A day trip to Damme
If I had to pick a favorite day out of the seven we spent in Belgium, I would probably pick the day we visited Damme. Damme is a tiny medieval (13th century) town near the medieval city of Bruges and a few miles from the Belgian coast. If you're staying in Bruges, Damme is a great place for a day (or half-day) trip; it's also a great place to stay if you plan to visit Bruges but want somewhere a bit more quiet (and inexpensive) to come "home" to at the end of your day!
Damme is so near Bruges -- just 4 miles -- that many tourists like to rent a bike in Bruges and cycle there. The path is straight and flat, following the canal that connects the city of Bruges to the city of Zeebrugge. We opted for the lazier way to get to Damme: the paddle steamer Lamme Goedzak, which makes the trip between Bruges and Damme several times a day. The ride takes just 30 minutes, and the water is smooth as glass, so even the queasiest sailor (me) has nothing to worry about.
While on board the Lamme Goedzak, you're treated to picturesque views of the Flemish countryside, wherever you turn: green fields, fat cows, bubbling brooks, and water so smooth and calm, it reflects the scenery like glass. Just before the boat docks at Damme, you'll see one of the prettiest sights on the trip: the Schellemolen, or windmill. Damme's windmill is open to the public, but unfortunately it was closed the day we visited, so we could only admire it from afar.
For its size (you could probably walk around the city center in 10 minutes), Damme has a surprising number of historical monuments: the gothic town hall, Saint John's Hospital, the Church of Our Lady, Saint Christoper's Farm. Damme is also known for its bookstores and gourmet cafes.
My favorite monument was the Church of Our Lady, or Onze Lieve Vrouw. It's one of the largest buildings in Damme, and certainly the tallest. The tower is open to visitors, but the steps are steep and parts of it are extremely rickety. As you make your way up to the top, the wooden beams and cobwebs in the bell tower definitely make the place seem ancient, and anyone with an overactive imagination might very well be able t picture Quasimodo skulking in the shadows!
The views from the top make the climb well worth it. Unlike most church towers in the area, this one is flat, like a turret, so when you get to the top, you emerge into the sunlight and get to see spectacular scenery on all 4 sides. You can see all of Dammes and the surrounding countryside. Amazing!
Great views, sunshine, a belly full of delicious Belgian cheese and pastries.... it doesn't get any better than this.