Why Bruges is the perfect escape for all 

We put one Rule Breaker and one Road Tripper with her family on a ferry from Hull to Belgium to enjoy the canals, the beer – and, of course, the chocolate of beautiful Bruges…

Marie-Claire Chappet, 27, headed to Zeebrugge from Hull, aboard P&O Ferries’ Pride of York, with her boyfriend

Marie-Claire Chappet, 27, headed to Zeebrugge from Hull, aboard P&O Ferries’ Pride of York, with her boyfriend

RULE BREAKER

Marie-Claire Chappet, 27, headed to Zeebrugge from Hull, aboard P&O Ferries’ Pride of York, with her boyfriend, for a Belgian adventure to Bruges.

Full disclosure: I have never taken a ferry before and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. 

My boyfriend and I were off to Bruges and boarded (with our car) the Pride of York from Hull. We would sail overnight, reaching Zeebrugge the next morning at around 8am.

Our cabin was clean, cosy, warm and I was overzealously delighted that we would be sleeping in bunk beds. (As an only child, I had fruitlessly begged my parents for bunk beds.)

The couple's holiday began as soon as they stepped aboard - with a sophisticated dinner at the Brasserie restaurant

The couple’s holiday began as soon as they stepped aboard – with a sophisticated dinner at the Brasserie restaurant

Marie-Claire Chappet's cabin aboard the was clean, cosy, warm and she was overzealously delighted that they would be sleeping in bunk beds

Marie-Claire Chappet’s cabin aboard the was clean, cosy, warm and she was overzealously delighted that they would be sleeping in bunk beds

We spent a large portion of the evening exploring. The ferry had a surplus of bars and restaurants, an on-board shop bursting with bargains, a kids’ area and even a quiet room. I humoured my boyfriend by playing a few of the arcade games on board and surprised myself by growing addicted to a shooter game. Dinner at the Brasserie restaurant was a slightly more mature affair – though the waiter did give in to my bizarre request to eat from the children’s menu. Spag bol, come on!

After breakfast the next morning (great fry-up), we arrived at Zeebrugge and disembarked seamlessly for Bruges, barely a half-hour drive away, feeling like our adventure was already well under way.

The town is worth the hype. At every turning there is a postcard view, from willow-fringed lakes and canals to soaring medieval architecture and cobbled streets. Our hotel, Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce, was minutes from the main square, on one of the main canals. 

At every turning as you walk around Bruges there is a postcard view

At every turning as you walk around Bruges there is a postcard view

Once we checked in, and I had cooed over the Marie Antoinette cupcake of a room, we headed straight for one of Belgium’s prime attractions: beer. This was De Halve Maan brewery, to be exact, which offers highly informative tours of its historic premises every hour. Included is, of course, a free glass of a freshly brewed beer. We soaked up ours with some traditional Belgian cuisine – Flemish beef stew and moules-frites.

The couple indulged in one of Belgium's prime attractions - beer! 

The couple indulged in one of Belgium’s prime attractions – beer! 

The next day we rented bikes and played a game of windmill bingo. Four historic windmills are situated in the east of Bruges and are an easy bike ride away through the lush parkland and canals which encase the town. Afterwards, we indulged in a vitally important museum for Belgium: Choco Story, which traces the history of chocolate and even provides edible tickets. Yes – chocolate ones.

The couple rented bikes and played a game of windmill bingo around the surrounding countryside 

The couple rented bikes and played a game of windmill bingo around the surrounding countryside 

After a late lunch by the Church of Our Lady’s cathedral, one of Bruges’s most stunning landmarks, we hit the road again to board our ferry back to England. We took the Calais to Dover route, which got us back to the UK in just 90 minutes.

No bunk beds this time, but I did beat my arcade-game top score.

ROAD TRIPPER

Sarah Sutton, 45, set off on a road trip through Belgium with her husband and three children. Their holiday began as soon as they boarded P&O Ferries’ Pride of York, sailing overnight from Hull to Zeebrugge.

My sister moved to Belgium over 25 years ago, so the journey has long been a familiar one. Sailing has always seemed the less stressful option, especially through the toddler, buggy, baby-bag and countless teddy-bear years. Having said that, we’ve always driven through France from Calais. Even holidays to Nice and Barcelona began at the ferry port to Calais.

