This 13th-century béguinage is a pretty and serene cluster of small whitewashed houses, a pigeon tower, and a church surrounding a pleasant green at the edge of a canal. The Begijnhof was founded in 1245 by Margaret, Countess of Constantinople, to bring together the Beguines—girls and widows from all social backgrounds who devoted themselves to charitable work but who were not bound by religious vows. Led by a superintendent known as the Grand Mistress, the congregation flourished for 600 years. The last of the Beguines died about 50 years ago; today the site is occupied by the Benedictine nuns, who still wear the Beguine habit. You may join them, discreetly, for vespers in their small church of St. Elizabeth. Although most of the present-day houses are from the 16th and 17th centuries, they have maintained the architectural style of the houses that preceded them. One house (No.1) has been set aside as a small museum. Visitors are asked to respect the order's vow of silence. The horse-and-carriage rides around the town have a 10-minute stop outside the béguinage—long enough for a quick look round.
Oude Begijnhof, off Wijngaardstraat, Brugge, B8000, Belgium