Thursday, 6 August 2009

Dog-friendly Holidays: Bruges

Somehow, I can't seem to leave work at home. Perhaps it's because I really love my work!

For example, when I went to Florida in April, I couldn't help noting that all the Disney parks have kennels at the entrance, and that assistance dogs are made very welcome. Perhaps it was more obvious because there were so few dogs... in Bruges it's quite the other way around.

From Belgian Shepherds to Bichon Frises, from Poodles to Pugs there was nowhere you could look without a dog hoving into view. Residents of and visitors to the semi-medieval town - a cobble-strewn beauty interwoven with canals and studded with churches, galleries and enough chocolate shops to satisfy the most avid chocoholic - are regularly accompanied by a well-behaved pooch. Best of all is the most famous dog in Bruges (above), a golden lab who spends his days hanging out of a window over the canal gazing at the passers-by.

Almost all were on leads, walking to heel beautifully. When nature called, the owners whipped out bags and had the mess off the street and into a bin in a trice (shame the same couldn't be said for the horses pulling tourist carriages). The dogs didn't seem to be on a walk, but just accompanying the owner about their business like any other member of the family. Hotels and restaurants were accommodating, one waitress stooping to pop a bowl of water in front of a thirsty terrier type on a hot day as if it were as common as handing out the menus.

Being low on motor traffic (bicycles are the order of the day) with large pedestrianised areas also helps. The town is small, flat and easily navigable, heaving with history and museums. Foodies will find it a particularly fun place to visit, with local specialities including mosselen (mussels with the ubiquitous gorgeous chips), various stews made with some of the infinite varieties of local beer and, of course, the famous Belgian waffle. Oh, and there's even a museum dedicated to French fries!

Canal boat rides are relaxing and recommended, though the summer weather is variable. We had a stunningly bright and beautiful weekend, but it does rain more in the summer than the winter. Our favourite place was the Begijnhof, a serene convent that used to be a community of widows and unmarried young women, but there is virtually no corner of Bruges that isn't ridiculously picturesque.

We went by Eurostar and local train, but if you take your own car it wouldn't take longer than 2-3 hours from Calais.

Curiously enough, I only saw three cats during the entire time I was there. I seriously think this place has gone to the dogs...

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