Belgian Bistros: A Guide To Eating Out In Bruges



“After a full belly all is poetry.” 
― Frank McCourt

For me, one of the most exciting things about travelling is living like a local - and that means eating like a local too. I love food at the best of times but when I'm somewhere new and exciting, my taste buds go into overdrive! Whether I'm tucking into a culinary masterpiece created by top Michelin star chef or some local street food from a roadside truck, it all adds to the flavour of the experience. 

And my time in Bruges recently was no different. So without further ado, here's a little list of the places that you should stop by, if you're ever in Bruges, to taste what Belgian really has to offer. 

Fred's Belgian Waffles

Located just off the Markt, Fred's Belgian Waffles is the perfect place for you to get your Belgian waffle fix on the go. With over 27 years in the waffle industry, Fred knows exactly how waffles should be done - the Belgian way. Whether you're craving plain waffles, caramel waffles, waffles with cream, waffles with ice cream, filled waffles or the full works, there's a waffle waiting just for you. And you won't be sorry.



Depla Chocolatier

Nothing will ever prepare you for the amount of chocolate shops you will encounter during a visit to Bruges. And I mean nothing. As you walk the quaint, cobbled streets, your senses will literally have a meltdown as every other shop beckons you to see, smell and taste their chocolatey delights. A few of the shops, including Depla Chocolatier, The Chocolate Line and Sukerbuyc, make their chocolates on site and offer a sneak peak into the heavenly world of chocolate-making. From hot chocolates and truffles to personalised chocolates and giant boxes of goodies, there's something to satisfy every chocolate-related desire. So, whether you're a chocolate fiend or a chocolate foe, a real life Belgian chocolate shop is definitely worth your time. 


Bistro Den Huzaar

If you're looking to dine at a traditional Belgian restaurant, look no further than Bistro Den Huzaar. Tucked away from the main Markt Square, it's easily accessible without crawling with tourists. On arrival, you will be greeted with the warmest of welcomes and invited to take a seat in the large, open restaurant. 

The most charming thing about Bistro Den Huzaar is that it feels like home; or rather, your Grandma's home. Cream and white vintage furnishings create a cosy ambience, while soft 60s music filters in from the stereo ("These Boots Are Made For Walking" being amongst the favourites). Freshly pressed table cloths sit joyfully atop each table and offer a home to adorable checked napkins, while a candle stands elegantly as the centre piece. It's granny chic at its best - without being pretentious. 

With a restaurant that boasts so much charm and heritage, it seems only natural that Bistro Den Huzaar serves up a menu filled with Belgian classics. Mushrooms on toast, shrimp croquettes, cheese croquettes, pork cheek casserole, Flemish stew, steak and mussels are a handful of the dishes on offer, and showcases a seasoned insight into Bistro Den Huzaar's best bits. Although much of the food is presented very simply, the portion sizes are more than sufficient while the flavours remain true to their origins. You'll undeniably feel like you've stepped back in time - but all for good reason. 




Aquarel 

Located in the heart of Bruges' Simon Stevinplein, you will find Aquarel; a fashionably rustic restaurant serving up a savoury storm of contemporary European cuisine. In the summer months, you can choose to dine al fresco on the patio on the square but as coldness takes over, the restaurant remains as the heart and soul of the dining experience.

Unlike many of the restaurants in Bruges which are steeped in tradition and heritage, Aquarel welcomes its guests into an intimate, modern area of calmness and serenity. Grey, muted tones and wooden furnishings create a wholesome environment for dining, while soft melodic tunes add to the idyllic ambience.

And Aquarel's menu is just as stylish its surroundings. As well as serving traditional Belgian dishes, including Flemish stew and several flavours of croquettes, Aquarel also offers a hearty helping of Italian-inspired pastas. After gorging on a decadent goat's cheese croquette with a generous side salad, the shrimp tagliatelle with pesto and lasagne bolognese boldly made their way to our table. While it's true that the presentation of the food is rather simple, it's the undeniable freshness and honest flavour combinations that truly make the dishes delightful. The perfect restaurant choice for a dignified lunch.



