Most people say Bruges has been destroyed by tourism. Derek Blyth doesn’t agree. “You just need to know where to go – and where to avoid,” he says. When asked by Antwerp-based publisher Luster to write a guide to the 500 Hidden Secrets of Bruges, he initially wondered if he would be able to find one hidden secret, never mind 500. With nine million tourists visiting this small town each year, you might think that every little secret had been uncovered.
But Blyth quickly realised that most tourists head to the wrong places. “Almost everyone piles into the same five or six overcrowded areas,” he says. “That’s where you find all the chocolate shops and lace stores. Meanwhile, the rest of the city is almost untouched.”
For the past 27 years, Blyth has been exploring Belgium in search of the hidden and quirky places. As well as writing countless travel articles, he has published several books about the country, including The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels and Hidden Belgium.
His new book The 500 Hidden Secrets of Bruges follows the same approach as the first guide in the series, The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels. The author digs out 5 places to find new architecture, 5 of the most beautiful shop interiors, the 5 best summer bars, and so on, until he has come up with a final list of 500 unusual and undiscovered places.
Unlike many guides, The 500 Hidden Secrets of Bruges takes the readers out of town in search of unexpected places, like the romantic city cemetery that no one visits, the beautiful Tillegem woods and the beach towns just 15 minutes from Bruges.
Blyth says he wrote the book mainly for expats living in Belgium and tourists who want to go a bit deeper into Bruges. But the guide has also attracted the attention of locals. “As someone born and bred in Bruges, I thought I would know all the places in the book, but I was wrong,” one resident wrote.
“I hope this book will persuade people to go off the beaten track and discover the real Bruges,” he says. “They might be surprised at what they find.”
The 500 Hidden Secrets of Bruges is on sale at Waterstones in Brussels and bookshops and concept stores across Belgium, price €15,95.
The Brussels Times