the eye again and again with its sober and subtle variety, featuring everything from intimate arched doorways and bendy tiled roofs to wonky chimneys and a bevy of discrete shrines and miniature statues.
Bruges started out as a ninth-century fortress built by the warlike first count of Flanders, Baldwin Iron Arm, who was intent on defending the Flemish coast from Viking attack. The settlement prospered, and by the fourteenth century it shared effective control of the cloth trade with its two great rivals, Ghent and Ypres (now Ieper), turning high-quality English wool into clothing that was exported all over the known world. An immensely profitable business, it made the city a focus of international trade, and at its peak the town was a key member of – and showcase for the products of – the Hanseatic League, the most powerful economic alliance in medieval Europe. Through the harbours and docks of Bruges, Flemish cloth and Hansa goods were exchanged for hogs from Denmark, spices from Venice, hides from Ireland, wax from Russia, gold and silver from Poland and furs from Bulgaria. The business of these foreign traders was protected by no fewer than 21 consulates, and the city developed a wide range of support services, including banking, money-changing, maritime insurance and an elementary shipping code, known as theRoles de Damme.
Despite (or perhaps because of) this lucrative state of affairs, Bruges was dogged by war. Its weavers and merchants were dependent on the goodwill of the kings of England for the proper functioning of the wool trade, but their feudal overlords, the counts of Flanders, and their successors, the dukes of Burgundy (from 1384), were vassals of the rival king of France. Although some of the dukes and counts were strong enough to defy their king, most felt obliged to obey his orders and thus take his side against the English when the two countries were at war. This conflict of interests was compounded by the designs the French monarchy had on the independence of Bruges itself. Time and again, the French sought to assert control over the cities of West Flanders, but more often than not they encountered armed rebellion. In Bruges, Philip the Fair precipitated the most famous insurrection at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Philip and his wife, Joanna of Navarre, had held a grand reception in Bruges, but it had only served to feed their envy. In the face of the city’s splendour, Joanna moaned, “I thought that I alone was Queen, but here in this place I have six hundred rivals”. The opportunity to flex royal muscles came shortly afterwards when the city’s guildsmen flatly refused to pay a new round of taxes. Enraged, Philip dispatched an army to restore order and garrison the town, but at dawn on Friday May 18, 1302, a rebellious force of Flemings crept into the city and massacred Philip’s sleepy army – an occasion later known as the Bruges Matins: anyone who couldn’t correctly pronounce the Flemish shibboleth schild en vriend (“shield and friend”) was put to the sword. There is a statue celebrating the leaders of the insurrection – Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck – in the Markt.
The Habsburgs, who inherited Flanders – as well as the rest of present-day Belgium and Holland in 1482 – whittled away at the power of the Flemish cities, no one more so than Charles V, the ruler of a vast kingdom that included the Low Countries and Spain. As part of his policy, Charles favoured Antwerp at the expense of Flanders, and to make matters worse, the Flemish cloth industry began its long decline in the 1480s. Bruges was especially badly hit and, as a sign of its decline, failed to dredge the silted-up River Zwin, the town’s trading lifeline to the North Sea. By the 1510s, the stretch of water between Sluis and Damme was only navigable by smaller ships, and by the 1530s the city’s sea trade had collapsed completely. Bruges simply withered away, its houses deserted, its canals empty and its money spirited north with the merchants.
Some four centuries later, Georges Rodenbach’s novel Bruges-la-Morte alerted well-heeled Europeans to the town’s aged, quiet charms, and Bruges – frozen in time – escaped damage in both world wars to emerge as the perfect tourist attraction.
Floris Karos Hotel is happy to welcome you to the beautiful city of Bruges! Having surely already read or heard about some of the wonderful things this city has to offer, now is the ideal time to book your room in the Floris Karos Hotel. Only a short stroll away from the city's historic centre, you will be in pole-position to discover the many wonders and activities Bruges has to offer. Whether you are going there for business, getting away with the family or travelling in a big group, their recently renovated hotel is ready to offer you fully equipped rooms at a highly competitive price. On top of that, you will also get to enjoy their indoor swimming pool, fitness area, free WiFi, a kids corner and even babysitting services on demand.
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