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GUIDEBOOK : Bustling About in Brugge

August 09, 1992|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS

Getting there: American, Delta and Sabena (the Belgian national airline) offer direct flights from LAX to Brussels National Airport in the Belgian capital, about 60 miles from Brugge. Each airline offers one flight daily, with one stop along the way. Summertime high-season, round-trip fares begin at $1,034 for midweek travel but will drop to around $700 for travel after Oct. 1.

Brugge has no airport, but trains run hourly from the central station in Brussels to Brugge, and cost about $15 for a one-way, hourlong trip. Buy tickets at the train station on the day you plan to travel.

Where to stay: For such a small town, the possibilities are staggering, and most of the lodgings are in smaller hotels. One of the biggest hotels in Brugge is the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza (Burg 10; 011-32-50-34-58-34 from U.S. phones, fax 34-56-15), with 96 units and double rooms beginning at about $190, breakfast excluded. Among the other choices:

The Oud Huis Amsterdam (Spiegelrei 3; 011-32-50-34-18-10 from U.S. phones, fax 33-88-91), a former home converted to include 17 rooms, a restaurant and garden, charges double-room rates from about $140 to $250. (Tariff includes breakfast buffet of smoked ham, cereal, breads and juices; a selection of seven newspapers; a canal view, and at least on some mornings, a discreet stereophonic version of the 1812 Overture to prepare you for the day.)

The hotel 't Koffeeboontje (Hallestraat 4; phone 011-32-50-33-80-27) is a modest 25-room upstairs place just a few doors from the main square. Double rooms run roughly $66-$133, all with their own bathrooms, some with kitchenettes. Breakfast is included. There's a restaurant downstairs, and a bicycle rental shop in the basement below that.

Where to eat: Again, the list of options is long. My fanciest and costliest meal came at the Duc de Bourgogne (Huidenvettersplein 12; local phone 33-20-38, fax 34-40-37), a hotel restaurant with heavy chandeliers, tapestry curtains and walls that are covered with accomplished takeoffs on the masters by students of the city art school. Outside the windows: one of the city's best canal views. Main courses ran $28 (for an excellent grilled sole) to $60, soup and salad excluded. Service: discreet.

Among more inexpensive places, there's Malpertuus (Eirmarkt 9; phone 33-30-38), a plainish place with a lobster tank in the cellar dining room and main dishes with opening courses from $18 to $35. I had mussels, vegetable soup and Flemish rabbit for $24. The restaurant 't Schryverke (Gruuthuse 4; phone 33-29-08) stands along museum row and offers reasonable lunches (smoked ham and a mixed salad for $11) and dinners from $12 (shrimp and tomatoes) to $28 (veal a l'orange ) . My cheapest meal was a perfectly satisfying $5 bowl of afternoon spaghetti at 't Vagevuur (Sint-Amandsstraat 23; phone 33-96-62), a bistro on a busy shopping street. Sidewalk tables are arranged in front and the most expensive main course is a $17 steak.

Money: During my June stay, the Belgian franc was trading at about 32 to the dollar.

Language: In Brussels and Brugge, most Belgians speak Flemish, but switch effortlessly into French and often German and English as well. (At the fancier hotels, some have started working on their Japanese.) If your waiter or hotel host doesn't speak English, a colleague close by will.

For more information: Contact the Belgian National Tourist Office (745 Fifth Ave., Suite 714, New York 10151, 212-758-8130). In downtown Brugge, the city Office of Tourism (Burg 11; phone 44-86-86 or fax 44-86-00) offers literature and can arrange city tours.

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