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Snail’s Pace

Slowing Down in Brussels
  • Villa Empain

    Villa Empain (Photo: © Georges De Kinder)

  • Sofitel Brussels Le Louise

    Sofitel Brussels Le Louise

  • Sofitel Brussels Le Louise

    Sofitel Brussels Le Louise

  • Grand-Place de Bruxelles

    Grand Place de Bruxelles

  • Hôtel Amigo

    Hôtel Amigo

  • Vintage Hôtel Brussels

    Vintage Hôtel Brussels

  • Vintage Hôtel Brussels

    Vintage Hôtel Brussels

  • Restaurant Neptune

    Restaurant Neptune (Photos: © Camille Grandaty)

  • Restaurant La Buvette

    Restaurant La Buvette (Photos: © La Buvette)

  • Odette en Ville

    Odette en Ville

CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

The Belgian capital is just northwest of the country’s center, a hundred miles or so inland from the English Channel and at about the same latitude as London.

WHY GO

For business, quite possibly, especially if your business is in government. But beyond being the seat of the European Union, Brussels is home to a rich (and quirky) arts scene, a world of designer shops and second-hand markets, and of course some great food and barley-based drink — plus a population that knows how to enjoy it all.

HOW

Brussels Airport receives regular direct flights from most major airports within range of a tank of jet fuel. London, Paris and Amsterdam are all within two hours by high-speed train.

TABLET TIP

Do your souvenir shopping at one of the antique- or flea-markets. Belgians’ penchant for quirky esoterica makes picking through the goods a rewarding pastime, and good deals are plentiful.

Brussels, May, 2013

Here’s something you won’t likely find in Brussels: a food truck. In the Belgian capital, the street food of choice is a plate of caricoles, or sea snails, and it’s not complete without a little white wine to wash it down. It’s a local specialty that gives new meaning to the term “slow food,” proof that the city knows how to savor life’s smaller pleasures — no fancy setting required. It can take some getting used to, this dilly-dallying, stop-and-smell-the-snails approach to urban life, but once you’ve made the adjustment, you’ll never want to return to the rat race.

Watching the Dry Paint
Museums, as we all know, are the slow walker’s natural habitat, all the more so on Brussels’s Mont des Arts. Saunter over to the Magritte Museum, leaving time to sift through goods like pipe-plates and suspended bowler hat lamps at the gift shop. Just down the way, Bozar hosts an eclectic lineup of artist retrospectives, musical performances and theater productions, plus David Martin’s excellent brasserie. In the afternoon, take some time to nurse a drink beside the striking copper vats at the bar of the Wiels Contemporary Art Center, housed in a monumental 1930s industrial building, or lounge by the shaded pool of Villa Empain, where eastern and western art share space in a gorgeous Art Deco house.

After gazing at so much art, it’s an easy transition to the Sofitel Le Louise, a bold hotel with a purple escalator, Bruges lace wallpaper, enormous chandeliers and surrealist pillowcases. If that sounds a bit too frenzied, there’s always the historic Hôtel Amigo in the Grand Place district, refurbished by the Rocco Forte group and a popular choice amongst collectors during the Brussels Art Fair.

Slow Your Brol
Picking through the bric-à-brac for bargains is a Brussels shopper’s specialty, and it all starts with a visit to the antique dealers of the Sablon, where the stalls are overflowing with everything from Delft earthenware to traditional speculoos baking tins. After the obligatory chocolate stop at Pierre Marcolini, head to the Jeu de Balle flea market to pore over comic books, mini models of Brussels’s famous Atomium monument and retro toys. Here, more than anywhere in the city, it’s back to the Sixties, especially in the warren-like Haute and Blaes Streets, where furniture and design objects from around Europe are piled high at places like Passage 125, d+ and Hautes Antiques.

Take the money you saved on your discounted Joe Colombo lamp and head to Easy Tempo Pizzeria, a favorite amongst the sellers, before resting up at Vintage Hôtel. Its kinetic wallpapers and Jacques Tati–style décor are the work of its bargain-hunting owners, eager to share their best finds with guests.

A Properly Paced Meal
For all the traditional little cafés and historic tea houses to hang out in, the meals most worth lingering over are found at Brussels’s newer-vintage restaurants. Two of the best — Nicolas Darnauguilhem’s Neptune and Nicholas Scheidt’s Buvette, the latter set inside a converted Art Nouveau butcher’s shop — come from Frenchmen who fled the high-pitched Parisian food scene for something a little more low-key.

To escape urban life altogether, locals head to Bois de la Cambre, where a ferry ride takes you to the heavenly Chalet Robinson. It’s the perfect spot for a cocktail or a Belgian waffle, and just steps away from the iconic Odette en Ville. The pocket-sized boutique’s eight elegant rooms and Marcel Wanders furniture are a delight, but it’s on the terrace where time really seems to slow down — a good thing, as you’ll want to stick around as long as possible.

Marie-Odile Briet

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CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

The Belgian capital is just northwest of the country’s center, a hundred miles or so inland from the English Channel and at about the same latitude as London.

WHY GO

For business, quite possibly, especially if your business is in government. But beyond being the seat of the European Union, Brussels is home to a rich (and quirky) arts scene, a world of designer shops and second-hand markets, and of course some great food and barley-based drink — plus a population that knows how to enjoy it all.

HOW

Brussels Airport receives regular direct flights from most major airports within range of a tank of jet fuel. London, Paris and Amsterdam are all within two hours by high-speed train.

TABLET TIP

Do your souvenir shopping at one of the antique- or flea-markets. Belgians’ penchant for quirky esoterica makes picking through the goods a rewarding pastime, and good deals are plentiful.


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