A trip to Belgium means plenty of waffles and chocolates on offer which is bound to keep the kids happy on the drive to Bruges, which in itself is a picturesque journey. Myself and my two young children – Martha, three, and Seth, two – retraced the tyre tracks of a 1970s Ford special delivery, and found a sweet side to Bruges.
In 1970, the manufacturers of the Ford Cortina decided to commemorate the millionth sale of that family car of the 1960s and 1970s by airlifting it from east London to its new owner on the other side of the Channel.
Ford made that delivery by helicopter and to Ostend, but I’ve been to Ostend and I don’t want to go back; so Martha, Seth and I are recreating it in the new Kuga – Ford’s family car of 2013 – and heading to Bruges.
Once we roll off the ferry at Dunkirk (about a three hour ferry trip), I let the SatNav guide us to nearby Bruges and soon I am driving alongside canals and through medieval alleyways.
Perceptions of what makes a good family vehicle have changed a lot since the 1970s. The Kuga feels as though it’s been designed by NASA.
The two computer screens on the dashboard relay all the information a driver could possibly need, and lots of things they don’t.
Put the car into reverse and it activates a camera that lets you drive backwards without even having to turn around in your seat.
Bruges is undeniably beautiful. But, looking at it through children’s eyes, it’s thrilling. There are chocolate shops everywhere; each with windows piled with ornate edible creations. Horses pull traps along the cobbled streets, past fairytale buildings and stalls selling freshly made waffles.
The next day, after breakfasting on croque monsieurs, we head back into the city. Martha and Seth are overjoyed to run around freely in a relatively car-free environment, and dart into courtyards and cobbled sidestreets.
Also spend time walking through the ancient residential districts around the cathedral, and hire a babysitter so you can spend an evening working your way through the menus of artisan beers in Bruges’ atmospheric inns.
For the kids, there’s one promise I’ve got to fulfil before we climb back into our Kuga. ‘Come on then,’ I say to the kids. ‘Let’s go and get some waffles.’
How to get there: DFDS Seaways (0871 574 7235) sails several times a day from Dover to Dunkirk, from £58 return for a family of four travelling in a car.
Bruges is a around an hour’s drive to the east. Take the E40 over the Belgian border and follow the signs. You’ll need SatNav (or a very good map) to negotiate the labyrinthine streets of Bruges’ old town.
Travel time: The drive from London to Dover takes around 90 minutes; it’s 3 hours on the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk; and an hour from Dunkirk to Bruges.
Where to stay: Our hotel, Die Swaene (+32 50 342798), is situated right on a canal, and the large room in which we’re staying looks down on the water; the children gaze down at boats gliding by in the twilight. The room is magnificent: the ceiling soars above us, and the wallpaper and the tapestry curtains suggest the chamber of a wealthy Flemish merchant. Superior rooms with two extra child beds cost from €265 per night, excluding breakfast.