Sarah Sutton, 45, pictured with her three children aboard P&O Ferries’ Pride of York 

Sarah Sutton, 45, pictured with her three children aboard P&O Ferries’ Pride of York 

It was the cabin bunk beds Sarah's trio been looking forward to the most!

It was the cabin bunk beds Sarah’s trio been looking forward to the most!

Catching an overnight ferry had never occurred to us and we definitely weren’t expecting what we found upon hitting the decks for the P&O Ferries Hull to Zeebrugge route. Soft play, a mini arcade, a chillaxing piano lounge, a lively show bar and even a casino. 

And to think it was the cabin bunk beds our trio been looking forward to the most! After much squeals of excitement (mine, too, on discovering the Clarins minis), persuading them to venture away from the comfy confines of our club cabin wasn’t such a stretch after all.

Sarah admits the family weren’t expecting what we found upon hitting the decks for the P&O Ferries Hull to Zeebrugge route; which included a soft play area 

Sarah admits the family weren’t expecting what we found upon hitting the decks for the P&O Ferries Hull to Zeebrugge route; which included a soft play area 

Life on board is super casual, although my inbuilt desire to wear heels and lipgloss didn’t wane. (I’d read about a late-night disco.) It’s amazing how no imminent drive is a fast pass to total relaxation. The ferry boasts two restaurants: The Brasserie, for a spot of fine dining, and The Kitchen, a bustling buffet, perfect for fussy eaters and families – or, in our case, both. 

Plates were piled high with everything from a traditional roast to kiddie faves like fish fingers and pasta. After that, the live music coming from the show bar beckoned. While I’m permanently programmed to shimmy, unfortunately the children were sleepy (and desperate to get back to the cabin.) Even though the singer looked uncannily like Betsy’s beloved Olly Murs, after a short spin around the dance floor, it was time for bed.

Reece and Sarah treated the children to a trip around the chocolate museum

Reece and Sarah treated the children to a trip around the chocolate museum

The next day, after docking at Zeebrugge it took just 30 minutes to reach Bruges, a pretty city that we’d never been to before. With the sun shining, we decided to see the sights from the canal. 

Our guide led us along ‘The Love Lake’, pointing out fairy-tale architecture, crumbly old bridges, the 900-year-old belfry and museums housing old masters by Michelangelo, Picasso and Salvador Dali. Back on dry land, we mooched along cobbled streets, stopping for lunch at a bustling café in the Market Square, then treated the children to a trip around the chocolate museum. I’m not sure how much information they picked up, but their chocolate booty by the end was impressive!

As well as loving Bruges and seeing family, Sarah was delighted at the stress-free option of sailing overnight with P&O Ferries 

As well as loving Bruges and seeing family, Sarah was delighted at the stress-free option of sailing overnight with P&O Ferries 

Desperate to see their cousins, we then drove a further 50 minutes to my sister’s house in Aalst. Along with nearby Ghent, it’s another beautiful spot on the Belgian map and one that we love visiting all year round. Quaint shops, stylish restaurants and endless bars offering flavoured beers and steaming mugs of hot chocolate. Aalst is our favourite place to be for Christmas: bitterly cold, fairy lights on every cobbled corner, log cabins selling ginger waffles and glühwein. But back to this trip: after an overnight stay to squeeze in as much family time as possible, we prised ourselves away to hit the motorway to Calais for our return ferry to Dover.

With two more trips to Belgium on the horizon this year, the virtually stress-free idea of sailing overnight is so tempting. I’d recommend it to any parents of small children. Lock the car, settle into your cabin and enjoy the ride… 

Celebrate 180 years of P&O with one of our free gifts

Book your Hull-Zeebrugge or Rotterdam crossing by June 26, 2017 and you can choose a free gift, from £20 off upgrading a Saver to a Standard ticket to £15 off your booking when you pre-book a meal, or free priority boarding on one leg of your journey.  And with everything from live entertainment to fresh air out on deck and a choice of all you can eat or a fine dining restaurant, you’ll feel like your holiday has started before it’s begun.  

Book before June 26 – poferries.com 

Terms & Conditions apply. See online at poferries.com for full details

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