Tourist-swamped Bruges is a jewel of Gothic architecture, Flemish Masters and two football teams: Club and Cercle. They share a stadium, the Jan Breydel, renovated for Euro 2000, in the Sint-Andries area south-west of the compact, walkable city centre. The difference between the two clubs was clearly shown in the Belgian Cup semi-final of 2015, an 8-3 aggregate win for old European warhorses Club.
Club are not only the pride of Bruges, but of Flanders, particularly when Francophone Anderlecht are involved. Not that long ago, the rivals shared a domestic duopoly. Club at last won the title again in 2016 – after a decade out of the limelight.
Throughout Belgium, Cercle are often the neutrals’ favourite, famed for their team spirit and honest endeavour. In Bruges itself, support for the two teams is divided 50-50, but any cross-town rivalry pales next to the mutual hatred of RSCA – the chance of Flanders getting one over on the fat cats from Brussels is more important than the local derby.
Football was first played in Bruges at the English College in Sint-Andries, site of today’s Jan Breydelstadion, the former Olympiastadion. Both clubs were founded in the 1890s, Cercle’s players being mainly upper-class Dutch and Englishmen, later local, academic Catholics.
Bruges is a small town. Players of both sides mix socially, and the local football community is pleasingly tight-knit and friendly. Locals are equally welcoming, no mean feat considering how their little gem of a town is simply mobbed by tourists day after day. As long as the visitor doesn’t make the mistake of trying to speak French, they’ll be fine.
If taking the Eurostar or flying into Brussels, trains from Midi Station take 1hr 15mins. By adding ‘Any Belgian Station’ when booking their destination, Eurostar passengers can travel via Brussels for free. Local buses await in the forecourt outside Bruges-Sint Pieters station, 2km south of the town centre, about a 15-minute walk away. Tickets (€1.20) are available from the little booth there or on board (€2). A day pass is €5/€7. Local Rony’s Taxis can be called at +32 50 344 344.
The Bruges Tourist Office has a room-booking service. Hotels abound in this tourist-friendly town. Convenient for the Jan Breydelstadion, the three-star Hostellerie Pannenhuis is a lovely, rustic, stand-alone house and garden, with a restaurant, halfway between the station and the stadium.
Of the scores of spots in town, three-star Salvators greets guests with humour, while the nearby Hotel de Castillion is a sturdy four-star just across this pretty square dominated by St Salvador’s Church. Nearer to the main square at ‘t Zand, a characterful, landmark spots include Le Singe d’Or (No.18, +32 50 33 48 48), where Club Bruges players met immediately before and after the war; and the Comte de Flandre. These days only the Comte de Flandre does rooms, though.
A lovely little place tucked away round the corner is ‘t Putje.
You’re spoilt for choice. For some sport with your many-flavoured beers, head for a little square tucked away from the main one, the Eiermarkt, where adjoining bars CathEdraak and de Pub provide terraces and plenty of atmosphere during match coverage. For a more expat type of pub, the Druid’s Cellar under Chinese restaurant De Laange Muur is probably the one to be recommended, with tables at street level as well. Many in the know, though, would have cheered the long-awaited reopening in 2012 of The Top, a legendary little bar tucked away by St Salvator’s Church, a hive of savvy local and expat chat.
More upscale in the genre, Delaney’s, formerly Boru, puts great emphasis on the quality of its food. The most famous place in town, ‘t Brugs Beertje, with a selection of hundreds of beers, is tucked down a sidestreet near the main square.
Near the Hostellerie Pannenhuis in the direction of the stadium, the Café Sint Baafs/The Locals (Gistelsesteenweg 118) is a great little football hub, where the Tempeliers pub team are given as much decorative respect as Club and FC Barcelona. Friendly Dimitri serves the house speciality of Petrus beer, both light and dark. It’s by the Phare stop on the Nos.5/15 bus line.