Bruges Christmas market under threat from city's climate friendly push

The annual ice sculpture festival in Bruges. 
The annual ice sculpture festival in Bruges  Credit: Getty Images

The organisers of Bruges' iconic Christmas market and ice-sculpture festival have reacted furiously after city authorities announced radical changes to make the tourist attraction more environmentally friendly. 

The medieval city has cancelled the ice sculpture festival, a fixture for the last 18 years, amid fears that its cooling systems consumed too much energy. 

The ice rink, which is usually given pride of place in the Flemish city’s Unesco World Heritage square, will be moved elsewhere and replaced with a plastic rink, under the plans. 

Rather than in the heart of the marketplace, dominated by the famous Belfry tower, the plastic rink, which uses less energy, will be put on a pontoon on the Minnewater, Bruges' “lake of love”.

Traditional Christmas lights have been spared the chop. 

Organisers of the Christmas market and ice-sculpture festival, which happen at the same time, were outraged. 

Alexander Deman, the organiser of the ice-sculpture festival, told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper he “fell off his chair” when he heard the news.

Bruges is a popular tourist attraction Credit:  Jac Depczyk/Getty Images

“The 40 artists are fixed, the ice cream has been ordered and I have an agreement with Disney on the theme: Frozen 2,” said Mr Deman, who said the arrangement meant the film would have premiered in Bruges.

“Now, suddenly, a few months in advance, we have to look feverishly for another location,” he said, “And that after we have meant so much to tourism for years. I am very disappointed in this city government.”

Mr Deman said that the ice-sculpture festival was the most visited event in Belgium last year, attracting up to 200,000 visitors. He said that, thanks to solar panels and modern technology, the energy bill was just £7,100 for two months.

“Financially this means a disaster," said chairman of Brugs Handelscentrum Piet Vanderyse. He said their backs were “up against the wall”.

He said, “Last year, we retained €100,000 in profits from the ice rink, which attracted more than 20,000 skaters. The entire functioning of our commercial area is based on that. What other concept will attract the same number of people and create the same ambiance?”

“There is no better place to take a selfie than on the ice rink with the Belfry in the background. Would a couple from Paraguay go to Minnewater especially for a photo on a plastic ice rink? I doubt it,” he added.

Bruges mayor Dirk De fauw said that it was important to spread the winter events out from the historic city centre.

Mr De fauw recently warned against the "disneyfication" of Bruges and unveiled plans to curb the number of daytrippers and cruise ship tourists.