Belgium’s book town

A 6km cycle ride from Bruges is Damme, Belgium’s ‘book town’. Visit on a Sunday and you’re treated to the weekly book fair in the market place, where we accumulated a couple of old guide books, a paperback of US sea shanties and a Johnny Weissmuller/Tarzan film poster. The Weissmuller purchase, really, was an act of mercy, it being incongruously sandwiched between 30 or so other ‘movie’ posters of a less wholesome Nazi porno bent.

Visit any other day of the week and there is still plenty of interest in the bookshops radiating from the square. Whether or not they’ll be open, another matter. However, should luck be with you make sure your first port of call is Oorlog & Vrede. Despite sounding like a slick ad agency, the reality is a pleasing jumble of books, comics, old postcards and maps purporting to be “the loneliest bookshop in town”. It’s spread over a series of rooms along two sides of a large courtyard, and the secondhand fare includes a good selection of English-language literature.

But the real joy of visiting Damme (we’ve been three times and counting) is the getting there. The River Reie, which once linked the town to Bruges, has now been canalised and pedalling along the tree-lined towpath is a dead-straight, dead-flat exercise-phobe’s dream. It’s all windmills and water meadows by way of scenery, and then a gargantuan croque-madame in the pretty tearoom by the bridge when you arrive.