It’s fun to go off the beaten track sometimes, but if all you want is a brief, indulgent break, then the delightful city of Bruges will release your inner lip-smacking, camera-swinging, beer-swilling, sightseeing, chip-guzzling, chocoholic tourist.
Bruges is home to just 20,000 people, yet more than three million tourists visit each year. July and August are the favoured months, but in May and June or September and October when the weather is temperate you can still enjoy that tourist vibe, and walking around this compact city will be more a saunter than a day at the dodgems.
Earlier this summer, I was milling around Boulogne’s farmers’ market at Place Dalton, enjoying the hustle of the traders, practising my Franglais and rubbing shoulders with the locals. Business was brisk, the atmosphere vibrant and the steeple of the 13th-century St Nicolas church (the oldest in town) located in the hub of the market, glowed in the morning sun.
Lille is hosting a city-wide festival of contemporary art until July and celebrations are in full swing.
Getting there is just a 90-minute ferry hop across the Channel to Calais followed by a 45-minute dash by car, or in less than two hours as a foot passenger by Eurostar to this gorgeous Flemish town, one of Europe’s hottest destinations for culture vultures.
Very good price, very good price said the bright-eyed boy in the yellow T-shirt, who might have been an extra from multi-Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire. He poked his head through the car window and spoke quickly, offering Lord Shiva statuettes that dangled around his neck, arms and even from his finger tips.