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Like a local: Bruges through the eyes of its artisans

Since the 13th century, the Belgian city has had a reputation for handmade treasures, from ceramics to saxophones. Here’s where to discover Bruges’ thriving traditions.

By Shaney Hudson
Published 27 Oct 2019, 06:00 GMT
If you’re looking for a dose of high-brow culture, make a beeline for the 800-year-old Old ...
If you’re looking for a dose of high-brow culture, make a beeline for the 800-year-old Old St John’s Hospital and the Groeninge Museum, for works by the Flemish Primitives, including Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling, who established Bruges as a centre of art in the 15th century
Photograph by Getty Images

Traditional touch

There’s a strong sense of legacy in Bruges, exemplified by family-owned biscuit maker HUIS DEMAN. For over 130 years, the factory has filled Bruges’ picturesque streets with the sweet smell of kletskoppen, a thin, buttery local biscuit. Head here on Friday mornings, when mother and daughter, Anne and Stefanie, open the factory to the public.

While some continue traditions, others are reviving them. Since 2012, saxophone maker Karel Goetghebeur (see column, right) has owned ADOLPHE SAX & CIE, the company founded by the inventor of the saxophone. You can visit his shop on the Gistelsesteenweg.

Meanwhile, on Ezelstraat, you’ll find the studio-shop of ceramist MARIANNE VANDENBUSSCHE, whose striking porcelain creations are inspired by the colours and forms of the seabed, particularly the ‘dance of the corals’.

If you’re looking for a dose of high-brow culture, make a beeline for the 800-year-old OLD ST JOHN'S HOSPITAL and the GROENINGE MUSEUM, for works by the Flemish Primitives, including Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling, who established Bruges as a centre of art in the 15th century.

But if there’s one thing Bruges is known for, it’s chocolate. Visit THE CHOCOLATE LINE on Simon Stevinplein, and head to the back of the shop, where master chocolatier Dominique Persoone can be glimpsed through a window, hard at work in his kitchen. Linger to browse and sample his eccentric creations, with names like Miss Piggy and Back to Black.


There are plenty of places to try the city’s famed confection, but only a handful of creators are willing to divulge the secrets of their craft. Master chocolatier Fangio De Baets offers workshops by appointment in the kitchen behind his artisanal chocolate shop, PRALINETTE. There are also courses on how to make pralines and truffles, as well as demonstrations and tastings.

Another of the city’s traditions is lace-making. Six days a week, demonstrations are held in the upstairs rooms of the LACE CENTRE & MUSEUM. If you fancy giving it a try, there are a number of workshops for beginners, covering topics such as basic needle techniques, lace jewellery and Christmas decorations. Arty types inspired by the Flemish Masters should seek out the FLEMISH CLASSICAL ATELIER, which offers intensive courses on techniques used in the region’s artistic Golden Age. Students can sign up for short courses on topics such as portraiture and still-life.

The EUROPEAN LETTERING INSTITUTE offers both professional and amateur weekend workshops on the written, carved, hand drawn and digital letterforms, including how to prepare quills andcarve letters in wood.

If fashion is more your thing, then make a beeline for Maya Morwena Langouche’s studio, CADAVRE EXQUIS COUTURE. Morwena, offers small-group sessions focusing on crafts such as bridal couture and historical costumery. 

Karel Goetghebeur’s top music spots

Karel Goetghebeur is a saxophone maker and owner of Adolphe Sax & Cie.

This fourth-generation music store in the heart of Bruges specialises in pianos and acoustic guitars but also rare LPs and sheet music. The building and its interior are largely unchanged since the store opened in 1920, so it feels like stepping back in time.

Arrenbie Guitars
The owner, Ralph Bonte, is a great guy — he loves to talk guitars and is involved in a project that researches the use of local wood to make guitars. The scent of his workshop, and the blues music in the background makes for a relaxing experience.

27BFlat Jazz Club
When visitors to my shop ask directions for a place with good music, this is where I send them. Aside from the brilliant live performances and jam sessions, there’s great food and beautiful decor.

Exclusive Drums & The Jamm
Fellow craftsman Dirk Defauw upcycles old wood — be it a staircase or your grandmother’s wardrobe — and turns it into drum kits. The Jamm Rehearsal Studios is used by rock musicians and opera singers and hosts weekly live concerts. 

De Vismarkt
During summer, on weekdays, there are Cuban salsa demonstrations at the historic Vismarkt. What makes these so special is that even when it rains they keep on dancing. I’m not a dancer, but even I enjoy it!

Publishing in the November 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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