intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
There was once a low-lying land that was so swampy, so regularly invaded by spring tides, that to render it viable, it had to be contained within high-walled dykes and dried out by means of drains and canals. This region reclaimed from the sea, now green and fertile, is known as the polders. It is here, near the famous Zuiddijk, that the ancient, but still working De Stamper farm proudly lies. A valuable address for lovers of rural life in an age gone by, its guest rooms, restored in the old manner, are steeped in the inimitable essence of the Bruges countryside and the unique atmosphere of Damme, its outer harbour.
The French mansard roofing of De Stamper is quite unusual in Flanders © Hofstede De Stamper
A large entrance gate with two solid pillars and curved wings inscribed with Hofstede De Stamper announces the De Stamper farmstead.
A paved drive, flanked by orchards and lined with willows, leads to this large 18th-century farmstead. © De Stamper
In summer, a flourishing wisteria serves as a parasol for guests sitting outside on the terrace. © De Stamper
Two buildings face each other. The main house, on one side, is built above a vaulted cellar. The projectinge roof on the south side of the building rests on carved oak consoles that are home to dozens of swallows’ nests. Its fresh, white paint is a reminder that ancient bricks were less well fired than they are today, and were often coated with lime plaster to protect them from inclement weather.
Opposite the house is a huge barn that has a sculpted medallion fixed to a tie beam, with the inscription “1759”. Both buildings have mansard roofing, which allowed better use of the attics. Don’t hesitate to open the door and you will be met by a sea of faces belonging to a hundred “Blondes d’Aquitaine” – solid confirmation, if you needed to be convinced, that this charming bed and breakfast is also a working historic farm.
A small distance away from the house is the bakehouse. Fully restored and in working order, it is surrounded by peaceful meadows, grazing sheep, pollarded willows, and quiet.
The name “De Stamper” probably derives from “Stampaertshoucke”, a small fief with farms and a castle that belonged to the feudal lords of Moerkerke, near Bruges, and which was first mentioned in 1292. The farmers cultivated the estate on the landlord’s behalf and gave him a share of the crops, a practice which continued for generations. In the 16th century, when the stretch of water that linked Bruges to the sea, began progressively to silt up, it fell to Damme to handle the merchant ships that came from all over Europe, and the farm flourished during this commercial upsurge.
The oldest buildings that still stood at that time were built on 16th-century foundations; traces of which can be seen on the famous map by Jan Blaeus (1739).
At the end of the 18th century, a noble French family, who had fled the revolution, settled in the region and acquired a large estate with many smallholdings, which included Hofstede de Stamper. The buildings were then renovated with a mansard roofing, following French architectural fashion. The farm passed afterwards into the hands of the Van Hamme de Stampaertshoeke family, and after on to the present family who have farmed the land for the last four generations.
Unostentatious materials and the warm tonalities of another era. © De Stamper
The family of your host, Marc Nyssen, has lived there for over a century. Marc will welcome you to an estate that he has known and loved since childhood. His parents worked there all their lives and he took over from them. Apart from breeding Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle, Marc and several friends restored the entire estate bit by bit, and always with ‘authenticity’ as their watchword. No concessions were made to modernity if it were to be done at the expense of the authentic. Even the kitchen furniture was carved from old doors or planks that were found on the premises.
Scents of cream, wheat, smoked ham and fruits… © De Stamper
This stunning guest house and table d’hôte, where Marc Nyssen and his companion Judig Van der Helden welcome their visitors, is vibrant with stories from the past. The couple offer simple, spacious and authentic rooms with floors of old tiles or old oak planks. The kitchen floor is tiled with blue Tournai limestone. Marc and Judig’s mouth-watering meals are mostly made from their farm’s produce. Breughel would feel perfectly at home here!
© De Stamper
The coat of arms in front of the hôtel de ville in Damme showing a greyhound as a reminder of the legend. © Daniel Nugent
Whether on foot or bicycle, your outing will take you to the small town of Damme – home to the impudent Till Eulenspiegel – which in the Middle Ages had a population of ten thousand inhabitants against less than a thousand today. The name Damme – from Hondsdamme (estuary dyke) – was first documented in about 1180.
The Flemish word “hond” also means dog, which led popular superstition to create the legend of the dog that was tossed alive into the dyke to plug up a breach in the wall. Hence the greyhound in the town’s coat of arms.
From the outset, Damme established itself as Bruges’ outer harbour. It had a monoply on the importation of Bordeaux wine and herrings from Sweden. Very like a miniature Bruges, Damme has been dubbed de Sterre (the Star) because its present form still adheres closely to the starred design of scarps and counterscarps of the 17th-century fortifications, which are now given over to vegetation and planted with poplars. An educational path that runs through a natural park populated by sheep will transport you back in time to the 16th and 17th centuries.
The town hall, the St Jean hospital, and the Church of Notre Dame (in yellow) have withstood the passage of time. Detail from the “Town Atlas of the Netherlands”, by the cartographer, Frederick de Wit (1698).
The points of the star can still be seen from various places within the confines of the town – at the herring market (Haringmarkt) and near the casemate, and the entire fortification outline from the top of the Church of Notre Dame tower.
The St Jean hospital and its charming little museum in the shadow of the Church of Notre Dame. The town hall can be seen in the distance. © Anne-Lise Heinrichs
Damme should be visited on foot. The 13th century, Scheldt Gothic Church of our Lady is a visual record of the town’s history. Immense in the 13th and 14th centuries – when Damme was at the height of its fame and prosperity – the church was only partly reconstructed after the pillaging during the wars of religion, and further decline caused by the silting up of the Zwin river, the estuary that gave access to the sea.
The partially reconstructed nave in the Church of our Lady bears witness to the region’s turbulent history. © Marc Ryckaert
Opposite the town hall – a Gothic treasure trove with its stones of justice and where Charles the Bold married Margaret of York (1468) – you can also admire the “St Jean” house and the “Huyse De Grote Sterre” (Great Star House).
Enthusiasts of military remains, will enjoy walking around the fortifications and the casemates where they will discover the old Lieve canal lock chamber in Tournai stone.
A Breughel-like scene on the Bruges canal at Sluis. © Fdecomite
The city of Bruges is at one end of the canal, so why not enjoy a trip and the leisurely pace of an old paddle steamer, as you glide past the Farm of St Christopher and the old windmill. You can also take a trip in the other direction and cycle alongside the canal to the little fortified town of Sluis (The Sluice), in the Netherlands (10 km). Or another cycle ride will take you to the villages of Oostkerke (“Verbrand Fort/Burnt Fort” nature reserve) and Koolkerke (“Fort van Beieren/fortress of Bavaria”), a verdant haven of secrets to be discovered for those for who take the time to stop and stare.
Go on – give yourself a treat!
Notre passage dans cette ferme toujours en activité nous a fait vivre au rythme de la nature. Après notre promenade à bicyclette à Bruges, cette belle bâtisse entourée de prairies verdoyantes nous a rappelé les bienfaits de la vie à la campagne. Le soir, pendant que Marc, qui a grandi ici, fait un dernier tour dans la grange pour vérifier si les veaux sont prêts pour la nuit, Judig, la maîtresse de maison, nous accueille à la lueur des bougies, dans la salle à dîner. Un délicieux repas, aux saveurs locales et préparé avec les produits de la ferme, nous attend dans ce lieu si paisible. Quel bonheur !
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Hofstede De Stamper
Marc Nyssen and Judig Van der Helden
T +32 50 500 197
M +32 475 589 960
Website of the guest house
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