Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels. He picks out ten of his favourite hidden secrets in every issue for The Brussels Times Magazine. These are the picks in the latest June issue.
Not many people know about the Parc Tournay-Solvay on the southern edge of the city. Just seven minutes by train from Schuman or Luxembourg station, the park occupies the grounds of a country estate where the industrialist Ernest Solvay built a mansion in 1878. The turreted house is now a charred ruin overlooking a lake, like something in a horror movie, but the beautiful grounds are carefully maintained by the region. They include a rose garden, a sunken lane and a secret walled orchard.
Boitsfort Gare station, Chaussée de la Hulpe
ISAAC CORDAL STREET ART
Isaac Cordal is a Spanish street artist who places tiny human figures in unexpected urban locations. He often works in Brussels, although his miniature cement figures are almost impossible to spot. Now you can track them down using a new app. It guides you to 12 figures in central Brussels, including a tiny man poised on a ledge next to Delirium, a naked man perched on a lamp post in a downtown alley and another man in a suit standing on an electricity cable in the heart of the old town. It makes a fun way to explore downtown Brussels, especially if you have small children to entertain.
LA SARDINE DU MARSEILLAIS
This tiny place near the Jeu de Balle flea market is run by a friendly young team who prepare fabulous sandwiches filled with fresh Provençal ingredients. They offer ten or so different sandwiches, but the one to try is the Lou Bagnat – a soft bagnat roll filled with tuna, anchovies, egg, onions, tomatoes and black olives. No seats, but you can eat your sandwich at the little Provençal bar La Marseillais on the corner, as long as you order a drink.
Rue Blaes 159, Marolles
+32 (0)483 55 10 34
An inspiring pop up store in the European Quarter where young entrepreneurs can try out new concepts for a three-month season. Launched by Etterbeek council a few years back, the store near Place Jourdan has hosted a steady stream of young people with fresh retail ideas. Several entrepreneurs have gone on to open their own store, including plant store Urban Gardener in Ixelles and lighting shop Ben Artside in Saint-Gilles.
Chaussée de Wavre 331, Etterbeek
Pauline Rauzy arrived from France in 2015 looking for the perfect spot to open a gift shop selling postcards and gifts. She finally found the place of her dreams in the lovely cobbled Rue des Renards. Now she has moved, but just a few doors down in the same street. The new store has a lot more space for her to sell quirky postcards, vintage lamps, toy cars and Japanese art books.
Rue des Renards 28, Marolles
+32 (0)2 502 88 61
The French street artist Jef Aérosol has been creating stencil graffiti since the 1980s. His work regularly crops up in the back streets of Brussels, including the wall of the record store Arlequin at Rue du Chêne 7. His most recent Brussels project covers an entire wall in a Marolles alley. Titled De la musique avant toute chose, it features a parade of musicians and birds, along with his trademark red arrows.
Rue de l’Eventail, Marolles
It’s a bit of a squeeze inside this tiny coffee bar near Place Saint Géry. The interior has a cool retro look, a little Italian perhaps, with a coloured tiled floor, red Formica tables and plants hanging from the ceiling. The women behind the bar make coffees on a vintage Faema coffee machine inherited from the previous owner. They also sell a selection of local beers by small breweries including a house beer called Illegal.
Rue des Riches Claires 5, Central Brussels
+32 (0)473 76 73 45
JOSE RISAL PLAQUE
You could easily miss it. A plaque on a small house in central Brussels commemorates the Philippines’ national hero José Risal, who lived here in 1890 while working on his second political novel El Filibusterismo. He enjoyed the summer mood in Brussels and fell in love with his landlady’s niece Susanne. The following year he moved to Ghent, where his novel was published. It helped to inspire the Philippine uprising against Spanish rule, during which Risal was executed.
Rue Philippe de Champagne 38, Central Brussels
BAO BANG BANG
The interior looks like a Nordic coffee shop with pale wood tables and hanging plants, but Bao Bang Bang’s kitchen specialises in the steamed white buns from Taiwan known as bao. You can order a couple of these filled with crispy pork or lacquered duck, along with a salad and a beer, and the bill for two will barely hit €40. It’s an inspiring spot for a quick bite though you might need to reserve a table.
Rue de l’Aqueduc 155, Ixelles
+32 (0)2 538 85 58, www.baobangbang.be
Founded by two young architects and an interior designer, this unconventional design store is located in a beautiful town house near the Ixelles ponds. It is filled with a mix of furniture by emerging Belgian designers, established Nordic brands like Marimekko and Hay, and rare vintage finds. The team recently opened a second, more spacious, showroom at Rue des Chartreux 19. Worth a visit if you are hunting for a hip design object.
Rue de l’Aurore 62, Ixelles
+32 (0)2 646 16 10, www.diito.be
By Derek Blyth