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When pitted up against Paris, it’s no wonder that most cities find it hard to sparkle, but Brussels, the ‘Capital of Europe’, is swiftly becoming a contender for the hottest spot on the Eurostar route. James Drew tells us why
Ahead of the imminent opening of the London Eurostar terminal at St Pancras, high-speed journeys to the Gare du Nord in Paris are all the rage. But there’s another cross-Channel destination which is even nearer, and which offers just as much appeal for event delegates.
From 14 November, you can be in Brussels, the heart of Belgium, in under two hours. And once you arrive, there are plenty of quality hotels, restaurants and bars to investigate.
Offering luxurious accommodation in a historic building, the Brussels Marriott Hotel (tel: 0032 2 516 9090) has five meeting rooms, the largest of which can accommodate up to 460 seated guests. For a more individual experience, try Hotel Amigo (tel: 0032 2 547 4747), which is located within spitting distance of one of Europe’s most beautiful squares, La Grand-Place. The rooms here are all diverse in style, while the six fully kitted-out meeting rooms and ballroom provide excellent facilities for corporate events.
If you’re not keen on hosting your event in a hotel and want to do something a bit different, why not book a barge on the canal near the Dansaert area? Or for truly mind-blowing surrounds, throw a party in the iconic Brussels landmark Atomium (tel: 0032 2 475 4771). The renovated space, a remnant of the 1958 World’s Fair Exposition, now has revamped exhibition spaces and a restaurant in the top sphere.
The astonishing building represents the structure of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times – complete with nine ‘atoms’ – and the view from the top sphere (at 103 metres) is breathtaking.
You can also rent rooms at the famous A La Mort Subite (tel: 0032 2 513 1318), where your guests can sample the extensive range of beers for which Belgium is renowned. Alternatively, if yours is a small group, the art-deco jazz bar L’Archiduc (tel: 0032 2 512 0652) is where all the chic Bruxellois head, and is a great spot to relax into the evening with a Kriek or three.
A more raucous experience can be had at The Monk (tel: 0032 2 503 0880), a sizeable pub where you can let your hair down to piano sessions and live music at the weekends.
Soak up those pints of beer with a trip to Vieux Bruxelles (tel: 0032 2 503 3111), a traditional restaurant serving moules frites, game when in season and excellent steaks. Or if seafood’s your thing, Le Jardin de Catherine (tel: 0032 2 513 9262) is an atmospheric Belgian restaurant with something extra: you can dine where Vincent Van Gogh himself lived. Incidentally, the Latino hotspot Los Romanticos (tel: 0032 2 217 6707) is just a few doors down.
‘Conveyer-belt’ restaurant Comocomo (tel: 0032 2 503 0330) is also worth a look, particularly for large bookings. Its food is based on the sushi principle but with ‘Pintxos’ (the Basque equivalent of tapas) on offer instead. Groups of up to 75 pay a room rental fee, while above that, the event is considered a private party.
If there’s time, stop to have a beer or two in the Roy D’Espagne (tel: 0032 2 513 0807) on La Grand-Place, which has private rooms overlooking the magnificent square. Rain or shine, it has an excellent view, and it’s only 15 minutes to the Eurostar terminal – so a last-minute drink is a viable option before making the short journey home.
Oozing history and culture and offering great accommodation, fantastic food and vibrant nightlife, Brussels has definitely made its mark on Europe. So, where is Paris again?
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Autumn 2007.