Take the late morning/early afternoon Eurostar service from London St Pancras International to Lille. On arrival, we transfer by coach to your hotel for three nights in Bruges’ old town.
After breakfast we take a guided walk to discover the highlights of this alluring city. We begin in its medieval heart, the Markt, which has served as the main market square since the 10th century. Towering 272 feet over the colourful gabled buildings framing the square is the Belfry and its 47-bell carillon. This afternoon you’ll have the opportunity to climb the 366 steps to the top, the reward being a breathtaking view of Bruges and the Flanders countryside extending beyond. We also visit two other notable buildings in the Burg, the city’s second main square – the elegant Gothic Stadhuis (Town Hall) and the 18th-century law courts – plus the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Another must-see is the Church of Our Lady, which houses Michelangelo’s beautiful white marble sculpture, Madonna and Child. The remainder of the day is free for you to explore. The Groeningemuseum and Sint-Janshospitaal are home to sublime works of art and you can find museums dedicated to Belgium’s holy trinity of beer, chocolate and frites, while no visit to Bruges would be complete without a brewery trip. Why not try ‘De Halve Maan’, which has constructed a two-mile-long pipeline from the brewery to a bottling plant on the city’s edge; a fascinating tour of the cellars concludes with a tasting of its excellent Brugse Zot Blond.
This morning we can arrange an optional boat tour of the canals so you can see the city from a waterside perspective (subject to seasonal operation). Late morning, for those interested, a coach leaves Bruges to visit Ypres and nearby Great War battlefields. Alternatively, you can simply choose to remain in Bruges to spend your time as you please. The battlefield tour centres on Ypres, which was almost flattened during the First World War as Allied and German forces fought for control of this strategically important town. The countless lives lost are remembered with a moving ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial each evening at 8pm. You can also visit the Passchendaele Memorial Museum, which shines a light on some of the darkest days of the Great War. During the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917, over 500,000 troops died in just three months as the Allies attempted to take the village of Passchendaele. We visit the bunkers, craters and trench sites of this monumentally bloody battle. The day concludes with a visit to the world’s largest Commonwealth cemetery at Tyne Cot, its sea of 11,961 graves reflecting the First World War’s staggering loss of life. Returning to Bruges in the late afternoon, you cannot fail to be touched by the sights and sounds of this unforgettable trip back in time.
Belgian chocolates are known as the finest in the world, and this morning we visit one of the few establishments in Bruges where they are still made by hand. During the demonstration you’ll learn all about this artisanal craft, including the top-quality ingredients that are used and the techniques involved in making these delicious luxuries. Later, a coach returns you to nearby Lille for an afternoon Eurostar service back to London St Pancras International.