One could easily spend weeks in Brussels alone, but at least book a few nights in jail, a former manifestation of the luxurious Hotel Amigo just steps off the Grand Place, now a Rocco Forte Hotels property. Reserve a table at Comme Chez Soi, a small Victor Horta-like Art Nouveau shrine (and where revered chef Wynants has given over the kitchen to his son-in-law, chef Lionel Rigolet).
As soon as possible, secure a table at a Grand Place café and begin your Belgian beer adventures, boldly, by sampling a gueuze. Perhaps the strangest Belgium beer for the uninitiated, a gueuze (or geuze) is a blend of old and new lambics, brewed with wild yeasts — basically, brewers from the Senne Valley simply leave the brewhouse windows open and let the pure fermenting magic of nature right in. The character of the beer is only roughly predictable — often sour, funky, and puckering. It’s an acquired taste, but worth acquiring.
Eventually, wander over to the Belgian Comic Strip Center, one of Brussels’ major tourist stops. Belgians love their comics, and their greatest cartoon character will soon enter a brighter spotlight. The Peter Jackson-produced, Steven Spielberg-directed The Adventures of Tintin premiered in Brussels October 26 (and is slated to open in the United States December 23). Tintin’s creator, the late Hergé, is a presiding spirit at the Comic Strip Center, though the 1906 Art Nouveau building is a star in its own right, a masterpiece by famed Belgium architect and designer Victor Horta.
Unsurprisingly, the museum café serves a beer available nowhere else in the country, except across the street in a smaller museum devoted to cartoonist Marc Sleen. By producing the comic strip drawn longest by a single author, Sleen landed in the Guinness Book of World Records, while the stout beer served here was named after his main character, Nero.
Days can be spent in the shops and museums of Brussels, and there need be no greater gauge of the elegance on hand than to note that Audrey Hepburn was born here. Those needing further convincing can stroll the high-fashion boutiques of the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert and ponder the latest Delvaux handbag creations.
And it probably wouldn’t be Belgium without chocolate. With more than 2,000 shops in the country, producing some 172,000 tons of chocolate art each year, there’s no worry about running out. Slip into the Mary Chocola-tier shop in the Galeries for an extraordinary selection.