A love affair with Brussels usually starts in spring or summer. Art deco buildings, masterpieces and exhibitions in the many museums, melting for a few chocolates on the way, a look at the latest creations of trendy Belgian designers, a beer or two shared with friends (or strangers!) at the terrace of a café… A city of art, food and joy. Though winter usually brings towns to a sleepy state, Brussels embraces the season fully. Christmas markets, renamed Plaisirs d’hiver or Winter Wonders, roll out from one street to the other, an endless source of amusement and colours.
I set out early, wanting to enjoy the empty streets first, seeing the market stalls opening slowly, the owners chatting and exchanging anecdotes from the day before. By noon, the crowd started pouring in, looking for a festive treat for lunch – mussels, chicory with lardons and cheese, razor clams, croquettes, fish bait, fries and mayonnaise maybe with a glass of white wine or a beer. Children ask to be carried on their parents’ shoulders – they want to see it all, the giant Ferris wheel and the musical see-saws on the Marché aux poissons, the steam punk inspired merry go round on the Place Sainte Catherine, the amazing Christmas tree, defying the nearby spires on the Grand Place – there’s a nativity scene too. From up there, they can easily see the treats around too so could they please, please have a waffle? Or a croustillon de Noel, a round Christmas doughnut filled with the flavour of your choice or drizzled with chocolate?
It’s a lovely stroll altogether, starting at the Marché aux poissons, leading you to the Place de la Bourse. The crowd carries you gently, there is no need to think nor look at a map. You will find yourself looking at fur filled boots or cute garlands on stalls one minute, falling for speculoos at Dandoy or ginger nougat at Elisabeth. Sipping some mulled wine as you chat happily with fellow Bruxellois – there is such kindness, such… authenticity between people here. Then maybe a detour via the Galeries Royales Saint Hubert (so many chocolatiers there), reflected in a mosaique of mirrors. Turn left and you are in Galerie des Princes: await Tropismes, the most beautiful bookshop you have ever seen. Then back into the Christmas market heart-warming buzz and dazzling…
And if you stay until the night falls and the electric lights start shimmering, Brussels will wow you even more. There is a light and sound show, #LostFrequencies, on the Grand Place and even a 3D one celebration 150 years of Belgo-Japanese friendship projected on the Sainte Catherine Church. It seems the atmosphere gets more and more cheerful as the evening goes on, till rather late at the week-end. Yes, the Plaisirs d’hiver really is the place to be this season… You’ll leave with sparkles in your eyes and, mmmh, quite a few bags filled with presents on your arms.
Plaisirs d’hiver, Bruxelles until Jan 01, 2017
#LostFrequencies on the Grand Place: Mondays to Thursdays every hour between 5 and 10pm, Fridays-Saturdays-Sundays every 30 mn between 5 and 10pm
Origami Lights on the Sainte Catherine Church: every 30 mn betweeen 6 to 10pm
How to get there? By Thalys from Paris or Eurostar from London to Brussel Gare du Midi
Where to stay? At the Welcome Hotel, right by the Christmas market on the Marché aux Poisson. Each room is beautifully themed after a different country (Egypt, Vietnam, Congo…). Really warm welcome guaranteed!