Poster in Rue Chaufferette in Brussels gay quarter promoting tolerance
my secret Valentine Day :: the 10 most romantic places
HOW TO CELEBRATE VALENTINE’S DAY IN BRUSSELS
It may not be known as a city of love, but Brussels has a secret romantic side if you know where to look. Here is My Secret Brussels’ personal selection of romantic places to buy flowers or chocolates or dinner for two on 14 February. Plus one song to add to your playlist if it all goes wrong.
1. A VISIT TO THE WIERTZ MUSEUM
A French travel magazine once listed the Wiertz Museum as one of the most beautiful muséums in the world. It's also one of the most annoying museums in the world. It is closed at weekends and also over lunch. So if you are a working person then your chances of entering the building are virtually nil.
But there is one way it can be done. The museum will open at weekends for groups of more than 15 people. So here is the plan. You simply have to let me know if you would like to visit the museum and I will hold onto your details. Once 15 strangers have signed up for a tour, the visit can be booked.
2. METROPOLE BAR
The Metropole bar on Place de Brouckère is once again one of the most stylish spots in town. Many famous people have sat in the glittering 19th century interior surrounded by marble, gilt and mirrors. It closed down a year ago for renovation work, but it reopened at the end of last month looking refreshed and a little more welcoming. Here is the perfect place to sit with a coffee on a Saturday afternoon among elderly ladies with little dogs and actors from the downtown theatres.
3. FREDERIC BLONDEEL
Frederic Blondeel’s chocolate shop and tea room is located in the heart of the fishmarket district. It’s a secret romantic place to sit on a cold February afternoon with a pot of tea and a little bowl of handmade chocolates flavoured with ginger or basil.
Quai aux Briques 24
Tel 02 502 21 31
The cool young people who live in the Dansaert district pick up gorgeous bouquets at this corner shop. Stop by for a bright bunch of yellow tulips or a beautiful orchid in a pale blue pot.
Rue Dansaert 127
+32 (0)2 503 40 45
5. ÉPAULÉ JETÉ
This bright modern café opened in 2013 in a former Art Deco restaurant on Place Flagey. Created by the people who run the downtown bar Bonnefooi, it has kept the lovely, slightly louche interior from the days where elderly couples came here for moules-frites and a Jupiler, The mezzanine floor with window tables looking down on the square is one of the most romantic spots in town. You can also do your washing here, although possibly not the thing to do on a first date.
6. JOUR DE FETE
Virginie Monu has brought a fabulous party mood to a neglected part of town with her quirky new lunch restaurant. Decorated in vintage Fifties style with multicoloured walls, formica furniture and potted plants, Jour de Fête is a fun place to have lunch with a friend. Best to book a table soon because it is likely to fill up quickly on 14 February.
Boulevard Anspach 181
+32 (0)2 512 38 00
7. HANNON MANSION
For a romantic afternoon stroll, take a look around the beautiful Art Nouveau houses in Ixelles and Saint Gilles. The Horta Museum in St Gilles can get crowded, but the striking Art Nouveau corner house built by Jules Brunfaut in 1902 for the engineer Eduard Hannon is overlooked. The interior includes a wistful smoking room with a large bay window and a beautiful fin-de-siècle fresco on the staircase. The Contretype gallery has interesting photo exhibitions in some of the rooms.
Avenue de la Jonction 1
Tel 02 538 42 20
8. THE RIDE LIFE
Follow the cool urban cyclists at ridelife.be who post a monthly online video report describing a bike adventure in Brussels. They take you on quiet cycle trails to unexpected spots around the city and stop off at friendly bars and restaurants along the way. What could be more romantic?
9. BRONTE SOCIETY
Pick up Charlotte Bronte’s Brussels novel Villette for a romantic read on 14 February. Or join the Brussels Bronte Society to immerse yourself in the literary atmosphere of 19th century Brussels. On 15 February, the Dutch writer and Bronte expert Eric Ruijssenaars is presenting a virtual walk around the demolished Brussels boarding school where Charlotte Bronte enrolled in 1842.
So it hasn’t worked out as you hoped. Too bad, but that’s the way it goes. The Belgian-Rwandan singer Stromae expressed the feeling in a hypnotic dance single called Formidable released last year after he broke up with his girlfriend. Watch the YouTube video clip filmed as he stumbled around apparently drunk one rainy May morning at 8.30 at the Louise tram stop in Brussels.
My secret vote: local elections
Here in Brussels, Belgians have just gone to the polling stations to vote for new city councillors. The campaigns have been interesting to follow, with virtually every candidate promising an almost identical list of policies. They all promise us cleaner streets, safer neighbourhoods, better schools. And we, the voters, know that things will go on much the same as always once the new councillors are comfortably installed in the town halls.
The reality of life in Brussels is seen in the Rue de la Paix, where road works have dragged on interminably, destroying the livability of one of the neighourhood's most appealing streets. We have watched in dismay as the construction workers have turned a lively urban street into a scarred landscape of earth mounds, trenches and fallen signs.
Some shopkeepers have simply pulled down the shutters in despair. But there is also a fighting spirit in Brussels which means that some people find creative ways to fight back. The fashion designer Nina Meert has created a window display that takes its inspiration from the road works. So the mannequins stand in the window surrounded by planners' drawings, battered road signs and concrete drain pipes, a subtle way of mocking the administrative incompetence that is such a depressing feature of Brussels civic life.
Waiting in line in the cold school hall to cast my vote, I noticed a large Tintin mural on the wall above the polling booths. A plaque nearby explained that Hergé, the famous Belgian cartoonist, has attended this school from 1913 to 1919, while the Germany army occupied the city. It made the voting experience somehow richer.
My secret rooftop: Institute Saint Louis
Here is one of the most striking views in Brussels seen from the roof terrace of the St Louis University. I like the contrast of old and new, and the way the sloping line of the shiny glass office building to the left is almost a continuation of the roofline of the grey Brussels town house.
Photographs: Marie-France Plissart
My secret hotel: Le Berger
Oh, la la! An old Ixelles hotel where couples once rented rooms
by the hour has been tastefully renovated.
My secret secondhand shop: Les Enfants d'Edouard
Les Enfants d'Edouard has been selling women's designer clothes at sharply reduced prices in this grand town house for the past 40 years. The men's shop, a little less grand, is next door.
Avenue Louise 175 and 177
The 500 hidden
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"this little gem is an instant Brussels bestseller"
Bruxelles surprises: 500 coups de coeur
New French edition by Editions Mardaga out on 25 September
"the descriptions are short and snappy and give you just enough information to tease you into discovering them for yourself"
Julian Hale, The Brussels Tribune
'Really love your book. I always knew Brussels was a great city and no way boring. We enjoyed our stay in Sweet which your book rightly recommends. Sofie the owner was sweet."
My secret walks:
photo Klaus Ken Shipley
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