TOAST Magazine

Breathing Brussels | A City Guide

TRAVEL & PLACE

TOAST is now being stocked by the beautiful concept store Graphie Sud, situated in Brussels. To celebrate this, we asked travel bloggers Babette Debouver and Alberto Gobbato where the best places are to explore...

Proust once said “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” When I returned to my hometown of Brussels recently, I kept this in mind. I had my partner Alberto, a photographer, with me and it was his very first time in the city. Together, we spent the weekend roaming new and familiar streets, parks and galleries, creating our own, unique guide.

VINTAGE MUSING

Every morning at 6am the flea market Place Jeu de Balle wakes up the Marolles district in Brussels-South, gathering vintage vendors and hunters alike. Jewellery, clothes, vinyl, books and furniture abound. You name it, and they will certainly have it.

After eating breakfast in one of the surrounding bars, packed with jovial locals, we sifted through the mountains of ephemera and antiques, seeking some one-off finds. Strolling through the parallel streets, we soon noticed that here were even more beautiful and rarefied antique shops to explore – these kept us enthralled for much of the morning. 

A LITTLE BIT OF PAR(V)IS

Only one step away from the Marolles is the Parvis de Saint-Gilles, the home district of Victor Hortafather of Art Nouveau, whose home and office has been converted into a museumFollowing his footsteps along the cobbled alleyways, we came across many quintessential brasseries and bars, all with a cosy atmosphere and warm communal feeling.

On the corner of the main square we found the prettiest gem of all: Brasserie Verschueren, the hangout of many Brusseleirs. And with good reason, it soon became clear, as they serve the best home brew available, known as ‘Tripel’. If it wasn’t for our busy schedule we could have stayed here all day. The architecture seemed to add a particularly French air to the place. Though this may have have been due to the friendly stranger selling baguettes, charcuterie and fromage at the front of the building…

HUSTLE AND BRUSSEL

We left the hustle and bustle behind in search of a more relaxing space. Despite being positioned in the heart of Brussels' exclusive shopping area Avenue Louise, close to the business district, Egmont Park is a surprising realm of calm.

Nowhere else are the boundaries between city and nature, work and leisure, better displayed or dissolved. In summer, this spot is packed with business men, locals and tourists, but with winter slowly drifting in, we had the whole park to ourselves. There is also a lovely brasserie here, called La Fabrique serving petit déjeuner and lunch throughout the week and a delicious looking brunch at the weekend. They offer a mix of French and Flemish cuisine. 

AUTUMN WALK

A little outside of Brussels is the Botanic Garden. Dating back from 1796 this gem was built when the country was still under French rule and reflects the changing nation of Belgium. Built on the grounds of Château de Bouchot, a striking, 12th century neo-gothic castle, it is understandably frequented by photographers. Following the rhythm of nature, there is always something new to see here. Visiting in early November, we were blessed with soft winter sun, casting a beautiful golden hue across the glasshouses. 

MER DU NORD

If, for one reason or another, you don’t see the big blue sign or the crowd packed in the corner of Place Sainte-Catherine, then the smell will certainly guide you there. No matter what time of the day it might be, you will always be able to find a glass of wine and taste the seafood cuisine at the Mer du Nord. I don’t think I have ever been so happy as when somebody called my name for my dish of choice: the iconic croquettes crevettes (shrimp!). 

BOZAR AND BEYOND

As the evening drew in, we passed by Mont des Arts. This area is dotted with museums, cultural institutions and historical monuments, including the crown jewel and creative hub Bozar, the Museum of Fine Arts. Bozar is the beating cultural heart of Brussels and, overlooking the historic city, the best spot for sundown. We watched as skaters rolled down the stairs and street musicians played their last song. 

Words by Babette Debouver. Images by Alberto Gobbato.

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