Bruges is officially one of my favorite towns in Europe. It is small, old, clean, well maintained, has windmills and easy access to the sea, and is smack in the middle of a huge area of farm land. We were there for three nights, and I felt that was plenty. On our first full day we rented bicycles from the nearby hostel and rode northwest to Damme on small farm roads. We stopped for lunch on the back patio of a local restaurant, and then rode back into town through the tree tunnels.
On our second day, we walked around town, went on a brewery tour, had lunch in town, and then walked around some more. It was the perfect escape town, and if I lived in Brussels or Amsterdam or even Paris, I can imagine going there for a weekend getaway.
Our lunch spot
Trees & Canals
Tree Tunnel with grassy path
Tree Tunnel with Canal
Tree Tunnel with bike lane and Nik
Our B&B for the weekend
Cast Iron Pots?
A monastery with tree houses
The most ornate elevated train I have ever seen
We went to Antwerp without knowing much about the city, so everything was unexpectedly pleasant! The people were nice. The buildings were beautiful. The food was decent. Basically, it was exactly what I hoped a mid-sized European city would be with the highlight of Art Deco additions to many of the older stone houses.
Grand corner buildings
Brick & stone
The street of art deco
It seems like this should be more than a car park
Museum Ann de Stroom
Old shopping center
The tunnel at the end of the tram line
Antwerp Train Station
Villa Augustus – view from our table at the Restaurant
After Amsterdam, we took a train ride out of town for a weekend at Villa Augustus. The Villa is a 5 minute bus ride from the central train station, and as the bus pulled away and we stood on the sidewalk, Nik said, “Whoa! Look at that cool brick building.” And I replied, “I know…that’s where we are staying!”
The hotel/market/restaurant/event space/garden is housed in an 1882 water tower and pump house that was built to provide municipal water for the town of Dordrecht. The facility was functional into the mid 20th century, but sat vacant for a while before the current owners reinvented it as a design hotel. The main building alone is magical with 37 beautifully appointed and unique rooms, but it is also surrounded on all four sides by gardens and greenhouses. These supply most of the fresh produce and herbs for the restaurant and market housed in the adjacent and more modern (1940s) pump house.
The hotel, market, restaurant, event space, and garden each draw their own crowd. Visitors wander the gardens without stepping foot into the restaurant. People sleep in the old basin of the water tower without ever buying produce from the market. Guests walk straight to the Lemon house for a wedding without even realizing there is an Italian garden out back. I wanted to do it all. Before we even dropped off our bags, Nik was pointing to the broccoli plants and pear trees. After we dropped them, we criss-crossed the vegetable garden before finding a terrace seat at the restaurant for lunch. After lunch, we continued to explore the grounds before heading up to our room. After relaxing a bit, we went to the market to buy a pint of hotel-made rhubarb sorbet which we shared on a bench sitting next to the greenhouse where the rhubarb was grown. Then we climbed the exterior stair tower to the top before strolling through the rear gardens. Then we went back to the restaurant for dinner, but this time we chose a seat inside and watched the chefs do their magic as families and couples dined all around us. Afterwards, we retired to our room for a little while before walking out again into the garden for sunset. This place is everything I have ever dreamed a hotel would be. It is a destination for everyone, young or old, moneyed or not, couples or families, singles or sisters. It is unpretentious and affordable. The staff is kind and does not get in the way of you enjoying your day. The place also teaches anyone who wants to learn about edible gardens. It was a dream come true, and I hope to find more places like this. Or perhaps I’ll create a place like this of my own one day.
The view from our room
The Italian Garden out back
The water tower from the Italian Garden
On our second day in Dordrecht, we walked into town to explore the historic center. On the way we found typical apartment buildings filled with families slowly beginning their Sunday. Once in town, we found most of the commercial area shuttered for the day which created a calm and somewhat abandoned feeling to the streets. We didn’t mind because it meant that we had fewer obstacles to maneuver around and could see the buildings better!
Apartments that remind me of my grandfather’s 1950s house
Dordrecht Entry #1-2
Dordrecht Entry #3-4
Dordrecht Canal House
After our walk, we enjoyed Villa Augustus some more by strolling through the gardens, relaxing in our room, having dinner at the restaurant, sharing another pint of rhubarb sorbet, and watching the sunset from the stairs.
It was a truly amazing weekend, and if you ever find yourself in The Netherlands, spend at least 2 nights here. You will thank me.
Nik’s Blog: 5 Days in Amsterdam, 2 Days in Dordrecht