MY SECRET PLACES


My forgotten museum

Plaster cast workshop

Hardly anyone in Brussels knows about the plaster cast workshop in the Cinquantenaire Park. Not even Belgians who have lived here all their lives. Yet this secret museum and workshop gives visitors a unique glimpse behind the scenes of an almost forgotten craft.


But first of all you have to find the entrance, which is hidden behind a car park at the back of Autoworld. Visitors enter through a vast hall filled with plaster cast statues of Greek mythological heroes. The building seems at first to be deserted. The floor is covered with dead leaves blown in from the park.


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My secret gallery

Patinoire Royale

Gallery curator Valérie Bach has transformed a 19th century skating rink – the Patinoire Royale – into a striking contemporary art gallery. The impressive industrial building – once used as a garage selling luxury cars like Bugattis and Packards – reopened earlier this year as a home for art exhibitions. It’s worth taking a look inside if you are in the neighbourhood.


Rue Veydt 15

St Gilles

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My secret filmhouse

Cinematek

One of the most important film museums in the world is hidden down an alley behind Bozar


The film museum is one of those secret Brussels places that no one tells you about. Founded back in 1938, it has gradually built up an exceptional archive collection of 75,000 movies, making it the third largest collection in the world.


The collection has steadily grown since the 1970s because a copy of every film screened in Belgium has to be deposited in the archive after it has finished its run. Among the hidden treasures are artists’ films by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, as well as the only surviving copies of no less than 100 American silent movies.


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My secret novelist

Charlotte Bronte in Brussels

Where, exactly, did Charlotte Brontë stay during her time in Brussels. The Pensionnat Heger was torn down many years ago, but Dutch historian Eric Ruijssenaars has researched in the Brussels city archives to find out everything he can about the lost Isabelle quarter where Charlotte lived for two years. 


Ruijssenaars has already published two essential books on the Brontës in Brussels. He now plans to a 'virtual guided tour' of the quarter using his extensive archive of maps and photographs.


thebrusselsbrontegroup.org

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My secret weekend

Abbaye de la Cambre

The perfect Sunday walk in Brussels begins at Place Flagey, and follows the Ixelles ponds as far as the Abbaye  de la Cambre. Here you can wander among the formal  gardens and fountains, before heading back to Place Flagey for a coffee in Café Belga.

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My secret sauna

Boetfort

It can only be a few hundred metres from the main runway at Brussels Airport, but Boetfort is one of the most peaceful places around Brussels.


After skirting the airport perimeter, you turn into a car park and see in front of you an old Flemish castle with round turrets and an impressive gatehouse. Behind those ancient walls is a modern thermal centre with saunas, swimming pools, jacuzzis and relaxation areas.


The first thing you need to decide is whether you are going to use the naked area or the clothed area (swim suits for women, skimpy trunks for men, but not swimming shorts. It's of course up to you. But naked is the correct way to do it if you want to follow the Finns.


You don't even have to be naked all the time in the naked area. Most people walk around in a towel and strip off for the saunas or the pool. You can still be quite modest, and the advantage of the naked area is that it includes the garden and some of the most interesting saunas. But it is really up to you.


The complex incorporates several of the castle's former outbuildings. The steam room is located in an old wine cellar, and one sauna is located in the former stable block. Another is buried below ground in an old ice cellar, while the almost unbearably hot Russian sauna is in an underground mine. 

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My 3 secret

Cafe terraces

National Library

Rooftop terrace

Here is one of the most secret gardens in the city. Hidden away on the roof of the National Library is a rooftop garden (above), 

where an organic gardener cultivates herbs and lavender, and keeps some urban bees. The herbs are used by the kitchen staff.


Open Mon to Fri from 09.00 to 15.30. Closed at weekends


No. 247 in The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels

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Cercle des Voyageurs

Downtown Brussels

The Cercle des Voyageurs somehow feels like a private club. Maybe that's deliberate. It lies just a few dozen steps from the Manneken Pis, so could easily be mobbed with tourists. It remains a calm spot for a coffee, with a few wooden tables out on the street surrounded by greenery.


No. 136 in The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels

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L'Orangerie du Parc d'Egmont

Louise Quarter

Here is a secret spot hidden behind the fashion shops on Boulevard du Waterloo. You go down an ancient cobbled lane and enter a small urban park with a whitewashed building. Once an orangerie, this is now a café-restaurant with tables shaded by old trees. The perfect place to meet a friend on a Saturday afternoon.


No. 144 in The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels

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My 5 secret

Winter walks

Gendron

A walk along the Lesse

Set the satellite navigation for Gendron village and park in front of the station. You can take a walk along the banks of the River Lesse, then end up in the friendly Auberge de la Lesse, next to Gendron station, for a beer or lunch.

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Redu

A walk from the book village

Redu is a friendly village in the Ardennes filled with secondhand bookshops. Many of the dealers don't open in winter, but the restaurants are still open. So you can count on a decent lunch at the end of a walk along the River Lesse. Pick up a hiking map in the tourist office opposite the church.

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Forêt de Soignes

The Brussels woods

Take the metro to Herrmann-Debroux and head out of town. You soon arrive at the Abbaye du Rouge-Cloître on the edge of the forest. Several trails lead from here into the woods. Don't forget to take a map. 

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De Haan

The Belgian coast

The Belgian coast is quiet in winter. From De Haan, you can set off on a brisk walk along the shore, or through the pine forest just behind the dunes. You can pick up the coast tram to get you back to your startinbg point. 

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Bruges canals

The romantic city

Bruges is a misty, romantic place in winter. You can wander along ancient waterways without passing a soup, then dive into a cafe for a Belgian beer.

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