I first visited Flanders nine years ago after falling for a Fleming and have been totting up my Eurostar frequent-traveller points ever since — I was even lucky enough to live in a farmhouse (complete with sheep, chickens and rabbits) near Aalst for a year. Formerly Commissioning Editor at Bradt Travel Guides, I'm currently writing a guide to Flanders and Brussels for Bradt (due for publication May 2012). I also write freelance for international magazines, am a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, and an active fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Anthropological Institute.
Where I always grab a beer: Surrealist painter Magritte’s favourite haunt: La Fleur en Papier Doré; it’s virtually unchanged and — perplexingly — free of tourists.
My favourite dining spot: Le Pain Quotidien on Rue des Sablons — it's well known, but you can't beat it for a social Sunday-morning breakfast around their table commune (communal table).
Best place for people watching: Au Bon Vieux Temps — a taverne hidden away down a small side street off Rue Marches aux Herbes. Watch its daily devotees prop up the bar and put the world to rights.
Where to be seen: The cafés and bars of the achingly hip Art-Nouveau Ixelles district.
Most breathtaking view: The 17th-century Grand Place still wins hands down. Take a terrace table, order a cold beer and admire the statues, reliefs and carvings that adorn the guildhouses.
My favourite stroll: The gritty Marolles district: it’s Brussels’s version of London’s East End, but is littered with hidden highlights such as cartoon murals, Brussels’s last public bathing house, original 1913 social housing architecture and the daily Jeu de Balle flea market.
The best spot for peace and quiet: Cimetière d’Ixelles — the leafy compound is the final resting place for Brussels’s many greats, including Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta and Frederic Neuhaus (inventor of the praline).
Don't leave without: Sinking your teeth into a steaming hot waffle — the doughy Liège, not Brussels, style. And pass on the touristy toppings of cream, strawberries or chocolate.
My expert information
You can get there in less than two hours from the UK
Eurostar runs up to nine departures a day from St Pancras International and the journey time is a measly one hour and 50 minutes, which — discounting Paris — makes it the nearest place from London for a weekend break in Europe. Treat the missus!Read more...