Derek Blyth is the former editor of The Bulletin and 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 summer issue.
The mediaeval Rue d’Isabelle used to run from Place Royale to the Cathedral. It was destroyed in the early 20th century, but one short stretch of cobbled lane survives below Place Royale. It now forms part of the Coundenberg underground museum. Look out for events held here this summer as part of the Carolus V festival.
Place Royale, Central Brussels
PARC PIERRE PAULUS
This hidden park on a steep site in Saint Gilles is one of the most romantic green spots in Brussels. Originally a private garden, it belonged to a large town house built in 1905. The garden was landscaped in the early 20th century in an English romantic style that included waterfalls, mock Classical ruins and a little bridge. The garden is a bit overgrown and forgotten, but that might just be part of the charm.
Rue de Parme 69, Saint-Gilles
ATELIER EN VILLE
After launching in a former factory in the Marolles, Atelier en Ville has expanded to Ixelles. The new venue is located in a corner building in the quiet Rue de Livourne. The raw interior is furnished with long wooden tables, low sofas and portraits on wood. The kitchen does brunch and lunch dishes including salads, soups and bagels. It’s still not too busy and makes a perfect spot to begin a Sunday morning stroll around Ixelles’ Art Nouveau neighbourhood.
Rue de Livourne 51, Ixelles
It’s not easy to find quiet running routes in the city, but there are fantastic trails through the forest. Take bus 72 to the ADEPS sports centre in Auderghem and you can be running on forest trails within a few minutes. There are three marked trails for runners covering 5km, 10km and 20km. The 20km route, marked with red arrows, takes you through quiet areas of forest where you can concentrate on your technique without worrying about traffic.
Chaussee de Wavre 2057, Auderghem
This old café has retained the relaxed charm of old Brussels even if the neighbourhood is now very hip. The interior is decorated with metal beer signs, round mirrors and an old telephone booth. Here is a place where locals come to play cards or to hang out on the terrace on a Saturday afternoon drinking a glass of hoppy Papegaei beer from Diksmuide.
Rue de Flandre 108, Central Brussels
+32 (0)2 512 13 82
This alternative photography bookshop opened in 2013 in a quiet corner of Saint Gilles. The young owner took over an old bookshop from 1925 to display an eclectic range of original photo books by small presses along with some self-published books. He also organises book launches and photo exhibitions.
Rue Hôtel des Monnaies 186, Saint Gilles
+32 (0)478 95 68 41, www.tipi-bookshop.be
BLUE ON YELLOW
Most people seem to think of Brussels as a grey and ugly city. But they maybe need to look again, because the city has changed. You see this as you walk down the steep street leading from the Sablon to Grand’Place. Here the French conceptual artist Daniel Buren has brought some bright colour to a drab corner of the city with an urban forest of 89 flagpoles flying distinctive blue and yellow striped flags.
Place de la Justice, Central Brussels
MAISON DE VERRE
The Maison de Verre in Ixelles doesn’t attract attention, but it is an exception example of the modernist style that emerged in Europe in the 1930s. Designed by the young architect Paul-Amaury Michel in 1935, it was originally the architect’s private home. Inspired by Le Corbusier and the Rietveld-Schroder House in Utrecht, it reflects the idea of a house as a “machine for living”.
Rue Jules Lejeune 69, Ixelles
LA GUINGUETTE DU PARC DE FOREST
As summer arrives in the city, pop up bars are opening all over town. The latest spot to spend a summer afternoon outdoors is located in the romantic Parc de Forest. The old pavilion was taken over last summer by two young women who have created a relaxed atmosphere with furniture made from recycled pallets. You can eat vegetarian food and drink a local beer from the Brasserie de la Senne. Open every day except Monday from midday until late.
Avenue des Villas 80, Forest
+32 (0)475 50 67 41, www.laguinguetteduparc.be
No one tells you about the abandoned open-air theatre hidden in a corner of the Brussels park. Modelled on a quaint 17th century building in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in London, it was originally a fashionable ballroom and café. The building was abandoned for many years, but a four-year renovation has restored it to its original state. Now Brussels commune is looking for ideas on how to use this amazing space.
Parc de Bruxelles, Central Brussels