FOOD & TRAVEL MAGAZINE, 2006
It might be known for beer, chocolate and bureaucrats, but Brussels is a beautiful
city in its own right, says Léa Teuscher, with grand buildings and great shopping
Why go? Brussels may be the ‘capital of Europe’, full of bureaucrats, bankers and legislators, but it is also a city famed for its peeing boy mascot, surrealist painters and comic book heroes. Fear not, the Bruxellois spend more time discussing chocolate trends around a local beer than arguing about new EU directives. It’s rare to find such an overlooked destination just a couple of hours away from the UK: the multilingual metropolis is a city of the arts with thousands of restaurants, cutting-edge fashion boutiques trendier than in Paris, and an amazing Grand Place equal in beauty to Prague’s.
Travelling time Eurostar will take you to Brussels in two hours and 15 minutes; flying will take about one hour.
What to do Start with the Manneken Pis fountain: the little peeing boy owns hundreds of costumes, and chances are he will sport a nice little hat and jacket when you visit. Continue with the Grand Place, one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, with its
magnificent Gothic Hotel de Ville and the ornate Baroque guildhouses. The surrounding little lanes are all charming, but if it’s art you’re after, head for the Royal Museums of Fine Arts to see works by Pieter Bruegel, Rubens and Magritte. The nearby Parc de Bruxelles is perfect for a break before visiting the Comic Book Centre and tea at the Brasserie Horta. Further afield are the Quartier Léopold and the European institutions, the imposing Central African Royal Museum at the terminus of the picturesque tram 44 route, and the Atomium, a 103-metre high representation of an iron crystal, built for Expo ‘58 and now dedicated to all things Fifties. For shopping, try the arcades of the Galleries Royales, hunt for antiques in Les Sablons, or discover hip Belgian design and fashion around rue Antoine-Dansaert and Place St Géry.
Where to stay Situated near the designer boutiques of Avenue Louise, the Conrad (00 32 2542 4242; conradinternational.com) is everything you expect from a luxury hotel, complete with red carpets, a spa, a beautiful courtyard and extremely comfortable rooms, all hidden behind a magnificent 19th-century façade. Le Dix-Septième
(00 32 2517 1717; ledixseptieme.be) is a discreet and stylish 24-room hotel in the former residence of the Spanish ambassador, while the elegant Stanhope (00 32 2506 9111; stanhope.be), located near the Palais Royal, offers 19th-century British country house style. For nautical kitsch and a game of billiards, try the cosy and friendly Noga
(00 32 2218 6763; nogahotel.com) on St Catherine Street.
Where to eat and drink There are over 3,000 restaurants in Brussels, with chips and waffles at every corner. Start the day with a hearty breakfast at Het Warm Water (hetwarmwater.be) or at Le Pain Quotidien (lepainquotidien.com). For lunch, enjoy panoramic views of old Brussels at the amazing Art Nouveau rooftop terrace café of the Musical Instruments Museum, or sample Belgian delicacies at one of the city’s oldest estaminets, the charming 18th-century In’t Spinnekopke (spinnekopke.be). On the rue des Bouchers, famous for its concentration of restaurants, Aux Armes de Bruxelles (armesdebruxelles.be) is the best place for fish and seafood, and a perfect spot to taste moules-frites (mussels and chips). Ultime Hallucinatie boasts surreal Art Nouveau décor; you’ll need to book well in advance at Comme Chez Soi (commechezsoi.be), run by celebrated chef Pierre Wynants; or try the inventive and stylish Bonsoir Clara. For bars, head to Le 19eme in the Hotel Métropole for a Belle Époque drink; try the surrealist hang-out La Fleur en Papier Doré; or visit the cavernous A La Mort Subite for a real Brussels experience.
Time running out? Stop at Pierre Marcolini on the Place du Grand Sablon for haute-couture chocolates – try the tea-flavoured ones.
Trip tip Fans of jazz should visit the city in May, when more than 350 musicians gather to perform in Brussels’ clubs, bars and open spaces (brusselsjazzmarathon.be).
Did you know… There are about 600 different Belgian beers, each with its own bottle and glass shaped to match the beer’s character. A less well-known Belgian speciality is chicory, discovered by accident in the 1840s at the city’s botanical gardens.