To my husband, Brussels equals bureaucratic and boring. And I would have agreed, had a couple of people in the know not been particularly effusive about its charms. Bruno Frisoni, creative director of Roger Vivier in Paris, enthused about Brussels’ flea markets and antique furniture shops and said it was his number one weekend hotspot.
Then, during a day-long visit to the Delvaux factory last summer, I was told about some must-see highlights, including some antiques shops on Rue Haute/Hoogstraat; Stijl, Brussels’ answer to Browns and an obligatory stop for fashion enthusiasts, at 74 Rue Antoine Dansaertstraat; and, of course, the original Martin Margiela store on nearby Rue de Marché de Porc.
So off to Brussels we went. The hotel Odette en Ville is described by many quite simply as “black magic” because of its darkly sultry decor. True to the description, when we arrived shortly after 11am, we were swiftly ushered to our room and handed a key festooned with an oversized black tassel. Our room (€250) offered a luxurious, large bed and led on to a bathroom with a capacious tub big enough for two. However, given the biting cold, we should have perhaps chosen rooms three or seven (€425), each with their own open fire.
Back to black and, indeed, the dark, sweeping wrought-iron staircase and noir decor of this 1920s former town house turned bijou eight-room hotel is fleetingly reminiscent of the Hotel Costes in Paris, albeit on a much smaller scale. A spectrum of greys in velvets and on brickwork, from the bedroom to the bar, cocoon the hotel in the chicly shadowy hue; it is intimate, luxurious and hip. The lively ground-floor restaurant and bar are a real draw, attracting residents and non-residents alike, who come here to eat supper or enjoy the champagne buffet brunch (€45) served on Sundays between 10am and 3pm.
Châtelain, where Odette en Ville is located, is well situated for a two-day exploration of the city. It’s also a lively neighbourhood in its own right, with restaurants, shops and bars that radiate out from the Place du Châtelain, which also plays host to an outdoor fresh produce market on Wednesday evenings. As this was our only night in the city, we decided against eating dinner at the hotel, but we didn’t stray far. Just across the road is No 7, an Italian restaurant that came highly recommended by a friend who lives in the city. The shellfish spaghetti did not disappoint.
Stepping onto the Eurostar on Sunday evening after 32 hours of visiting flea markets, antiques stores, a gallery and various restaurants, we both agreed that Brussels and a night at Odette en Ville more than exceeded expectation, it had trounced it.