BRUSSELS: Let’s forget Paris. Turn on your mind to cobbled streets, civilised café culture, its relentless multiculturalism and its elegant women. With friendly waiters and a thrilling alternative to Paris. I like to recommend a place designed for a weekend-break – a place liberally covered in croissant and graffiti, but where the croissant is better and the graffiti more arty. Welcome to Brussels!
In Brussels you get the feeling of being in Europe – and in the capital of Europe. Here is the headquarter of the European Union (EU), NATO and several international organizations, making Brussels a city with global citizen. Add beer in countless varieties, fantastic chocolate, oil paintings and EU-bureaucrats. When the weekend approach, the bureaucrats leaving the town making a large drop at the best hotels. In many ways this is Little-Paris, with French as a workable language. And you get more for your money compared to Paris.
Check in. L’Art de la Fugue is a romantic hotel filled with antique, art and treasures from markets. Double from 96 euro. If you want a higher standard, Hotel Amigo is an alternative, located just behind the City Hall. Beyonce lives here when she is in town.
The Lunch. Let me talk you through a Brussels weekend. First, lunch. For me to prove that Belgian cooking can be as good as French, I need you to have booked a table at Comme chez Soi on Place Rouppe – and do it weeks prior to your visit. Lionel Rigolet has won two Michelin stars for cuisine such as wild duck with Banyuls vinegar and green curry, with violette dauphine fig and fruit chutney. Amazing service and a great view of the unreasonably high amount of work going into each dish.
After lunch either check in for a nap or point your wife or girlfriend in the direction of glamorous shops and point yourself in the direction of a bar. Both are perfectly justifiable ways of getting to know Brussels.
Here to shop. Gabriele, Rue des Chartreux 27. The owner was once a costume designer. Now she has eye for fabrics and cuts from the ‘20s to the ‘80s and this is what makes this vintage emporium the best in town. However, any extravaganza should begin with the chocolate shops on Place du Grand Sablon; Wittamer, established in 1910, is the classic option. The boutiques on Rue Antoine Dansaert will improve the wardrobe nicely, and the print shops on Boulevard Anspach will furnish you with all the Tintin artwork you will never need. Tintin prints are like ouzo and wooden giraffes – great where they are, not so great in your home.
Here to drink. This is a small city and the bars are pretty eclectic. I am not going to name any names because luck is the best strategy on a bar crawl. But don’t walk past Goupil Le Fol on Rue de la Violette 22, touristy but unique. This candlelit den is full of clutter – including a vintage jukebox. Sip homemade fruit liqueurs to a soundtrack of chansons. Or La Fleur en Papier Dorè on Rue des Alexiens, not touristy at all.
Café Belga, Place Eugène Flagey 18, an Art Deco café-bar, is a lovely place for a cold beer and plat du jour, and there is live jazz every other Sundays.
Dinner. The obvious choice for dinner is the family driven Restaurant Vincent, Rue des Dominicains 8, the meat specialist in Brussels. In Paris, you can never be sure that you’re not walking into a gastronomic horror show, here it’s the opposite. Before you leave the Vincent family, don’t forget to taste the chef’s speciality; the Vincent’s crêpe, added pineapples and almonds roasted with orange liquor.
You will be well fed with modern Franco-Belgian at La Maison du Cygne and La Brasserie de L’Ommegang at Grand Place, whether you opt for the brasserie, decorated with Lichtenstein prints, or the upstairs dining room.
Sunday. Mighty Cathedrale de St Michael is an appropriate place to start after breakfast, but Sunday is first and foremost museum’s and market day. It’s a short distance between the markets and they are in all species. Not to forget the food markets with cheese direct from the farm and ham from the Ardennes.
The city’s two big-name art galleries are the Musèe de’Art Ancien and the Musèe de’Art Moderne on Place Royal. Brussels has 100 museums and a visit to the house of René Magritte will give you an insight into a surreal mind.
Conclusion. The Best of Brussels is not the European democracy, but the food, beer and chocolate. If we were in Paris, would we have had this much fun? Probably not. Remember to tell your waiters that “the service is much better than in Paris”. It’s a simple trick that works all the time – and it’s for free.
Click large photos Brussels
Facts Brussels and Belgium
Over 1.000 different beers from 150 breweries on offer, acclaimed for their variety, flavour and character.
Most beers have their own glass in which only that beer may be served.
Produces 220,000 tons of chocolate per year, which is about 22kg of chocolate per Belgian.
Brussels has 138 restaurants per square mile.
Population: Brussels 1, 2 million, Belgium 10, 4 million. 15 percent of Belgium’s population or 1.6 million people are immigrants.
Education is compulsory till 18 years old and this is one of the highest in the world.
It has the highest rate of labour taxes in the European Union at 59.2%. The European average stands at 44.89%.
Brussels sprouts have been grown in Belgium for over 400 years.