The Hidden Gems of Brussels

The Financial Times Weekend issue, October 31st, is devoted to Brussels, and it includes my article (p. 19-21) on my favorite places for sensory discoveries. I share advice on where to enjoy the best of Belgian chocolates, rare Chinese teas and beauty products. I also walk you through the fashion district of the city and highlight a few of its must-visit perfume spots. The issue also includes several other pieces on different aspects of Brussels, an interview with one of the best chocolatiers Pierre Marcolini and an excellent piece by Jim Brunsden with a city walk itinerary.

ft weekend

Click here to read the online version.

Of course, my list is not exhaustive, and since Brussels is a dynamic, ever-growing place, exploring its different neighborhoods and making your own discoveries is a special experience. If you’re familiar with the city and have other recommendations, please share them. Also, if there is a Brussels related topic you would like me to cover, do make a note in the comments.

The FT Weekend Magazine is available on newstands right now.

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59 Comments

  • Nick: Speaking of Belgian chocolate, I always remember fondly of those orangettes from Leonidas. The contrast between rich dark chocolate and candied citrusy-bitter orange peel is so mouthwatering 🙂 November 3, 2015 at 7:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Orangettes are some of my favorite treats. I also like Pierre Marcolini candied grapefruit peel, which has the same bittersweet contrast. November 3, 2015 at 8:04am Reply

      • Nick: Ah, the perks of living in a city of chocolatiers …everything seems to find its harmony with chocola. November 3, 2015 at 10:23am Reply

        • Victoria: The trouble around here is that while chocolate is very easy to find (my street has about 7 chocolate shops almost door to door), truly excellent quality takes some searching. But with Marcolini and others raising the bar, the selection is becoming better and better. November 3, 2015 at 10:35am Reply

          • Rowanhill: And then the good ones like Marcolini seem to shrink in size every time I buy them. Just bought a selection from Sablon last weekend, blaming it on the sunny day. 😀 The taste is divine, I must give them that, and in all honesty there is plenty of flavour even in the smaller size but I preferred the old size which was not exaggerated either. November 3, 2015 at 11:08am Reply

            • Victoria: I haven’t paid attention, but you must be right, since I can’t find the same multi-tiered boxes I used to buy for gifts in the past. I also understand that the cacao prices have been on the rise, and this affects the chocolate makers, especially the ones like Marcolini who do it bean to bar. November 3, 2015 at 11:35am Reply

  • spe: Thank you for the delightful article! When I think of Belgium these days, it repulses me (cultural issues that I find abhorrent), so I’m happy to read of these exquisite elements! November 3, 2015 at 9:11am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re most welcome! I had fun researching. 🙂 November 3, 2015 at 10:33am Reply

  • Austenfan: Nice to see that you mention Nong Cha. It’s a very nice shop and one of my favourites for tea in Brussels. November 3, 2015 at 12:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a perfect oasis. Thank you for letting me know about it. November 4, 2015 at 3:09am Reply

      • Austenfan: I’d never thought of it as an oasis, but it is. And I’m still extremely glad to have discovered it myself. November 4, 2015 at 3:52pm Reply

        • Victoria: I’m still curious about that tea place in Uccles, Lumieres something (don’t remember the name), but it has such sporadic opening hours that I never feel like making a long journey there. November 5, 2015 at 9:22am Reply

          • Austenfan: Same with me. I could easily get there by car, but I prefer to just be able to visit without having to arrange things first. It seems you can make appointments there. November 5, 2015 at 10:24am Reply

            • Victoria: From what I understand, the owner now travels a lot, so getting an appointment might be complicated. Nong Cha’s Patricia also sources directly from the tea growers, but with a two person team, it might be easier to keep the store going. November 5, 2015 at 10:39am Reply

  • Simon: I loved my trip to Brussels 2 years ago. Wish I had this article handy, but as you say, exploring and finding your own special places is the best part. November 3, 2015 at 12:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: Plus, it’s an easy city to explore! November 4, 2015 at 3:25am Reply

  • Mariann: I was just in Brussels two weeks ago and this article would have been great. But did manage to get my Dandoy fix (which I first learned about here). I have been happily munching my way thorough a box of vanilla and regular speculoos. They are the best:) November 3, 2015 at 12:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Dandoy is another favorite, although my speculoo tastes are very simple–I prefer the supermarket Lotus brand. Dandoy’s vanilla cookies are terrific, though. November 4, 2015 at 3:11am Reply

      • Mariann: I like Lotus too, but I love the spread, yum ? November 4, 2015 at 2:15pm Reply

