13 days, from Wednesday, March 13 to Monday, March 25, 2024
A glorious spring break in a city that is classified in in entirety as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is arguably the best preserved medieval urban centre in all of Europe. Our visit to this “Venice of the North" with its canals and bridges, cobble-stoned alleys and lovely squares, is complemented by other attractions of Flanders and the rest of Belgium, such as Ghent, another medieval metropolis, the great seaport of Antwerp, "Flanders Fields" with focus on sites of Canadian interest, and Brussels, capital of Belgium and of the European Community. The distances to and from all these places are minimal, so only two (first-class) hotels will need to be used, and fine dining will be complemented by tastings of specialties such as Belgian beer, chocolates, and waffles. Your tour host, historian Jacques Pauwels, PhD, author of books on both World Wars, will share with you his intimate knowledge of his “old country”.
Early morning arrival in Amsterdam and short connecting flight to Brussels, arriving around 9AM. A private coach will be waiting to take us to the grounds of the 1958 Brussels World Fair for a look at its theme building, the spectacular Atomium. Continue to the beautiful old town of Bruges in Flanders, with en route pause for a late morning coffee in the picturesque artist village of St. Martens-Latem, located on the river Lys, which meanders slowly through the flat Flemish landscape. Arrival in Bruges and check into the four-star/first-class Hotel De Medici (https://hoteldemedici.com), superbly located on one of the many canals that criss-cross this city, earning it epithet “Venice of the North”. Free time to settle in and get some rest after your overnight flight. In late afternoon, leisurely introductory walking tour of the historical city center, followed by welcome dinner in the restaurant of our hotel.
After breakfast, we walk along the scenic Spiegelrei canal to Jan Van Eyck Square, featuring a statue of the famous master of the so-called Flemish Primitives school of the late Middle Ages, and past the Opera to the heart of this romantic city, the vast Market Square, surrounded by magnificent guild houses and dominated by the 83-meter high tower of the Belfry, emblem of the city since the 13th century, with its famous carillon (https://www.museabrugge.be/en/visit-our-museums/our-museums-and-monuments/belfort). (You may want to come back here later to climb all 366 steps of the tower to enjoy a stunning view over the city and its surroundings!) On to the Burg, the city’s historic heart, where we admire the Gothic City Hall and Law Courts and the Basilica with its reliquary said to contain a vial with the Holy Blood of Christ, a gift to Bruges by a crusading Count of Flanders. Via the Blind Donkey Street and Bridge and the Fish Market and the Square of the Tanners we reach the most photographed site of Bruges, the Rozenhoedkaai or Quay of the Rosary. After a lunch break, sight-seeing cruise on the scenic canals crisscrossing Bruges. Then we return to the hotel via a pretty little square named after Simon Steven, a famous scientist who was born in Bruges in 1548, and the city’s main shopping street, the Langestraat. Dinner in a typical restaurant, probably featuring one of Belgium’s many culinary specialties, such as shrimp croquettes, Flemish beef stew, mussels and frites, eel in a sauce of green herbs, Ostend sole, and Belgian chocolate mousse or Dame Blanche, vanilla ice cream with warm molten chocolate and plenty of whip cream, for dessert!
Our walking exploration of Bruges continues after breakfast with a visit to the superb Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady, featuring a Michelangelo Madonna and Infant Jesus as well as the ornamental tomb of Mary of Burgundy (https://www.museabrugge.be/en/visit-our-museums/our-museums-and-monuments/onze-lieve-vrouwekerk). (Your guide will explain the connection between Flanders and Burgundy!) On to the Minnewater or “Lake of Love”, the former harbour, where swans have replaced the caravels of old. On to the adjacent Beguinage, a typically Flemish quasi-nunnery, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Centre (https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/855); its courtyard, once a vineyard, should be blooming with countless daffodils at this time of the year! After a demonstration of lace-making, an ancient local tradition favoured by the beguines, we continue past numerous chocolate shops to the Cathedral of Saint Saviour, featuring yet another huge medieval tower piercing the (hopefully sunny) Flemish sky, and contrasting starkly with the vast open space of the city’s second market square, situated on the edge of the old town and known as the Zand, where venerable ancient facades and gables try to ignore the highly controversial modern architecture of the new Concert Hall. Rest of the day at leisure, and this evening it will perhaps be possible to enjoy a concert of classical music in the Concert Hall.
Full-day excursion in the Flemish countryside between the Dutch border and the North Sea Coast. We start with a look at the medieval village of Damme, situated in a “polder” landscape reclaimed from the sea, then explore the North Sea Coast from the port of Zeebrugge (“Sea Bruges”) to the sophisticated resort of Knokke. Returning inland, we cross the Dutch border to see the picturesque town of Sluis, then re-enter Belgium and explore the area where in the fall of 1944 Canadian troops fought the Battle of the Scheldt along the Leopold Canal. After a visit to the Canadian War Cemetery and War Museum in the village of Adegem, we return to Bruges, entering the city via Canada Bridge, so named because it was used by Canadian troops, Manitoba Dragoons, when they liberated this city in early September 1944.
