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 November issue.
PARC JOSAPHAT MINI GOLF
The most beautiful mini golf course in Belgium is squeezed into a narrow strip of land next to Parc Josaphat. The course was designed by Belgian landscape architect René Péchère in between commissions for grand formal gardens. Péchère approached the task with a certain intellectual rigour and visited mini golf courses around the country before developing his design. The end result is a beautiful landscaped course next to a little café. Open Wednesdays and weekends.
The modernist architect Victor Bourgeois built this white building in 1928 as a house and studio for the expressionist sculptor Oscar Jespers. The striking curved front sparked off a furious reaction in this quiet bourgeois neighbourhood, but it soon became a meeting place for Europe’s avant-garde artists such as Kandinsky and Klee. Jespers worked in the studio until his death in 1970, producing bold modern works such as the Four Seasons frieze on the CGER building opposite the Radisson SAS hotel. The house is now occasionally open to the public, so you can finally see inside this stunning architectural space.
Here is an inspiring shop in the heart of the Marolles where you can find fun gifts to take back home for friends. It’s run by Pauline Rauzy who posted a video on social media charting her search for the perfect Brussels location. Having found the place of her dreams, she has turned it into a quirky store filled with bright red tin toy cars, cool postcards and limited edition Japanese art books.
This magical spot in the centre of town has the atmosphere of a fairground. You squeeze down a narrow corridor lined with oddities to reach a tiny bar lit with strings of coloured lights. Over in a corner, there’s a photo booth and next to it a gypsy caravan. Madame M attracts a young crowd who go there to drink cocktails, smoke in a chilly fumoir, dance to loud music and soak up the cool atmosphere.
Most people in Brussels have never set foot inside this secret urban park. It lies hidden behind a neoclassical mansion in Schaerbeek. Built in 1826 by a wealthy cloth merchant, the ancient crumbling mansion is now occasionally used for art exhibitions, while the garden at the back is dotted with old trees, benches and statues. But the most striking detail is the Brussels estaminet (bistro) in the former saddler’s building which has a wood-panelled interior rescued from a demolished restaurant. Open for lunch from Monday to Friday.
Chaussée de Haecht 147, Schaerbeek
One of the most exciting spots to eat in town, La Buvette occupies a former butcher’s shop with a striking Art Deco interior. The ground floor still has the original polished wood, tiled walls and sharp steel meat hooks. The two upstairs rooms are not as interesting, but then it’s the food that matters. The menu is limited to two choices – L (large, six courses) or XL (eight courses). The young French chef Nicolas Scheidt has two signature dishes that he always makes, including a delicious chocolate tart. The rest is up to his imagination. It all adds up to a unique experience.
The city’s largest cemetery is a romantic spot to go on a winter afternoon. Located in Evere commune, a 30-minute bus ride from the centre, it is landscaped with broad tree-lined avenues. Here you find the graves of burgomasters and generals, many of them familiar from Brussels street names. There are also several memorials to soldiers who died in various conflicts, including an impressive British monument commemorating officers killed in the Battle of Waterloo.
Avenue du Cimetière de Bruxelles, Evere
BAR DU MATIN
Frédéric Nicolay created this cool urban bar in his signature austere style. It immediately transformed a scruffy urban patch into a cool neighbourhood. Furnished with hard wooden chairs and big glass windows, the bar is relaxed during the day, while drawing late-night crowds on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays with a programme of jazz and DJ sets.
Monghton Tangton still stands behind the counter in the lunchtime sandwich bar he opened in 2001. Located in a former Ixelles grocery store, he kept the original wooden shelves but added vintage furniture. The sandwiches here are made with gently toasted ciabatta bread which is spread with home-made guacamole, basil leaves and prawns or Parma ham.
Rue Keyenveld 56, Ixelles 02 513 71 84
Look carefully next time you are in the Cinquantenaire Park. You might spot a wooden tree house on one of the paths. It was put up by the Brussels environment agency as part of a new plan to make the city’s parks more friendly. There’s another cabin located in a quiet spot in the forest, not far from the Boitsfort Hippodrome. Fun for kids.