        • Victoria: The crunchy variety is downright addictive. November 5, 2015 at 9:20am Reply

  • Domestic Goblin: I went to Brussels last year and bought some chocolate truffles from Marys Chocolatier 🙂 November 3, 2015 at 3:52pm Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: OMG, Mary’s Pralines! Absolutely divine, Domestic Goblin! November 3, 2015 at 5:10pm Reply

      • Victoria: Their dark chocolate with hazelnuts is also amazing. November 4, 2015 at 3:29am Reply

    • Victoria: They have such pretty shops! November 4, 2015 at 3:26am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Living myself in BXL, I can only whole-heartedly recommend the suggestions made by Victoria. OK, I may not be familiar with all fashion recommendations, but all the rest is absolutely tiptop! May I chime in, and give three of my favourites?

    If you are not feeling in a severely minimalistic chocolate mood as say 95% cocoa plus one fenugreek seed on top, why don’t you try the artisanal pralinés of “Passion Chocolat” on the Grand Sablon: Rue Bodenbroek 2-4? You could then perhaps savour a caramel-cream filled Manon before entering the most exquisite chuch in Brussels, the Église Notre-Dame du Sablon, a gem from the 15th century. And if you vist on a sunny day, you’ll be rewarded by the most splendid mosaic of colours on the stone floor coming from the coloured glass windows.

    A charming shop with character is “Les Sagas” in the Galerie Bortier 11 just off Rue St. Jean (near the Grand Place). They sell household goods (linen, soaps, candles, toys, kitchen ware), not many but all of which have an interesting story/history to tell. And they two young owners are extremely friendly.

    And lastly, in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert (Galerie de la Reine 3) – entering from the Rue Montagne – there is the glove shop called “Ganterie Italienne”. It is wonderfully old-fashioned, the leather gloves come in all sizes and colours. Your hands will be measured, then the fingers in the gloves will be puffed up by an ancient wooden-tool and, voilà you’ll be wearing a pair of snuggly fitting gloves. I admit I couldn’t resist getting a pair of gloves made of two different leathers (peccary and ostrich) in two different colours — quite exquisite …! November 3, 2015 at 4:22pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for these recommendations! I’m intrigued by the glove boutique, although with my track record in lost gloves, it might be dangerous. 🙂 November 4, 2015 at 3:28am Reply

      • Rowanhill: The glove shop is the best. I have four or five pairs from there, also a pair of long gloves to wear with a 3/4 sleeved winter coat. The kid gloves are to die for. November 14, 2015 at 6:21am Reply

        • Victoria: Oh, you make me want to go there! November 19, 2015 at 2:08pm Reply

      • Marilyn in Kentucky: My husband wonders, not aloud too often, how a woman can put her gloves in her lap and then stand up and dump them on the floor —
        I confess, I do make a career of picking up my gloves — November 22, 2015 at 3:41pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yep, same here. 🙂 November 23, 2015 at 9:54am Reply

    • Marilyn in Kentucky: Oh my goodness, a glove shop! How divine!! I remember years and years ago in Saks 5th Ave there were beautiful leather gloves galore, in antique wooden chests of drawers, where they measured your hand, but nothing at all like you describe, OnWingsofSaffron! If I were in a position to travel I believe I would go to Brussels for the glove store. Thank you so much for sharing!! (I still wear gloves when I go out; beautiful ones, but old.) November 22, 2015 at 3:39pm Reply

  • mj: I’ve saved the article in my hard disc, so, when we will be visiting Brussels next month, we will visit those chocolate shops November 3, 2015 at 6:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: Enjoy your trip! If you (or anyone else) need other recommendations, just drop a note in the comments. I love Brussels, and I enjoy sharing my favorite spots. November 5, 2015 at 8:50am Reply

      • mj: Thanks Victoria! you see, my children love speculoos, and my sister told them about speculoos cream. Their aunt rhapsodized so much about it, that they want to try it. I looked for it in Barcelona, but found nothing, so I told them we will buy it in Brussels.

        so, my question is which brand would be good to buy? I know Biscoff has it, but something else? November 5, 2015 at 2:33pm Reply

        • Victoria: The basic Lotus brand is available at every supermarket, and the crunchy variety is addictive. Or you can do upscale with Frederick Blondeel (the address is in my article) and Pierre Marcolini. Pain Quotidien, a chain you will see all over Belgium, also has a great speculoos spread. November 6, 2015 at 9:49am Reply

          • mj: Thanks! we have one Pain Quotidien in Barcelona, but they do not carry the speculoos spread. I will let you know which one we end buying, but knowing my eldest kid we’ll buy all!! November 6, 2015 at 3:12pm Reply

