Every time I go to Bruges I worry that it’s not real.
How can it be? It’s too pretty to be a real place.
I pinched myself several times on a recent trip while walking around salivating at chocolate shops and wondering what time it becomes OK to start sampling Belgium’s extraordinary array of beer.
But I didn’t wake up. It is real. I’m not Alice and this isn’t wonderland. It’s Bruges. And I’m Melissa.
The whole place appears to have been put together with a level of care that reminds me of a very very expensive wedding cake. A cake that’s big enough for you to mini-break on for a few days.
I can’t be sure how many photos I took in total but, to give you an indication of why I might have repetitive strain injury in my finger, during the half hour canal tour alone I took 74. Because whichever way you look at, and whatever it is you happen to be looking at, there’s a postcard waiting to be printed.
There are two very important things one needs to make sure of, when a couple of days here await.
First, if you’re on the five two diet, make absolutely certain the two immediately precede or follow your trip. Because you have to eat waffles here. And pancakes. And truffles and bounteous hot meals of beef and mussels and frites. And drink the beer I mentioned earlier because nobody does beer as well as the Belgians.
Second, and this is even more important, stay at Hotel De Orangerie.
I don’t normally give orders to readers, it’s probably rude and I don’t imagine to know any more than you do about anything. But I do know that if you don’t stay here you’re, at best, staying in the second best hotel in the city.
It’s everything I love about Bruges condensed into a little converted 15th-century convent.
On one side its ivy-covered facade overlooks the canal with easily the best outdoor sitting space in town. On the other a giant barn door, originally designed to let a horse and cart through, acts as the front door behind which a painfully perfect 20-room hotel oozes that charisma and care that chain hotels repeatedly try to unsuccessfully impersonate.
They can’t copy this though. Because the man who showed me to my room would marry the hotel if he was allowed to and wasn’t already in a relationship. It doesn’t matter how deep your pockets, you can’t pay for the passion of this chap. He epitomises the reasons independent hotels continue to defeat the economies of scale odds.
The rooms are a masterpiece of interior design. Effortless eclecticism that demonstrates great taste and great patience as the furniture was clearly a slowly built collection, not a job lot. If I thought there was any way of getting away with stealing everything in my room and having it delivered to my London flat I would have done so.
Breakfast was yummy, which was unsurprising. Surprising was that nobody was wolfing their food desperate to get back out into the delights of Bruges. Although I then realised I was subconsciously taking my time over every mouthful too. Because when you’re in this hotel you’re already in the best of Bruges. And the rest is just outside the window.