I was in London this weekend visiting friends who used to live in Brussels (hence no post yesterday). We were reminiscing about old times together and some of our favorite (and not so favorite ) things about the Belgian capital. Hearing fond memories from others is always a good reminder about what I sometimes take for granted in the city I call home. Even if these places aren’t new to me or you, I agree with my friends that these are some of the best of Brussels.
First up - a stroll around the Sablon and Marolles area. In particular, my friends like walking through the lovely Square du Petit Sablon. This small garden, situated next to the more prominent Grand Sablon, was designed by the nineteenth century architect Henri Beyaert. The site, originally a sandy hill (sablon means fine sand) and then a cemetery, now houses several statues of sixteenth century politicians, scholars and artists among the formal flower beds. The square is also surrounded by a series of bronze statues representing 48 ancient professions and tradesman.
Little known fact: knock on the door of the garden shed hidden on the right hand side and ask the caretaker for a brochure (available in several languages) which describes all the statues and history of the square.
Continuing on their walking tour, a must stop for my friends is Pierre Marcolini. Located at the bottom of the Grand Sablon square, this beautiful shop is a shrine to chocolate. The whole place screams decadence and artistry, with its sleek décor and elegantly displayed pralines. Be sure to go upstairs where there is always a special display for the season and to explore the different chocolate products.
Marcolini is on the high-end of the price range, but one of their mixed boxes makes a nice gift. You can also create your own mix or just buy a couple of pieces to enjoy while walking around the area. The flavors are diverse and come from around the world – Peru, Cuba, Iran, Brazil, etc. I’m not personally a fan of some of the more exotic flavors (does anyone really like the Earl Grey in a chocolate?), but I have to admit this is some of the best Belgian chocolate. To quote my friend, “Where else can you have a chocolate with flecks of gold on top?”
Poechenellekelder is the final stop for my friends and a must for any visitor or resident in Brussels. This beer heaven is located across from Manneken Pis, right in the middle of the tourist district. Some might see this as a drawback, but the bar has managed to maintain its Belgian quirkiness and is still frequented by locals.
What my friends enjoy most about this place is the service (yes you heard me correctly, service in Brussels). The waiters are happy to spend time describing the many different beers on offer and will help recommend something based on your personal tastes – it’s almost like having your own beer guide. The décor is a bit odd with marionettes hanging everywhere in the dark, cramped space. Now is a good time to go as they have a wide selection of special Christmas beers to try.
It was great to spend a couple of days in London, which is such a vibrant, colorful city. However, I have to admit it’s nice to come back to a slightly calmer life in Brussels and with a renewed appreciation for all the good things this city has to offer.
Images via Planet Ware, Shopplr, Trabel and Wikimedia.