Where to Stay
Just next to the Grand Place, one of the prettiest squares in Europe, the Hotel Amigo hosts dignitaries and stars who appreciate Rocco Forte’s fine service. Luxurious guest rooms are designed with local touches (think Tintin comic pictures and a nod to Surrealist René Magritte). There’s a well-equipped fitness center, an award-winning Italian restaurant, and the Bar Amigo, a well-known gathering place in Brussels.
The Dominican Hotel makes for a stylish stay in the heart of old Brussels. Its architecture and décor is inspired by its setting on the site of a 15th-century Dominican abbey. Behind the original façade, the hotel’s contemporary interiors allude to the building’s past life: soaring ceilings, cloisters, archways, and wall-length windows. The 150 rooms come with free Wi-Fi and Nespresso machines. Reserve the split-level Jacques-Louis David Suite, and you’ll be bunking down where the famous French artist lived in the 19th century. A knock-out breakfast is served in the Grand Lounge, a lofty space filled with light.
Didn’t get enough java at your hotel’s breakfast buffet? Take a seat at one of the “sidewalk” cafés in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert and order a café crème before the crowds arrive. Rain or shine, the covered shopping arcade is a sublime spot, surrounded by luxury boutiques, for a cup of coffee. (The original Neuhaus chocolate shop is located here.) King Leopold inaugurated the Galeries in 1847, a contemporary to Europe’s other famous 19th-century arcades in Paris, London and Milan. With cast-iron columns and a glass-paneled roof, the Galeries is a vestige of industrial-age splendor.
Stroll up to the Place Royale to the Magritte Museum that opened in 2009 to much fanfare. The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium renovated one of its buildings, powering it with green electricity and transforming it into a cutting-edge temple to Magritte, the world’s most celebrated surrealist and Belgium’s native son. Follow a chronological journey through some 200 works by Magritte, including oil paintings, advertising posters and films.
Tip: Pick up the Brussels Card for city exploration (valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours) and you’ll get free admission to 30-plus museums and free use of public transportation.
Famished for lunch? Stave off your hunger with a sugary pick-me-up at Laurent Gerbaud’s chocolate shop. After all, Belgium is the world’s chocolate capital, and its citizens consume an average of six kilograms of chocolate per person per year. Even the pickiest of chocoholics will be drooling over Gerbaud’s artisanal creations, using only the finest, fair-trade cacao mixed with exotic fruits and spices.
|Hotel Amigo’s Rene Magritte Suite is the presidential suite at the hotel, measuring 1,200 square feet in size.|
Head to the trendy Châtelain neighborhood for lunch at La Quincaillerie, a lively brasserie housed in a former ironmonger’s shop complete with brass fixtures and an enormous rail-station clock. There’s a fabulous oyster bar, and the menu has seafood specialties and gourmet classics like honey-glazed duck. Priced at $18.40, the business lunch is a great value; choose an appetizer or dessert plus a main course.
You don’t have to be a comic book addict to appreciate Brussels’ Belgian Comic Strip Center. Sure, it’s fun to follow the adventures of Belgium’s beloved comic-strip hero, Tintin, with Snowy, the dog. (Steven Spielberg’s Tintin film—hitting the big screen just in time for the holidays—is getting lots of hype.) But the building alone is worth a trip—a masterpiece in glass and steel by architect Horta who championed the Art Nouveau style at the turn of the 20th century.
Wander back to Brussels’ historic center to take a gander at the magnificent Grand Place, a UNESCO-listed treasure that’s the city’s most popular tourist attraction. If you’ve timed your trip right, you can see the entire square covered in a carpet of flowers (for three days in August, even years only). Dating back to the 12th century, this central square is lined with ancient guildhalls, each built by its own merchant guild (such as the bakers, the butchers and the cabinetmakers). The brewer’s guildhouse—embellished with a gold horse statue and hops plants carved into columns—now houses a brewer’s museum (www.beerparadise.be).
|Comic Strip Museum building is a masterpiece in glass and steel by Victor Horta.|
Santé! For the aperitif hour, forego wine for one of Belgium’s famous beers. The country has a rich brewing tradition with hundreds of diverse varieties, each served in its own unique glass (or chalice) to maximize flavor. Beer aficionados may gravitate toward the brews made by the Trappist monks. Our favorite is Duvel (“devil”), a pale ale with a formidable alcohol content (8.5 percent) and champagne-like bubbles.
The Belga Queen attracts a fashionable and fun crowd for food fit for a queen (and king). The restaurant occupies a landmark 18th-century building with a stained-glass ceiling and a Cigar Lounge Bar in the former bank vault. The cuisine highlights the best of Belgium; even the Arabica coffee beans are roasted locally.
It may be hard to tear yourself away from your plush hotel room, but a splendid day in Bruges awaits. The “Venice of the North” is just an hour from Brussels by car or train. Its entire historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.