Bistro Brugis

From the outside, Bistro Brugis may look like a traditional Belgian restaurant but its influences are unlike any other in Bruges. With a legacy that traces all the way to Nepal, Bistro Brugis incorporates traditional Nepalese spices into classic Belgian-French dishes to create a unique fusion of flavours. French onion soup, cheese croquettes, Flemish stew and traditional mussel flavours are served side by side with chicken momos, chicken lumpias, Himalayan scampi, king crab and Himalayan mussels, offering the locals a special South Asian twist on their all-too-familair cuisine. 

Located just off the beaten track, the restaurant offers a cosy escape for diners. The deep red curtains open to reveal a simple yet sophisticated setting; the large open fireplace is warm and comforting, bringing the dark wooden tables and leather-backed chairs to life. The rest of the furnishings are similarly uncluttered and fuss-free, other than the swanky chandeliers that hang gracefully from the ceiling. 

But what's hard not to notice is the gloriously triumphant bar. Stocked with a variety of local Belgian beers, including Leffe, La Chouffe, Brugse Zot and Liefman's cherry beer, as well as an impressive selection of gin, it appears that a good beverage is as important to Bistro Brugis as their food. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. An evening filled with too much beer, gin and deliciously hearty Nepalese-inspired Belgian cuisine sounds marvellous to us.




Bar'N

Whatever your poison - be it beer, wine or spirits - Bar'N is the perfect place for a tipple. With fur throws scattered across high leather sofas and an enormous bison head overlooking all shenanigans, this cosy, cattle-inspired bar oozes cool and is best known for its distinctive selection of cocktails and gins. Other than a few nuts and nibbles, you won't find any food here (just pure unadulterated booze) and with only a handful of tables, avoid peak times if you want get comfortable. Tucked just out of sight of the main Markt square, it's excellently positioned for you to stop by before or after your evening dinner reservations. 



Groot Vlaenderen

If lavish, low-lit, sophisticated cocktail bars are your calling in life, Groot Vlaenderen will feel just like home. Step through the perfectly symmetrical doorway and enter a bar that overflows with style, opulence and mystery. Lose yourself in a glass of champagne or a deliciously divine cocktail - or both - and make it a night to remember. With a drinks menu full of familiar favourites and new obsessions, you won't ever want to leave. 





Where's your favourite place to eat or drink in Bruges?


Tale As Old As Time: A Winter Weekend In Bruges, Belgium


“The impulse to travel is one of the hopeful symptoms of life. ” 

For as long as I can remember, Belgium's historic city of Bruges has been on my travel bucket list and a few weeks ago, Tom and I spent four (terribly rainy) days enjoying the sites and exploring the quaint cobbled streets. Beer, hot chocolate, waffles, Flemish stew, gin and moules frites all made an appearance and only now can I fully appreciate what all the fuss was about. 

From the South East of England, Bruges is easily accessible. We hopped on the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Brussels Midi, then boarded a local train to Bruges; in total, a 3 hour journey. From Bruges station, it's a short walk to the centre of Bruges (approximately 15 minutes) and super easy to navigate, so we began our tour of Bruges tottering along with our suitcases - like the ultimate tourists - until we reached our hotel

Having been kissed by Christmas, Bruges looked absolutely magical and there's no doubt that this is one of the most romantic cities I've visited. Feeling like a medieval maiden hand-in-hand with my knight in shining armour, we walked, dined, got merry and Instagrammed our way through this beautiful city. So if you plan on visiting Bruges (and you definitely should), here's what you can expect from the city that claims to have invented french fries (but don't tell France). 

Shopping

With Christmas Spirit lighting up every shop window, it's hard not to be drawn in by the magic. Although shopping in Bruges is unlike shopping in any other city; instead of fashion taking centre stage, it's chocolatiers that line every street, tempting you with their sweet treats. One of the most famous chocolatiers in Bruges is The Chocolate Line, which is not only a culinary leader in its field but offers customers a sneak peak into how their chocolates are made. 


