For quaint beauty and village-like atmospheres with the vibrancy of much larger cities, the Belgian towns of Ghent and Bruges really take the proverbial cake. In this case, the proverbial cake is a waffle.
Ghent is so charming that I’ve visited it twice since I’ve lived in Europe (because I am a sucker for charm). The impetus for both visits was an Ultimate Frisbee tournament for Mr. Dame in Spain. Which means both times I spent my days strolling along canals, drinking beer the likes of which Spain doesn’t even come close to offering, and eating more than my share of waffles and fries with mayo (which, in my opinion is the premier dipping sauce for fried potatoes). Bonus for me: Ghent calls itself the vegetarian capital of Europe. (If you’re planning a visit: I’d recommend Avalon for healthy, hearty fare overlooking the gloomy Gravensteen castle; and Naturell for artful food in a clean, airy setting).
On this most recent trip we also spent one night in Bruges, a town that is the answer to the question “Is there anything more charming than Ghent?” Post-card perfect, century-old townhouses, an abundance of swans, dozens of chocolate shops, each cuter than the next. And, as we learned in an interactive Medieval museum, in the Middle Ages, Bruges was a vital trade port and if a label said “Made in Bruges,” it was synonymous with luxury. Now, Bruges is pretty much synonymous with a line in the assassin movie In Bruges “It’s a fairytale fucking town, isn’t it?”