Hidden Belgium: One of the world's oldest cafés

Hidden Belgium: One of the world's oldest cafés
Credit: Café Vlissinghe

It’s the oldest café in Bruges. One of the oldest in the world. Opened in 1515, it has survived wars, revolutions, and hordes of British tourists. And now it has come back from the dead following a global pandemic.

You find it down a quiet side street in the Sint-Anna district of Bruges. Squeeze through a narrow passage and up a few worn stone steps. You enter an ancient Flemish café that looks as if it has hardly changed in 500 years. But the true story is a bit more complicated.

Like many buildings in Bruges, Café Vlissinghe is a fake. Maybe not as fake as Disneyland Paris, but not as authentic as it looks. The building began as an inn with a large garden at the back where horses were put out to graze. But the interior was largely reshaped in the 19th-century when it was acquired by the local brewer Leon De Meulemeester. He renovated the dilapidated interior in Flemish Renaissance style, installed antique furniture and decorated the walls with portraits of solemn locals.

The guidebooks often mention an old Renaissance chair in the corner where the painter Anthony Van Dyck liked to sit. It was also Pieter Paul Rubens’ favourite perch, the story goes. But it seems more likely that the owner invented the story for the benefit of gullible English tourists who poured into Bruges, the Venice of the North, in the late 19th century.

It might not be as old as it looks, but Café Vlissinghe is still a charming old Flemish café. The perfect spot to drink a Brugse Zot beer.

Derek Blyth's hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.

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