The Belfort, Bruges' Belfry Tower

Standing proud at 83m tall, Belfort is Bruges' tallest and most important tower. With 47 symphonious bells, it graciously sings every 15 minutes and indulges all the senses. Overlooking the famous Markt, you can choose to admire the glorious Gothic tower from afar or brave the 366-step climb to the top. But during busy periods, be sure to leave plenty of time to queue and enjoy the experience; the panoramic view from the top is not one to be missed. 


The Windmills

On the outskirts of the city, you will find 4 historic windmills: Bonne Chiere, Sint-Janshuysmill, Nieuwe Papegaai and Koeleweimill. Archived maps the 16th Century show that originally, there were no less than 23 windmills guarding the walls of the city. Today, only one of the 4 remaining mills, Sint-Janshuysmill, stands in its original place - the rest having been moved from other locations. Built in 1770, it's also the only working mill and houses a small museum which is open to the public. 


The Markt

Since 958, the Markt has been a bustling hub for trading, festivals and entertainment - and today is no different. Every Wednesday, it hosts a weekly market of fresh produce and handmade gifts but from the end of November to early January, its daily Christmas market is open. With everything you expect from a festive market - traditional wooden chalets selling arts and crafts, twinkling frost-inspired fairy lights, an impressive ice rink and hot mulled wine being served by the gallon - it's sure to get you feeling festive. And if you fancy being whisked off your feet, it's the place to pick up a horse-drawn carriage for an enlightening tour around the city. 


The Canals

With its romantic, meandering canals and beautiful bridges, Bruges is often referred to as 'Venice of the North'. Whatever the weather, take a stroll along the canals away from the hustle and bustle of the main square and discover the authentic Bruges. Find hidden gardens, picturesque parks (Minnewater Park is a favourite), quaint streets and admirable architecture. And if you'd like to see the city from a different perspective, the canals can also be enjoyed by boat, where you will reach inaccessible areas of Bruges to those on foot.


St John's Hospital

One of the oldest hospital buildings in Europe, St John's Hospital has an impressive 800-year old history of caring for the sick. Officiated by nuns and monks until the 19th century, the original infirmary building currently houses a contemporary art exhibition focusing on themes of dance and death, as well as fine art paintings from the Flemish artist Hans Memling. It is also home to a collection of gravestones which honour some of the nuns who dedicated their lives to helping those admitted to the hospital.


Burg Square

Once the political and religious epicentre for the Flanders region, Burg Square is steeped in history and adorned with breath-taking Gothic architecture. Home to the Stadhuis, Bruges' town hall, the Old Civil Registry and the Basilica of the Holy Blood, it's a sight to be seen and to learn about Bruges long history.


Where To Stay

To be able to explore Bruges easily and conveniently, it's recommended to stay in the heart of the city close to the centre. Wanting to enjoy a tranquil sleep after busy days exploring, we decided to stay a short walk away from the Markt and next to St Salvator's Cathedral at Hotel de Castillion, a luxury boutique 4* family-run hotel. The 16th Century corner house, which once served as the home to Bishop Monseigneur Joannes Baptista Ludovicus de Castillion in the 18th Century, recently underwent a complete renovation to provide a contemporary oasis of calm for its guests, while allowing them to experience at first hand the rich history that Bruges has to offer. 


After being greeted by the warmest of welcomes, we were shown to our deluxe room on the first floor, overlooking the courtyard. With a spacious queen-sized bed complete with ivory drapes, a sparkling chandelier, beautiful furnishings and a soothing royal blue and gold colour scheme, we couldn't wait for bedtime. The room was immaculate and even had a small glass bowl of Belgian chocolates for us to devour (which, of course, we did immediately). The perfect amalgamation of luxury, style and comfort, we were blessed to be able to call this room home for the next 3 nights.  