            • Victoria: Pain Quotidien also makes good lunches and cakes, so if you’re ever unsure where to go, it’s highly recommended. Of course, in Brussels you won’t experience a lack of good places to eat. It’s a gourmet city. November 8, 2015 at 12:01pm Reply

  • Aurora: How wonderful that you turned an initially difficult experience of Brussels into a positive one. I am looking forward to following you in your favorite places in the city. November 4, 2015 at 5:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Initially, it was definitely an adjustment, but I grew to like the city very much. November 5, 2015 at 9:16am Reply

  • limegreen: Your storytelling powers are extraordinary, Victoria. You “tell” the story about wandering around Brussels just the way you tell the story of a perfume in a review. It’s cliche to say so, but I feel that you transported me right into the winding alleys and neighborhoods. Love that tea shop! (Must have some chocolate now.) November 4, 2015 at 8:07am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much! Brussels is an underrated city, and it unfairly gets a bad rap. I really wanted to show different parts of the city and the aspects that make this place so unique. November 5, 2015 at 9:18am Reply

  • Figuier: What a lovely article! It makes me think back fondly to my last trip to Brussels, a couple of years ago, when on your recommendation I visited Senteurs d’Ailleurs and had a wonderful time browsing its treasures. Also food…the amazing chocolate, much as I love it, is almost eclipsed for me by the deliciousness that is a moules-frites Bruxellois 🙂 November 4, 2015 at 2:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: Ah, the wonder that is moules-frites! 🙂

      I love Senteurs d’Ailleurs, which is such a gem of a boutique. November 5, 2015 at 9:20am Reply

  • Therése: Beautifully written article. Now I want to go back to Brussels! I was there years and years ago. I remember eating french fries with mayo and trawling the second hand shops 🙂 November 5, 2015 at 7:57am Reply

    • Victoria: The secondhand and antique shops in the city are famous. You can really find interesting things, and the prices are fairly reasonable. November 5, 2015 at 9:25am Reply

      • Therése: There were so many second hand shops, I had a field day. I remember buying a velvet blazer 🙂 November 5, 2015 at 10:37am Reply

        • Victoria: I mostly leave with tea cups. 🙂 You can find unusual ones that include Flemish themes reinterpreted in a Chinese style for under 10-20 euros! November 5, 2015 at 10:40am Reply

          • mj: oh! great to know! (speculoos cream for my kids, antique tea cups for me) November 5, 2015 at 2:35pm Reply

            • Victoria: Oh, and napkins! You can find beautiful antique napkins. November 6, 2015 at 9:47am Reply

          • Therése: Good to know! November 6, 2015 at 5:34am Reply

  • Arthur: Hello Victoria

    I see that you mention Le Galion as an interesting perfume brand, but I can’t find any reviews of one their perfumes on boisdejasmin 🙂 Do you have a review of one of their perfumes in the pipeline?

    Thank you for the interesting article!

    Kind regards November 6, 2015 at 3:24pm Reply

    • Victoria: Not really, but perhaps I should consider it. November 8, 2015 at 12:03pm Reply

      • Arthur: They’ve got my attention, and I am thinking of ordering some samples (they come in 6,5 ml for 9€ but shipping costs are an additional 15€ to Belgium). Oh well.. November 8, 2015 at 3:06pm Reply

        • Victoria: That sounds very expensive! November 9, 2015 at 11:23am Reply

  • Carla: I spent three months in Brussels on short term assignment back in 2005. (The first weeks were scented with the strong smell Flowerbomb which I think had just been introduced!) I had a little furnished apartment near Place Sablon. What wonderful memories. I enjoyed walking by all the chocolate shops of Place Sablon on my way to take the tram to the office on Avenue Louise. Brussels is a unique city November 12, 2015 at 11:58am Reply

    • Victoria: Place Sablon is like a jewel box. You were lucky to have a place there. November 12, 2015 at 8:46pm Reply

      • Arthur: Yeah! Au-vieux-saint-martin for lunch or diner 🙂 November 19, 2015 at 2:28pm Reply

        • Victoria: A great option in Place Sablon! I love their waterzooi with chicken. November 20, 2015 at 6:57am Reply

  • Surbhi: I am traveling to brussels (unplanned trip). It was making me anxious. Your posts are helping a lot. I will be in Belgium for a week. I can use suggestions for Brussels as well as places that are 1-2 hours from brussels. I received a suggestion to definitely visit Bruges. June 29, 2016 at 12:12am Reply

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