EURO TRIP PART II: WHY YOU SHOULD GO TO BELGIUM FOR CHRISTMAS VACATION

I’m so excited to share with y’all Part II of my Euro Trip. Going from where we left off on my Christmas trip to Paris, we drove from Reims to Gent, Belgium. The surprises just kept getting better and better! Our drive to Gent was about an hour and a half. It was so interesting driving over the border from France to Belgium. We drove past so many adorable French towns and I was dying to stop at all of them! We passed castles and tons of cathedrals along the way. We even passed Dunkirk which was really cool. Hopefully, on another visit, we will stop at some of the towns and explore! The culture slowly changed to a more Flemish influence and was greeted by mid-century crests as we made our way to Gent.

 

CHRISTMAS MARKETS

GENT:

Gent was the most adorable mid-evil town I have ever seen! We thought the Christmas Markets in Paris were awesome, but I was amazed by what Gent had to offer! The first evening we arrived in Gent, we immediately went to the Christmas Market in the middle of the town square. The market seemed like it was almost a mile long and kept going on forever! I have never seen so much cheese, sausage, vin chaude ( hot wine), chocolate, waffles (duh), and all other kinds of goodies! I knocked out a lot of shopping not just for my family but for myself as well, hehe. We spent our first evening going to the Christmas Market as well as going back several times during our stay. Since the Christmas Market was so big, there always seemed to be something new to explore each time we would visit. The vendors also informed us that the Christmas Markets stay open until January 7th each year. So, if you are planning on taking a trip to Gent, you have plenty of time after Christmas to see the Christmas Markets!

One day when we were exploring the Christmas Market, we also found this adorable ice rink and beer garden. It was SO cold and was fun to sneak off inside and take a break from walking. Gent is also known for their leather goods, chocolates, linens, and wooden figurines. I found more linens in some little shops around Gent, but I found some adorable leather gloves at the Christmas Market. My favorite store for linens was  Kloskanthuis Home Linen. Here we found an amazing quality of linens for a great price! Chris and I definitely went crazy in this store and definitely recommend stopping here on your next visit!

BRUGGE: 

Chris and I both agreed we thought Gent was the best, BUT Brugge had a couple of things Gent did not. They had the most adorable handmade wooden ornaments.I found this adorable wooden Christmas tree on the Christmas Market that will be so cute in our future home!  Kathe Wohlfahrt had an awesome selection of Christmas ornaments and cuckoo clocks. It is a chain and is in all different cities all throughout Europe, however, they have an adorable selection of authentic ornaments. I was so excited to find wooden ornaments similar to the ones my Uncle gave me when I was a little girl. He was an avid traveler and would have been so proud of our vacation.
Besides the wooden Christmas ornament finds, our other favorite part was this amazing cheese vendor. She had all kinds of aged cheddar and cheeses that we were able to sample. I wish we had gotten her name but I wasn’t paying attention while we were strolling around. We also had probably our 100th glass of vin chaud. Vin Chaud is hot wine, but to me, it tasted a lot like apple cider. I didn’t love it at first, but since it was so cold outside I would crave it while we were exploring! I have actually seen vin chaud at Central Market if you are wanting to find it somewhere local. I have never tried their brand, but it should tide you over until you can get to Europe!

RESTAURANTS/ CUISINE


GENT:

We had so many great meals in Belgium, but our favorite meal was at Pakhuis. The ambiance of the whole restaurant and the food was to die for! It was formerly an old warehouse that has been turned into a restaurant. Our dinner started off by trying the goat cheese and carrot salad. This might sound a bit odd, but it was highly recommended by our waiter and was so delicious! The combination was so good and it was nice to have some greens after eating waffles and crepes all day! For our main course, I had the baked chicken and kale croquettes. Chris had “The Catch of the Day,” with brussel sprouts and mashed potatoes. I honestly can’t remember the type of fish, but I was able to sneak a bite – it was delicious! We also split a bottle of Prinicpale which was an awesome beer local to Gent! You HAVE to make a reservation here if you ever visit Gent.

We also loved Restaurant Du Progres. This was where we had dinner our first night and the service and food were excellent! We both had a type of white fish and a HUGE bowl of french fries. It was sooo good especially after walking around The Christmas Market all afternoon.

A restaurant that we wanted to go to, but was closed, was Soup’R. Gent is known for their soups and soup sounded so delicious especially out and about on a cold day. Instead, we went to a restaurant near downtown called, Exki Gent. Chris and I split a quiche, celery soup, and this awesome chicken and curry salad. It was a great place to stop while we were shopping on the go and didn’t want a long, sit-down type of lunch. The food was really fresh and was so refreshing to have a salad after being filled with nutella crepes and fries for days!

One night we enjoyed drinks at a local pub called Water House on Bierkant. We really felt like one of the locals having drinks here! Chris ordered a type of sour beer and he “tried” to convince me it was good. I honestly can’t remember what I ordered but they had a huge beer menu and is a great place to go to grab drinks and relax after dinner!

