I was in Belgium not too long ago, and was lucky to get a few days off from the hustle and bustle in Brussels to explore the sights and sounds of Bruges. One of the most tranquil places that I have possibly ever experienced, in all my travels, was the ‘Begijnhof De Wijngaard‘, a ten minute walk from the Town Square. The Begijnhof, known as ‘Beguinage’ in English, is one of those that are on the UNESCO World Heritage list of preserved sites (this link sheds more light on why Beguinages were selected).
The complex that constitutes the Begijnhof De Wijngaard includes a church and thirty whitewashed houses from the late 16th, 17th and 18th centuries . These houses are built around a central courtyard, which was covered in white and yellow daffodils when I visited. The main access to the Beguinage is via a stone bridge over a placid canal through which flocks of swans glide serenely.
Walking through the grounds of the Beguinage, I was struck by a sense of peacefulness and calm that descended upon me. I entered the church, and sat there alone, surrounded by an indescribable peacefulness. A while later, one of the Benedictine sisters who still practice their monastic lifestyle within the Beguinage, happened upon me. Even though she only spoke Flemish (a language in which I have yet to master a few basic words), between us, I managed to sign-language my thoughts about the beauty and tranquility of the Beguinage and convey my thanks for the unforgettable little interlude in my walk around the city. Although I also visited three Beguinages as part of my walking tour of Ghent (Our Lady Ter Hoyen, old Saint-Elisabeth (now know as the Holy Corner) and the new Saint Elisabeth), the Begijnhof De Wijngaard in Bruges still stands out as my favourite.
I would highly recommend a visit to this timeless and well preserved haven off the beaten track of Bruges’ touristy cobblestoned roads.
Saneeya Qureshi © 2015