A tour of Îlot Sacré

Treasure island: chocolate, chips and mussels

Brussels city center is a tiny island – l’Îlot Sacre – a web of lanes between l’Ecuyer, the Rue du Marchè aux Herbes and the Rue des Bouchers. Here time has stopped, and the historic fifteenth-century buildings dominate the street, while many traditional small shops greet passers-by.

Temptation is strong and so is the probability of finding yourself in a throng of curious, hungry tourists, but this is not a good reason to surrender. Keep steadily on through streets named Bread, Herring and Butter – being careful not to get lost, as there are 120 small streets with similar names – and follow your nose: between a café and a beer cellar, find the stand that inspires you the most and snack on moules et frites (mussels and chips), in true Belgian style.

Your stomach may not thank you, but that’s the price to pay to feel part of the city!

Where the heart of Brussels beats: the Grand Place

Now head for the beating heart of Brussels, the Grand Place: the most gorgeous theatre in the world, where a colourful flower market is open every day – except Mondays and Thursdays – which fits so nicely with the Gothic faces of the buildings, the snazzy corporate headquarters and the majestic outline of City Hall (Hotel de Ville) – built in the sixteenth century – in a perfect balance crowned by the statue of archangel Michael.

Above all, keep an eye out for the sassy Manneken Pis. At the end of the Rue des Bouchers, his twin, the Jeanneke Pis, plays hide-and-seek in a small corner protected by a grate. Manneken is the symbol of the independence of the spirit of the inhabitants of Brussels, depicting a small young man who is urinating.

Shopping with Belgian sauce – not just chocolate

Beyond the Grand Place, you find the temple of Belgian shopping: the Saint Hubert Galleries (the Gallery of the King, the Gallery of the Queen and the Gallery of the Princes), the oldest in Europe, where luxury and elegance reign.

Here you will find haute couture boutiques, refined artisan shops, bookstores with precious manuscripts, tearooms fragrant with speculoos, traditional biscuits made from cinnamon and cane sugar, and chocolatiers, which fascinate both the young and old with their windows overflowing with delights.

The most prominent among them is Neuhaus, whose world-famous chocolate was invented to make medicines more appetizing with a coating of chocolate.

Another Made in Brussels delicacy is Godiva chocolate, a celebrated brand of chocolate born in Brussels and distributed all over the world. Its headquarters in Grand Place has become a mecca for those with uncontrollable chocolate cravings, a place to taste all of the specialties of the house, including coffee, cocoa, biscuits, chocolate liqueurs and many other delicious treats.

Waterzoos, oysters and mussels: enjoy!

Belgian cuisine, with a strong influence from its neighbouring France, is enhanced by regional products that give rise to a wide variety of characteristic recipes. Milestones of Belgian gastronomy are waffles, chocolate, the famous Brussels sprouts and the not-to-be-missed Belgian beer, highly regarded around the world for its intense and varied flavours.

When shutters are closed and lamps are lit, the small lanes of the city centre swarm with the curious, in a reckless search through the heart of the city, intent on one goal: beer, of course! Tourists or locals, it doesn’t matter; everyone agrees on beer, with its thousand varieties and flavours that will excite your taste buds.

For a relaxing break, try Aux Armes de Bruxelles, one of the oldest restaurants of the Îlot Sacre (1921) approved by the royal family, which represents the spirit of Belgian cooking with mussel casseroles Provençal and succulent boiled fish and vegetables (‘waterzoos’). If you find yourself near the Grand Place, indulge in an oyster appetizer at Chez Vincent, a genuine Belgian beer house.

Our walk is over for now, but for the most passionate ones, take a look at the European District of Brussels!

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