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HOT TIPS ON WHAT TO DO AT THE WEEKEND
My secret event: The Charlotte Brontë no one knows
So 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. He will speak at the next meeting organised by the Brussels branch of the Brontë Society.
SATURDAY 15 FEBRUARY 2014 AT 14.00
The free talk takes place at the Saint-Louis university building opposite the botanical gardens. Anyone can attend, but registration is required.
No. 495 in The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels
My secret street: Rue du Marché au Charbon
The Rue du Marché au Charbon, or Coal Market, is one of
the most captivating steets in downtown Brussels. It runs
from Grand'Place to Boulevard Anspach, meandering through a
cool downtown district with cafés, design shops, bars
vintage stores. Stop for a beer on the terrace of Au Soleil
or continue to Place Fontainas to sample one of the 38 beers
on tap at Moeder Lambic.
Along the way, you will pass some of the city's cartoon
murals, as well as some cool street art, like La Nuit Dort
My secret Sunday walk: 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.
My secret arcade: Galerie Bortier
Here is a forgotten arcade from the nineteenth century
that few people ever visit. It is a dusty, melancholy
place with little shops occupied by booksellers and art
galleries. It needs something more to bring it back to life,
like a cool fashion shop or a stylish cafe. Or maybe it
should just be left untouched, as a quiet place for
browsing in racks of old French paperbacks.
My secret thermes: 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 I know.
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 impresszive 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.
The rules are fairly relaxed. You need to show an identity card on arrival and respect the clothing regulations. The staff are friendly and speak several languages, which is an advantage since the local Dutch dialect is close to impossible to understand.
A day ticket costs €25.
My 4 secret
01 Beursschouwburg »
opens its rooftop terrace (above) for a few weeks every summer. Here it hosts free concerts, film screenings and cool partiies. One of the best-kept secrets of Brussels, it lasts just a few short weeks, and only if the weather allows. Take the lift to the fifth floor.
Rooftop bar opens Weds to Sat from 17.00.
Rue A. Orts 20
02 National Library »
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
Mont des Arts
03 Cercle des Voyageurs »
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
Rue des Grands Carmes 18
04 L'Orangerie du
Parc d'Egmont »
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
Open daily 10.30 to 16.30
out of town ::
My 5 best
01 Forêt de Soignes »
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.
02 De Panne »
The Belgian coast is quiet in winter. From De Panne, you can set off on a brisk walk along the shore, stopping off for a coffee along the way. The coast tram will take you to the nearest railway station.
03 Bruges canals »
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.
04 Gendron »
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.
05 Redu »
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.
"I was touched by the city that you showed us. I have lived here for a year and I have always felt that there is more to Brussels than I could describe, show or touch. Even though I have read hundreds of books about Brussels. I loved the gorgeous photo exhibition, and the abandoned old fountain lined with rubbish made me cry. Brussels is a magnificent old city, but it's a pity it's not visble on a daily basis. Like the narrow street near the Rue de Flandres that isn't even on Google maps. Every citizen should be obliged to try to see Brussels through your eyes."
book a city walk here