Bruges may fit 'been there, done that' clients

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BRUSSELS -- Where to send clients who have seen all there is to see in Europe's major cities?

How about Bruges in Flanders? Flanders, the northern part of Belgium abutting the North Sea, has become one of Europe's most popular leisure travel destinations, with Bruges its star attraction.

A serpentine system of canals made Bruges a successful center for trade from the 13th to 15th centuries and has caused it to be designated by many as the "Venice of the North."

Tourists flock there now to view its world-famous medieval architecture and the collections in its museums.

There is no shortage of sites to keep clients stimulated; it's satisfying enough just to wander through its cobblestone streets and stop for a respite at a cozy restaurant.

Taking it all in

Clients embarking on a sightseeing tour should set off from the Burg or the Grote Markt (market square), the two main medieval squares in the center of town.

In the market square, visitors find the Basilica of the Holy Blood; its 396-foot spire is Bruges' crowning glory, regarded by many as the city symbol. Within is a Madonna and Child sculpted by a young Michelangelo.

Bruges, famed for its network of canals, is termed by some as the 'Venice of the North.' The Gruuthuse Museum holds a great assemblage of artifacts dating from the medieval period.

And clients shouldn't miss the Groeninge Museum and its vast collection of medieval paintings.

With a climb up the 366 stairs of the mighty Belfort, or belfry, clients can take in the city in one fell swoop. At 272 feet high, the tower is something to behold.

The belfry's 47-bell carillon peals out over the city every quarter hour and a few times a day for longer concerts during the summer.

Lastly, St. Ursula's Shrine by Hans Memling is a wonder, as is the magnificent oak fireplace in the Old Recorder's house on Burg square.

Beer fans should visit the De Gouden Boom Brewery Museum, Bruges' second major brewery, operating since 1587.

The museum in the old malthouse, built in 1902, showcases beer vats and brewing equipment; the actual brewery, at Langestraat 45, is where beers such as Brugse Tarwebier and Abdij Steenbrugge are made -- and can be sampled.

Admission costs about $2.80, and tours must be reserved ahead of time.

Bringing Bruges home

Because tourism is a huge industry in Bruges, the shopping is first-rate, too.

Shops selling wares native to Belgium -- such as fine lace and world-famous Belgian chocolate -- decorate the streets around the Burg.

Starting at Inno, Bruges' main department store is a good choice: It sells everything for the fashionable traveler.

Another must-see is Kantuweeltje, at Philipstockstraat 11, where the assembling of fine lace pieces, by hand, takes place as it has for years. This lace and tapestry specialist has been in business since 1895.

And for holiday gifts, the Bruges Christmas market runs from Dec. 1 to 31.

Famished isn't Flemish

Food lovers will not be disappointed with the selection to be found in Bruges. As with much of Europe, cafe society rules.

Kasteel Minnewater, at Minnewater 4, is a chateau-style restaurant near the Begijnhof that serves fine French cuisine, including the ever-popular North Sea shrimp and lamb cutlet with potatoes gratinee. The atmosphere is charming, and it's the perfect spot to relax.

For great Flemish cooking, visitors need look no further than 't Dreveken, where authentic dishes such as Waterzooi, a chicken stew, distinguish the menu. Located at Huidenvettersplein 10-11, 't Dreveken fronts a canal in the middle of town.

Breydel -- De Coninc, at Breydelstraat 24, is one of Bruges' most well-known fish restaurants, specializing in another Belgian culinary treasure: mussels.

On with the show

For a grand old medieval time, book clients tickets to the "Brugge Anno 1468" show.

Actors re-enact the wedding of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, to Margaret of York in a former church, while customers pile into a medieval banquet. Performances take place on Saturdays beginning at 7:30 p.m. from November through March, and on Thursdays through Saturdays from April through October.

For more information, visit www.proximedia.com/web/celebetert.html on line or e-mail [email protected].

Another option this winter is a visit to the Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival Brugge 2002, to be held in a special cooled enclosure at Stationsplein Nov. 29 through Jan. 6.

Where to bed down

Bruges is as hospitable a town as there is, so don't fear finding accommodations.

The Hansa Hotel -- which pays 8% commission -- is one of the prettiest places to kick back after a long day of sightseeing. The hotel, as with so many residences in Belgium, is a renovated mansion that dates from 1869.

It is located 50 yards from the market square and most of the main attractions, shops, and restaurants, as well.

This three-star establishment offers per night, per room rates ranging from about $115 for a single to $125 for a double/twin room, up to $286 for a suite and $342 for a suite with a view of the Belfry.

The 20 rooms all come with bath, toilet, telephone, television, radio, minibar, hair dryer, safe, Internet connection and modem, trouser press, iron, and ironing board.

Although there is no restaurant in the hotel, there is a lounge in which a buffet breakfast is served. The hotel also features a sauna, a Turkish steam bath, a solarium and a fitness room that is open daily.

View the hotel at www.hansa.be on line, where you can make a reservation, or e-mail info[email protected].

The Hotel Van Eyck, dating from the 18th century, is in the Bruges style and has everything one would want: cozy rooms (some with shower and toilet, some without -- ask to be sure) and close proximity to the center of town, making it a quick stroll to the main shopping district and historical sites.

Guests staying at least two nights are offered free afternoon coffee and tea and a free Advantage Card, affording special admission prices (20% off) to eight Bruges museums; a visit to the Schellemolen windmill, built in 1867; a visit to the top of the Belfry; and boat trips on the canals.

Single rooms run about $55 per night; small or regular doubles with shower and toilet cost $60; and triples are $82; agent pay is 8%.

Reservations can be made through www.hotels-belgium.com or by e-mailing the hotel at [email protected].

For more information, contact the Belgian National Tourist Office at (212) 758-8130 or visit www.visitbelgium.com.

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