The bathroom also offered every comfort possible: miniature toiletries, plush cotton dressing gowns, a hairdryer, a powerful waterfall shower, a deep concealed bathtub and double sinks. It was perfect for us (and the hairdryer was even good enough to dry my thick hair in a reasonable amount of time - the ultimate hotel bathroom test) but for those who may have difficulty stepping over a small wall into a deep bathtub may want to choose another room which allows step-free access to the showering facilities.


As Bruges has so many great restaurants to offer, the fact that Hotel de Castillion doesn't have a restaurant on site isn't an inconvenience but it does offer breakfast every morning. A continental buffet including fresh breads, eggs, smoked salmon, cheeses, fresh fruit, meats, waffles, cereals, cakes and pastries, is served from 8am to 10.30am in the Medieval basement. 

Before you can even acknowledge the food, the breakfast room itself is a sight to behold. Never have I dined in a Medieval basement that's as charming as this. Fairytale foliage adorned with glass baubles lines the ceiling, while soft classical music creates an idyllic breakfast ambience. Having appreciated the surroundings, we can now move on to the food. I started my days with smoked salmon and scrambled eggs followed by fresh fruit and a cheeky pastry. Every bite I devoured was fresh, delicious and left me wanting to go back for more. When it's done right, breakfast is my favourite meal of the day and Hotel de Castillion know exactly how to wake your taste buds from their slumber. 


Overall, Hotel de Castillion is an exquisite place to stay and we'd go back in a heartbeat. For us, it encapsulates the spirit of Bruges perfectly; enchanting, romantic and luxurious. Its location is great for anyone wanting to explore Bruges on foot and for easy access to the station, it offers complete comfort after long days exploring and every member of staff provides exceptional customer service. Our first experience of Bruges was truly phenomenal and we can't wait to visit in the summer months.   Maybe it won't be raining then... 

Until next time, beautiful Bruges. 




What's the most romantic city you've ever been to?


Time Travellers: 24 Hours in Old Sacramento, California




“Study the past if you would define the future.” ― Confucius

There are many places in the world that have such a wonderfully rich history to share but it's so often concealed by 21st Century life that there's ordinarily no real cohesion between the stories we hear and what's in front of us. For a lot of the world, it seems we have to dig deep through the layers of Topshops and Zaras and H&Ms and Gaps and Nordstroms before we find any inkling of the past. But there's one city that has fought tooth and nail to be true to its heritage - and that's Sacramento, California.

While travelling from Vancouver, BC to Los Angeles, CA earlier this year, one of our dedicated stop-offs was to be Sacramento. Now before I started researching for our trip, Sacramento was completely off my radar; I knew absolutely nothing of it but it fitted in with our itinerary and meant we wouldn't be driving for hours before our next stop, Oakland. Because couples + foreign lands + driving directions + time has the potential to cause a lot of unnecessary stress.

After a little bit of research, I stumbled across images of Old Sacramento. Having never seen a place quite like it, I knew we had to visit if only to have a drink in a real-life saloon. So for a whole 24hrs, we embarked on a whistle-stop tour of the capital of California - and here's a snapshot of some of our best bits and why Old Sacramento is so unique. 

We checked in to The Delta King Hotel

Floating gracefully on the Sacramento River, you will find The Delta King Hotel, an authentic 285ft riverboat that now serves as a 44-room land side hotel. In 1927, The Delta King began its life sailing between Sacramento and San Fransisco until the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge changed its course and led to it becoming a war vessel, then used for its spare parts and finally - abandoned. After being acquired by a new family who saw it through a complete historical renovation, The Delta King reopened in 1989 as a hotel, restaurant and entertainment venue. 


With over 7 types of room to choose from, including the Captain's Quarters, there's one to suit every budget. We opted for a Riverview State Room on the 3rd floor, overlooking the Sacramento River with a non-private veranda. As expected from a riverboat room, it's smaller than most modern hotel rooms (I honestly have no idea how the porter got my suitcase through the door) but offers a comfortable and truly unique stay. The decor is traditional and in keeping with the boat, while the room contains everything you need: a queen sized bed with soft linen, a wardrobe and drawer space, a TV, a writing desk and a small bathroom with a shower. 


