Travel

By Alexandra Taylor

For the more city bound travelers, Brussels, Belgium can give you a bit of the old world charm of Bruges with all the amenities of a thriving city atmosphere. From culturally rich museums, monuments, churches, and a royal palace, to streets lined with lovely cafes and luxury shopping galleries, Brussels has the right mix of past and present to keep you entertained and indulging your senses. Brussels is the new capital of the European Union, the largest urban city in Belgium, and is inhabited by both Dutch and French speaking residents. Don’t hesitate to practice either language or English, as they are welcoming of all.

You can easily reach Brussels from many of the other main cities of Belgium including Bruges, Antwerp, or Ghent by train; only one-hour trains ride from the city of Bruges. As well if traveling from Paris or Amsterdam use Thalys.com, to easily book your train trip. Once arriving in Brussels, you will notice that it is indeed a diverse international metropolis, with hidden gems waiting to be found. The appearance can be deceiving, as the city’s most valued attractions are scattered throughout and are not centralized like most preserved European city centers. Brussels has a lot to see and can be easily navigated on foot or by metro if you choose. While the city may be thriving in international affairs and housing a diverse population, it still holds a sense of nationality without a stream of commercialized, global entities such as a Starbucks around every corner (which is now difficult to avoid in globalized cities).

One of the city’s core attractions is the main square of the Grand Place. Gilded Gabled townhouses line the surrounding square trimmed with decadent sculptures and reliefs. The town hall, Hotel de Ville – a structure from the 15th century – stands tall as the central point of interest in the square. Grab a drink or a bite to eat at one of the many cafes lining the Grand Place.

Next you should head over to Brussels’ famous covered shopping gallery, Galleries St-Hubert. With a beautiful vaulted glass roof and decadent storefronts, you could spend hours roaming the little shops, spending a pretty penny on designer goods, sipping lattes at quaint outdoor sitting cafes (still covered) while keeping warm. For a little chocolate fix and quick quiz on the history of chocolate in Europe, make your way to Musee du Cacao et du Chocolat, with demonstrations and delicious samples.

For a great place to stay near the central Brussels attractions, including a short walking distance to Grand Place, reserve a night or two at the Dominican Brussels. The Dominican Brussels, located behind the theatre La Monnaie, is stylish, modernly designed and chic providing a comforting stay with beautiful rooms and luxurious amenities. Stay in a deluxe room overlooking a green grass second floor courtyard, with contemporary designs, comfortable bedding, and a tranquil setting. The Dominican creates the allure of leisure and comfort; flooded with light from the floor to ceiling windows, the first floor lounges and reception area are quite inviting.

Escape the busy city streets and relax in the Grand Lounge or in the first floor courtyard with lush blankets and outdoor heaters to keep you cozy. The rooms and suites surround the courtyard, creating a lovely central point that is tranquil and inviting. You can also enjoy a workout at the hotel’s gym, then a peaceful moment in the Turkish steam bath or Finnish sauna to unwind. Don’t miss the grand buffet breakfast, with a medley of choices from hot meals to a variety of fresh pastries, fruits, juices, and an assortment of a la carte dishes.

The Dominican Brussels: 
Rue Léopold 9
1000 Brussels

Tel +32 (0)2 203 08 08. http://www.carlton.nl/dominican/

After your stay at the Dominican, explore the other sights of Brussels. Head over to the museum quarters and check out the Musee des Instruments de Musique, housed in the great Art Nouveau Old England building, which was once a department store. If you’re more into reveling in the city’s grand collection of fine arts, take a trip over to the Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts, including both ancient and modern art; it is the country’s most noted art museum.

Within a few minutes you can find yourself at the Palais Royal, the “official residence” of the Belgian royal family. The grand palace is surrounded by gilded gates and grand statues and is parallel to the Parc de Bruxelles Warrande, a great fixture in the city, which offers a bit of nature to the flourishing metropolis. Stroll along the tree-lined paths and take in the gardens and the majestic fountains.

You can continue back through Brussels center by walking to the Place du Grand Sablon, perfect for shopping for antiques and satisfying your Belgian chocolate craving at one of the two prominent chocolate makers of Brussels, Pierre Marcolini or Wittamer.

To end your trip with a nice and intriguing stay, reserve a beautifully designed room at the newly popular boutique house Chambres en Ville. A hotel a courant or en mode, Chambres en Ville has been catching the attention of many travelers headed to Brussels looking beyond the normal hotel stay and desiring a nouveau appeal to their accommodations.

This expansive four-story home from the 15th century once was home to a horse house and fabric workshop. Conserving much of the original construction, the chic guesthouse is a beautiful setting for a truly European weekend. Each of the four rooms are large scale with double beds, large floor to ceiling windows opening up to the courtyards below, antique furniture, and beautifully ornamented accents including original paintings form the owner a well known artist in Brussels. Chambres en Ville goes beyond a typical bed and breakfast, offering its guest a truly tranquil and desired experience. My room, La Vie d’Artiste, with a beautifully natural palette, delightfully awed me with fresh roses, and similarly thoughtful detail in every inch of the décor. Each room is configured with a large bathroom, tiled caved showers, a large bathtub, and unique furniture and décor (including a spacious wooden desk and ornate chandeliers). The dining room and kitchen are open throughout the day, with breakfast served on your time and made as you wish. There is also an option for an extended stay for 15 days to a month in the studio called “La Grande Mansarde” with a balcony. Chambres en Ville is a must stay on your next travel holiday to Brussels – or if you plan to spend a longer period of time here, it could make a great short-term apartment.

Chambres en Ville: Rue de Londres 19 1050 Ixelles
Tel: 0032(0)2.512.92.90. http://www.chambresenville.be

Originally published November 2010
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