Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Birthday in Bruges - A Mini Weekend Road-Trip to the French Flanders and Belgium


Smooth, creamy Belgian chocolate in Bruges, a Sephora make-up haul, inexpensive French cuisine, and a 3D planetarium; the perfect little weekend trip from the UK... 


Baby in Bruges!


It's always a treat to cross that little strip of sea the French call 'La Manche,' and find that simple but tasty things like steak, wine and bread, are suddenly bursting with flavour and texture, as if a black and white world has just turned to colour. 

We enjoy weekends in the North of France just for the everyday cuisine if nothing else, but along with shopping and unusual attractions it makes a fantastic little excursion for all the family, and so easy to get to as it's all just around 40 minutes from the port of Dunkerque / Calais)! 



St Omer


This pretty and unassuming little French flanders town has a sturdy yet elegant 13th century cathedral near the centre, and a pleasant little selection of fashion and gift shops in the main streets leading off the main square 'Place Marechal Foch.' One of my favourite shops being the make-up shop Sephora, I happily spent time browsing the shelves and stands, testing out the most amazing array of colours and products - choice we just aren't allowed access to in the UK all in one shop! My favourites are the iridescent purple eyeliner and the shimmery eyeshadows - something different for a bit of evening wear. My hand with all the testers on it looked like a good bruise at the end! C'est joli, non!? 

The affordable yet quality little restaurants like 'Brasserie La BF' in the main square of St Omer and some more upmarket restaurants like 'La Terasse' in the nearby streets are great places to unwind over traditional French cuisine. 

Richard's favourite dinnertime meal is the baked camembert and assiette de charcuterie at Brasserie La BF. This lucky little restaurant is so adored by that foodie husband of mine that going anywhere else really is against the law on these little visits... Although this at least prevents any of his excessive menu-hovering outside various restaurants, and I love the entrecĂ´te steak and homemade chips too.

Moving on to a creperie for dessert at La P'tite Crepe Rit - in Rue Louis Martel - is usually on the agenda which is also delicious and inexpensive. I love that creperies and ice-cream parlours are open in the evenings in France, and so did our 6-year-old nephew!



La Coupole


Hitler's WWII bunker for testing and building rocket-bombs being sent over the channel is located just at the edge of sweet little St Omer. It is a very interesting but dark place, with its underground tunnels where the bombs were tested and built. The displays are extensive, with great pictures and precise information in both English and French. The 3D plantetarium is also at the same site and tickets are available for separate visits to these shows (around 7 euros for an adult) without paying to see the bunker - particularly useful if young children are in tow. 

We decided this time to just visit the planetarium and enjoyed two shows (English headsets available); one about the solar system, and one about dinsosaurs - pterodactyls flying all around in 3D is a great experience especially for a little 6 year old boy! We also really enjoyed the show about flying on our previous visit - the 3D effect of hot-air balloons and all the flying was very special. To check times and days of shows visit La Coupole website.



Bruges



Bruges medieval buildings


Bruges is a particularly beautiful and well-kept medieval city, one of Belgium's most popular attractions for weekend trips and for good reason. The centre with its huge squares and resplendent, tall medieval buildings such as the 13th century belfry, is simply a delight to wander around, with the added draw of delicious chocolate shops. We enjoyed a spot of high street shopping and I treated myself with birthday money in Swarovski, but not much time was wasted in chain-stores - chocolate awaited! Be sure to pop into one of the chocolate shops even if just to buy a couple of the flaked truffles to walk around with.

A unique and favourite way to see the city and its medieval beauty is a canal tour. There are a good few boat stops indicated on the city maps. We got on our boat near Burg square, over the bridge in Blinde-Ezelstraat street, a pretty little area with a selection of lovely restaurants. Usually on a nice day at the weekend there is a small queue for the boat trip but it is well worth the wait.

Lunchtime in this little area was equally as exciting as anything else - I could not get enough of my delicious smoked salmon omlette. An unusual combo but it worked well for sure. 




Bruges canals




Getting There & Where to Stay


On this weekend trip we took the Eurotunnel car train which leaves from Folkestone. It is very quick and easy, taking just 30 minutes to arrive in France at Coquelles - near Calais. If arriving and ready to eat or sleep, there are a number of hotels in the vicinity. The Cite Europe shopping mall and food court at La Coquelles is a great place for a good choice of food and shopping.(Richard's favourite of course being the cheap and tasty Flunch cafeteria upstairs with all-you-can-eat chips and great steaks). 

The Eurotunnel is cheaper if you return within 5 days, and if it is a longer trip or the ferry is preferred, Dover to Dunkerque is only 2 hours. 

Bruges and St Omer are only around an hour apart by car, and once in Bruges we just parked at the underground car park in the centre. 

We stayed in the Ibis in the centre of St Omer - from around £40 a night. The Ibis budget is even cheaper and also walking distance to the town centre, with free parking.

A lovely weekend trip - shopping, eating, and sightseeing, not to mention a very spoiled-brat-birthday-girl waking up to tickets to Barbados from Richard for later next year...! (What? It is my 30th!) Expect an epic few blog posts on that one :) 

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