On board, there are also two restaurants for when you're feeling peckish: the Pilothouse Restaurant, a fine dining restaurant and the Delta Bar and Grill for a more casual experience. With only one night in Old Sacramento, we decided to push the boat out and dine in the Pilothouse Restaurant. The restaurant is an immaculate reflection of the Delta King's original beauty with gleaming wooden architecture, crisp, white table clothes and simple flower decorations. The menu is varied and includes tasty meat, fish and vegetarian options, while the wine list offers a vast selection of local wines from the Sonoma and Napa regions. With so much character and endless stories to tell, there's nowhere like The Delta King Hotel and it makes for the perfect stay while visiting Old Sacramento.


We pottered around Old Sacramento's Historical District

With over 50 historic buildings set in a unique 28 acre district along the Sacramento River, Old Sacramento lives in homage to the Californian Gold Rush of 1849 and offers a very special glimpse into 19th Century American life. Raised wooden sidewalks line the cobbled streets, while horse-drawn carriages and living history characters breathe life in and around the restored Western structures. Alive with activity and bursting with quirky shops, restaurants, historical attractions and buzzing nightlife, the Historical District of Old Sacramento is sure to leave you pining for the past. 


We lived life in the fast lane at the California State Railroad Museum

Whether you're an avid train enthusiast or someone who doesn't often navigate themselves through the railroad realms, the California State Railroad Museum is a great place to see the history of the Californian railways come to life. Dedicated to protecting California's railway heritage and inspiring all generations to learn about the history of the innovative railroad, the California State Railroad Museum is home to an impressive collection of steam locomotives dating from 1862 to 1944, an interesting rolling stock collection including the prosaic caboose, a high speed train simulator and an award-winning collection of railroad photography - all from which you're bound to come away from with a newfound sense of appreciation for the railroad. 



We took a peak at the past at the Sacramento History Museum

Sacramento has much more to offer, historically speaking, than the Gold Rush and right in the heart of the Old Sacramento Historical District, you will find the Sacramento History Museum. With exhibits depicting the rise of Sacramento during the Gold Rush and the discovery of gold, Nisenan Indian culture, agricultural revolutions and a working 19th Century print shop where you can print your very own 'WANTED' poster, you'll come to fully understand the past, the present and the future of California's capital. 


We went wild at Sacramento Zoo

Located just outside of Old Sacramento, Sacramento Zoo is a great place to visit if you want to get up, close and personal with over 120 native, rare and endangered species from around the world. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Sacramento Zoo is dedicated to providing uncompromising care for the animals and works to conserve species and habitats in the wild. So if you find yourself in Sacramento and you're partial to spending more time with animals than with humans, pop along to the zoo - and don't forget to say hello to the flamingoes for me.





Have you been anywhere with a really unique history?

A Little Piece Of Cornwall: The Fistral Beach Hotel



“The sea always filled her with longing, though for what she was never sure.” 

― Cornelia Funke

Cornwall is one of those places that, no matter how hard you try, it will steal a little bit of your heart and touch your soul so deeply that you'll wistfully mourn for her until the day you return. Endless miles of beautiful beaches, rugged coastlines, clotted cream ice-cream, traditional Cornish pasties, delicious seafood, enviable surfing schools, welcoming people and quaint English seaside towns doused in folklore... it's the perfect place to forget your incessant city life without having to leave the country.

With the memories of our Pacific Coast road trip fading day by day and my longing to be close to the ocean again becoming too great, Tom and I decided to embark on a little UK adventure last month and head to Cornwall for a long weekend. Dependant on how far south you travel, the drive from London to Cornwall can be rather enduring so to make the most of our short trip, we chose to explore the North coast and a charming area called Fistral Beach, a world-famous surfing spot nestled in Fistral Bay, close to Newquay.


