You maybe feel the cold weather is starting to bite in Brussels. But don’t start to despair if you are missing the sun. The dark days of November are the perfect time to start exploring warm indoor spots around town like natives do every year.
The November List: Seven things to do this month
DISCOVER A SECRET CABARET
The city is dotted with dark, secret café-theatres that aren’t too well known. But the organisation Bruxelles sur scenes aims to raise their profile this month by offering a special pass. It costs just 20 euro to spend an evening at 15 different venues across the city. They include the charming L’Os à Moelle basement cabaret theatre in Schaerbeek and the irresistible little Jardin de ma Soeur in the old heart of Saint Catherine. You can also catch a classical concert in the former studio of artist Marcel Hastir in the European Quarter or squeeze inside the tiny La Soupape theatre near Place Flagey. The programme includes jazz, comedy, harp concerts, poetry and authentic Berlin cabaret. But you have to book in advance for each venue because they are all small spaces.
EXPLORE HIDDEN TRAIN STATIONS
Most people have no idea that Brussels has a network of more than 20 small suburban railway stations. They can be used to nip across town in just a few minutes to places not covered by the metro network. The local trains run to places like Tour et Taxis and Vivier d’Oie in the heart of Uccle. They also take you out beyond the city limits to halts like Groenendaal deep in the forest.
VISIT AN ART NOUVEAU HOUSE
Inside Max Hallet Mansion designed by Victor Horta on Avenue Louise
About 500 Art Nouveau houses are still standing in Brussels, but most of them are private homes you can’t see inside. The cultural organisation Explore.Brussels has managed to persuade owners of five of the most beautiful Art Nouveau mansions to open their doors to visitors on a few days every year. It means you can finally step inside the Max Hallet Mansion on Avenue Louise, where the owner will be there to take visitors on a one-hour personal tour of his house that goes from the basement all the way to the attic. Other tours are organised in the Solvay Mansion on Avenue Louise and the Autrique House in Schaerbeek. It is a unique opportunity to find out what it is like to live in a Horta house. But it’s important to book early.
MEET THE DARDENNES
The Dardenne brothers
The Dardenne brothers have done more than anyone to raise the reputation of Belgian cinema. Born in industrial Seraing, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have won several big awards for gritty films that look at struggling lives in the Wallonia rust belt. As their latest film, The Unknown Girl, arrives on screens, Flagey is putting on a retrospective focusing on the Dardennes’ early films. It introduces audiences to some rarely-seen early films as well as the much-praised Rosetta.
PLAN A WINTER WEEKEND
The old centre of Brussels becomes magical in December when a sound and light show is staged on Grand’Place, skaters head to the ice rink at Place de la Monnaie, and the streets around the St Catherine church are filled with more than 200 market stalls. Hotel rates in Brussels are not too pricey over the weekend, so you might persuade friends to join you in Brussels for a few winter days. Even if the Christmas market gets too crowded, you can lead them on a forest walk or show off the view of Brussels from the top of the Music Instrument Museum.
Until 31 December, www.plaisirsdhiver.be
DRINK A LOCAL BEER IN THE BEST BAR IN TOWN
Ten years have passed since the artists’ bar La Fleur en Papier Doré was saved from bankruptcy. The new owners set out to renovate the old building while keeping its authentic spirit. They must have done something right because readers of the Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad have voted it “best bar in Brussels” for the second year running. Crammed with wooden furniture and old framed paintings, it’s a fantastic place to squeeze into on a cold November day. Invite a friend to join you for a bowl of soup and an authentic Lambic beer.
Rue des Aléxiens 55, Brussels, www.lafleurenpapierdore.be
FIND THE ULTIMATE STOEMP
You can’t call yourself a Brussels native until you have eaten a helping of hearty winter stoemp, the local dish made with creamy mashed potato and carrots or leeks. But where do you go to find the best stoemp in town? You might try Les Brassins in Ixelles, a friendly spot popular with students where the kitchen offers stoemp du jour served with sausages. Or you could squeeze into Fin de Siècle down in the centre where the kitchen serves two plump sausages on a mound of stoemp. But maybe your best bet is the Marolles restaurant Au Stekerlapatte hidden at the back of the immense Palais de Justice where you can eat Belgian classics like stoemp in an old Brussels interior with wood tables and mirrors.
By Derek Blyth