After spending some time with three Belgian celebrities, I got insider points of where to go, where to shop and what to eat if all you have is 24 hours in the EU capital.
Elric Petit, Belgium’s acclaimed interior designer, draws much of his inspiration from the original Art Deco interiors of the Royal Library (boulevard de l’Empereur 2) whilst breakfasting on a croissant and coffee.
“From my usual table I look across the city and fall in love with her all over again. Following breakfast I like to browse at Own (Place du Jardin aux Fleurs), a good designer store filled with new names like N.Hoolywood from Japan, Acne and Whyred from Sweden and Belgium’s own Atelier 11. After shopping I’ll reward myself with a good French Bordeaux at a new wine bar in Ixelles – Le Petit Canon (rue Lesbroussart, 100). For a simple, traditional lunch I’ll head to Le Pigeon Noir (tel +32-2-3752374), a soulful Michelin starred restaurant located at the corner of the Rue de la Chenaie and Rue Geleytsbeek. I like spending time at L’Archiduc (Antoine Dansaert, 6), a legendary Art Deco-style bar known for its artists, cocktails and live jazz music. La Paix (Rue Ropsy-Chaudron 49) is a gem of a restaurant attached to a delicatessen. I particularly enjoy selecting choice cuts of meat from their butchery. I take my night-cap at Le Bar du Matin (Chaussee d’Alsemberg, 172), where they have really good music.”
On an ideal day, multi-award-winning fashion designer, Cathy Pill, would start with freshly squeezed orange juice, a croissant and great coffee with some friends on the terrace at Gaudron (Place George Brugmann 3, tel +32-2-3439790).
“Then I would go to the city centre and walk through the beautiful stores on the Rue Antoine Dansaert – fashion slave heaven with designer boutiques crammed into every conceivable space. I would definitely go to Stijl (No. 74) – the mecca of contemporary Belgian haute couture, where I’d look at new collections. I’d also visit Icon (Place du Nouveau Marché aux Grains, 5) to see their new trends. Later, for dinner, I would go to the Le Macon (Rue Joseph Stallaert 87, tel +32-2-346 46 52). It’s roomy, not too pricey, has a great wine cellar and an uncomplicated menu. I’d order the world’s best Belgian fries served in a traditional paper bag with homemade mayonnaise. The end to my perfect day would be found at the Kaai Theatre (Square Sainctelette 20), where I’d see an Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker ballet.”
For Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, the world’s most read French-language author and playwright, the perfect day would begin with a croissant and coffee at one of the many street cafes at Place du Grand Sablon.
“The Sablon is threaded with antique shops, old book stores, art galleries – here I fill the castle I own in the sky with their priceless things. If I’m feeling particularly rakish, I’ll indulge in a chocolate or two. After breakfast, I take my Shiba Inu dogs for a walk in Forêt de Soignes – an immense forest in the centre of Brussels which our former King gave to the city. I keep my dogs on a short leash, as they like the deer and might give chase to the horses that are exercised along the paths. I lunch light at a brasserie like Le Passage, under the domed glass roof of the Galerie de la Reine. Then I’d devote my afternoon to writing and catching up on correspondence. To complete my dream day I’d visit a gallery of fine arts, take in a classical music concert and have a late dinner with friends at Notos (Rue de Livourne, 154, tel +32-2-5132959) – a fine dining experience inspired by Greek gastronomy. I also like to introduce new friends to Ciao, (Rue Joseph Stevens 28, tel +32-2-5130323) – an intimate Italian restaurant, close to Sablon, filled mostly with locals. The Bocconi in the grand Amigo Hotel (Rue de l’Amigo, 1 tel +32-2-5474715) is where I like taking my favourite Parisian actresses for dinner. I’ve found many of the characters in my books at such locations – join me sometime, and who knows, you may spot them too.”