For the next two days, our home would be the Fistral Beach Hotel, a 71-room contemporary retreat overlooking Fistral Beach. With comfortable, modern rooms bursting with little luxuries, an elegant restaurant, a cosy bar and a blissful spa, the Fistral Beach Hotel is designed with peace and serenity in mind and provides an idyllic setting for surfers, hikers and lovers alike.


From economy rooms and sea-view rooms to a lavish suite with a private hot tub, the Fistral Beach Hotel offers rooms to suit all budgets and occasions. Our room was one of the 'Best' rooms located on the second floor, complete with a balcony, a freestanding bath, ESPA toiletries and a picture-perfect view of the ocean. 

The hotel provides complete comfort and each room has been meticulously designed to emulate the beautiful surroundings. Whether you're a surfer or a spectator, the Fistral Beach Hotel allows you to make the most of the coast whichever way you choose. And when it comes to winding down after a long day by the sea, the Fistral Spa's vitality pool gives sanctum to those wanting to indulge the body and mind in a place of ultimate tranquility. 


After a well-deserved day of relaxation, the Dune Restaurant at the Fistral Beach Hotel is the perfect place to refuel and watch the sun go down. With billowing white drapes, elegant flora and ocean-inspired ceramic table decorations, the restaurant oozes seaside sophistication and serves a delicious seasonal menu with locally sourced meats, seafood and vegetables at the forefront.


Each dish is crafted with passion and a love of eating well. For starters, we opted for the seared scallops with mango salsa and the chef's special fish cake. For mains, I ordered the fillet of stone bass with black olives and sun-blushed tomatoes while Tom tucked into the charred pork belly with noodles and Asian greens. 

It's clear from the menu options that the chefs love to create and inspire diners with their culinary delights. As well as offering an interesting menu on paper, the execution of each dish is faultless: the presentation is good, the flavours work well together, the portion sizes are very generous and the servers are first-class. 



Although we were both bursting at the seams (a common occurrence in our relationship), we still had  room for dessert. I had to have the peanut butter parfait with chocolate ganache and hazelnut brittle, while Tom - as British as he can be - chose the chef's special bread and butter pudding. 

I have to admit that I was beaten by the peanut butter parfait but the flavours were divine. Nuts and chocolate will always be a winning combination for me and the contrasting textures made it an interesting and contemporary choice of dessert. 


No three-course meal is complete without a tipple or two and to accompany the delicious food menu, the Dune Restaurant offers an exhaustive list of wines (complete with a selection of vegan friendly wines) and locally brewed beers. If you're more of a cocktail connoisseur, the Bay Bar at the hotel serves a selection of classic and current cocktails and is a place where you can sit, sip and socialise until the early hours.


After a heavenly night's sleep and waking to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, we made our way down to the Dune Restaurant to have breakfast overlooking the morning tide. Breakfast at the hotel includes a full continental buffet, bottomless mimosas, fruit smoothies and hot breakfast options; a hearty way to start the day.

My go-to hotel breakfast is Eggs Royale, which was cooked just the way I like it: quality smoked salmon served on a fluffy English muffin base with runny poached eggs and a delicious béarnaise sauce.


Fully rested, fed and prepared for another day of relaxation, we took ourselves down to Fistral Beach for a morning stroll. The bay truly is stunning, even at its busiest. The golden sand tickles your toes, the cool ocean waves beckon you to take a dip, dogs bound happily around you, surfers wait patiently to catch the waves. 

The setting is so far from my daily life but somehow, it feels completely normal - and that's the beauty of Cornwall. So, if you're looking for a relaxing break away on the Cornish coast, the Fistral Beach Hotel is an excellent place to stay. Whether you're a couple or have a family, whether you want to surf or spend time chilling out, whether it's your first time in Cornwall or your twentieth, the hotel caters for all. Enjoy the surroundings knowing you have a comfortable place to stay with a fantastic restaurant and I promise, there'll be no looking back. 



Have you ever been to Cornwall?


© Rosie Romance

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