You simply can’t leave Bruges without strolling along the canals, stopping at a chocolate shop, and of course, paying tribute to the ancient tradition of lacemaking.
Many believe that the history of lace can be traced to Egyptian times, but the material was likely first made popular in Europe by Flemish artisans in Bruges and Ghent, Belgium. It is said that Joan of Navarre, the wife of King Philip IV (France), arrived in Bruges in 1300 and was smitten with the intricate designs of local lace merchants’ wares. She soon brought the fashion back to France.
A taste for lace
A must-see in Bruges is the Lace Center, Kantcentrum (Peperstraat 3-A; entrance next to Jerusalem Church), where tourists can attend lacemaking workshops, browse exhibits on the history of lace in Belgium, and then buy souvenir accoutrements – in the form of doilies, handkerchiefs, and even wine cozies – from the gift shop. Keep in mind, the lacemaking demonstrations are in the afternoon only and take place in the on-site ‘open lace atelier’ (sounds fancy!).
A typical take-home item from the museum boutique will run you between €9 and €30. A postcard, depicting the complicated craft, or a lace design or pattern, is €1.50. Objects from local and family-run lace boutiques will run you about the same amount as in the Lace Center’s shop, and sometimes much more for larger pieces.
Photo of a lacemaker in Bruges, courtesy of Arnie J
While you’re at it…
Head over to ‘The Face of Lace‘, a comprehensive exhibit of the craft and its long-reaching influence, at various exhibits held at five museums in Bruges. The exposition runs through March 1, 2009. Participating fashion boutiques in the Bruges’ city center also offer displays related to the exhibit. An audio guide, to be used at all museums, is available for €1. You can buy one combo ticket for all five museum exhibit entrances for €15.
And, be sure to check out all the random lacemakers who usually station themselves outside their shops, performing demonstrations, and sometimes even offering a free swag of fabric.
Also, see our list of recommended hotels in Bruges, Belgium.