Full-day excursion into Flanders’ Fields, the World War I battlefields zone in Belgium, stretching from the French border to the North Sea. Our tour will include the town of Ieper (Ypres), with the Menin Gate, one of the world’s most famous British war memorials (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menin_Gate), and the excellent Flanders’ Fields Museum, located inside the town’s emblematic medieval Cloth Hall ((www.inflandersfields.be/#museum),); the Canadian Memorial in Passchendaele, in whose muddy fields Canadian troops fought an epic battle in 1917; Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in the world; the Brooding Soldier Monument, commemorating the men who fell during the first gas attack in 1915 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Julien_Memorial); Essex Farm Cemetery, where John McRae composed his famous poem (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex_Farm_Cemetery); the German War Cemetery of Vladslo, site of the poignant Käthe Kollwitz sculpture “The Mourning Parents” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladslo_German_war_cemetery); and the little seaport of Nieuwpoort, at the mouth of the Yser River, where in 1914-1918 the frontline ended with barbed wire stretched across the beach and into the salty water of the North Sea. Return to Bruges in late afternoon or early evening.
Today we focus on the fine museums of Bruges! First we visit the Groeninge Museum with its wonderful collection of paintings by masters of the very inappropriately named 15th-century school of “Flemish Primitives,” such as Van Eyck and Bosch (https://www.museabrugge.be/en/visit-our-museums/our-museums-and-monuments/groeningemuseum). Then, we tour the Gruuthuse, a splendid medieval residence full of antiquities such as majestic tapestries, stained-glass windows, wooden sculptures, weapons, historic lace, Burgundian manuscripts, and Chinese porcelain (https://www.museabrugge.be/en/visit-our-museums/our-museums-and-monuments/gruuthusemuseum). In mid-afternoon, museumed-out, we meet for a tasting of Belgian waffles, the real thing, that is, not the tasteless fabrications that masquerade as such in some parts of the world, and a snack never served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but only in the afternoon! (And please, do not ask for chocolate or strawberries with your waffle, your guide will explain why not.)
Excursion to Ghent, the former capital of Flanders, a city which, like Bruges, experienced its Golden Age during the Middle Ages. Our walking tour here will include the Belfry, City Hall, the impressive Castle of the Counts of Flanders, the vast Friday Market, the big late-medieval cannon known as Mad Maggie, the Romanesque Church of St James (a favourite of past and present pilgrims on the way to Compostela), the house where the Treaty of Ghent was signed in 1814, and of course St Bavo’s Cathedral with the famous painting by Van Eyck, “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.” Also some free time to explore on your own and/or shop before our return to Bruges.
Morning visit to the Hospital of St John, a magnificent 12th-century brick building that is home to a fine museum devoted to the work of another Flemish master, Hans Memlinc, as well as contemporary works of art and an authentic 17th-century pharmacy (https://www.museabrugge.be/en/visit-our-museums/our-museums-and-monuments/sint-janshospitaal). Afternoon at leisure and this evening we enjoy our final group dinner in Bruges in one of Belgium’s most beautiful and romantic restaurants!
After breakfast, departure from Bruges for Antwerp, one of the world’s greatest seaports but also a city of great historic and cultural importance, situated about 100 km east of Bruges. City tour, with as highlights include the Steen Castle on the banks of the River Scheldt, Antwerp’s lifeline to the sea, the Renaissance City Hall, the huge Gothic Cathedral, the architecturally stunning buildings of the Port Authority and the new Museum aan de Stroom, better known as the MAS (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum_aan_de_Stroom), and a visit to the house of the famous Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. In late afternoon we continue a short distance to Brussels, where we will stay in the centrally located first-class/four-star Hotel Thon Brussels City Center (https://www.thonhotels.com/our-hotels/belgium/brussel/thon-hotel-brussels-city-centre/?gad_source=1&gclsrc=ds&gclsrc=ds). Dinner in the hotel or in a nearby restaurant.
After an early breakfast, short transfer to Brussels Airport in time for the 10:45 departure of our return flight to Toronto, via Amsterdam. Arrival in Toronto around 4:30PM.
- Accommodation based on double occupancy in centrally located first-class/four-star hotels; the single room supplement is $795); - Buffet breakfast daily and six three-course dinners or lunches – please note that beer, wine, coffee/tea are not normally included with meals (other than breakfast) in Belgium, and that tap water is not normally served in restaurants; - Airport transfers and excursions via private coach; - All visits and sightseeing as outlined in the itinerary, including admission to museums and monuments mentioned;
- A gratuity for the coach driver(s) of a total of 30 Euros; Beverages with dinners (see above), and meals other than those outlined above; - All expenses of a personal nature; - Travel insurance is available; please call for rates.
March 08 - 19, 2024
March 20 - 28, 2024
Land only: $2,869 per person based on double occupancy
April 05 - 15, 2024
Land only: $3,875 based on double occupancy