There were so many places especially with the Christmas Market around to grab some chocolates! Chris and I searched long and hard for the best chocolate store and that came down to Chocolaterie Luc Van Hoorebeke. Not only did this chocolate store have the BEST hot chocolate we had ever had, you could watch them make the chocolate from scratch! We did the majority of our shopping here and tried a couple samples as well!

One morning we grabbed a quick breakfast from Cru. It as an adorable market right by where we were staying. The produce and meat were so fresh and opted for pomegranates, prosciutto, a sweet quiche, and some different types of bread. We were sad we only had a chance to stop here once, but would definitely recommend doing your grocery shopping here!

Brugge: 

While we were exploring we stumbled upon Friterie 1900. Do not pay attention to the online reviews because these were the best french fries we had the whole trip! We split a giant container of fries along with a bratwurst dog from the Christmas Market. We had way too much food, but it was so delicious! There seemed to be a wait all day, but the line moved pretty fast.

We stopped for coffee at Hotel Central Brugge. Not gonna lie… we honestly stopped here because I had to use the restroom. If you have been to Europe before, you know finding a public restroom can be tough, so we made it a point to grab a coffee a couple of different places to make it easier. The espresso and cookies we had were delicious! Their menu also looked awesome. We wish we could have stayed for lunch but we had a lot of shopping to do!

Chez Albert probably had the best waffle I had ever had! It’s located not too far from the town square and can rack up a line pretty quickly! The line moved pretty fast for us and was SO worth the wait! We enjoyed our waffles while exploring the shops in Brugge!

EXPLORE / SHOPPING

GENT:

We, unfortunately, didn’t get quite as much boutique shopping time in Belgium because we were so enamored with the Christmas Markets! Also since we arrived after Christmas, we noticed a lot of the shops were closed into the New Year. That was a little disappointing, however, we were able to find some awesome shops! Not too far from the town square was a store called & Other Stories. This has to be one of the coolest stores I have ever been in! Imagine an Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie mixed together. I went a little crazy in this store, but definitely found some things I love. the clothes are excellent quality – like Anthropologie. Their clothing fits true to size and linked a couple of items I bought and currently obsessed with below!

We also found Gent’s version of William Sonoma – Dille & Kamille. From the adorable black and white awning to all the gadgets inside, this store couldn’t have been any cuter. It was right by where we were staying and have them all throughout Europe. It’s definitely a great spot if you are looking for some fun kitchen gadgets! By the time we found this little gem, I was worried I was over my suitcase limit and did not make any purchases (crazy, I know). I will just have to admire their stores online until my next visit!

We had the opportunity to tour Gravensteen or “Castle of The Counts” on our last day in Gent. I had only been to the Heidelberg Castle in Germany about two years ago. It was the first thing I did on my trip and it was AMAZING, however, I was so jet-lagged that I don’t remember as much as I would have liked. So, finally having enough sleep this time around (hah), I was so excited to tour another castle in no type of rush! The castle had a partial moat still built around it which was REALLY cool to see. The castle had been completely renovated in the museum displaying weapons from the crusades and torture chamber devices!

The tour started from the first floor of the castle all the way to the very top. It was crazy to see history come alive with guillotines, body stretchers, and other weapons used to take off limbs of the prisoners. Chris and I couldn’t believe they actually did those kinds of things like that back then! It honestly freaked me out a little especially to see the old rusted guillotine! That was something I stayed FAR away from. After seeing all of these contraptions, I was definitely ready to tour the top of the castle. I needed some fresh air after seeing all of the gory images, haha! Sure enough, the top of the castle did not disappoint. You could see the whole city of Gent with the perfect bird’s eye view! It was fun to look through the openings in the walls designed for weapons to go through to protect them from their opponents. We had such a fun day getting a little history lesson and seeing something we definitely don’t have in Texas!

Another historical site I would like to mention is St. Bravo’s Cathedral. We only peaked around here for about 30 minutes but was so interesting to see how similar it was to Reims Cathedral and Notre Dame as mentioned in Part I of my Paris post. The architecture and design definitely had that Baroque feel dating back to the 14th century. The details in the architecture all throughout the cathedral were incredible! This was maybe 5 minutes away from Granvensteen and the town square. We were only inside about 45 minutes, but this could easily be a little adventure if you wanted to stay longer and explore!

 

Brugge: 

We honestly didn’t do too much shopping outside of the Christmas Market in Brugge. We were also here for just half a day so we didn’t have as much opportunity to explore. However, we had such a fun time walking around Brugge’s Markt and wandering into the  Provincial Court. The Markt is Brugge’s town square. It had a similar medieval feel to Gent, but the Provincial Court was unlike anything I had ever seen. We explored a little bit inside but wished we would have had time to do an actual tour. There are also so many adorable shops around Brugge’s Markt. Just past the Provincial Court, you will find an indoor shopping center with dozens of chocolate shops. We kept running in and out of the chocolate shops trying samples and seeing if there were any other sweets we could add to our carry-ons!

 

 

Both parts of our Christmas trip were a total dream! These are memories that I will always hold close to my heart. Chris and I were so fortunate that our family friends let us “crash” their Christmas getaway. It really was the perfect way to spend Christmas and I hope someday you have the opportunity to do so as well!

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