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BIERE WE GO! BIERE WE GO! travel 5 pages of breaks start here travel: Who ever said the Belgians were boring? Walk into one of Brussels' many fine bars and you can have hundreds of beers to choose from, as BELINDA SZONERT discovered...


IF your image of Brussels is a city of stuffy bureaucrats and glass-fronted skyscrapers, it might be time to discover the true flavour of the buzzing Belgian capital.

There wasn't a suit or briefcase in sight when the Grand'Place, the magnificent central square in the heart of Brussels, was transformed into a sea of stalls offering the best Belgian beer.

The country produces an incredible diversity of beers, from the palest concoctions to others the colour of treacle, and the Belgian Beer Weekend in September is a great opportunity to try them.

Although beer takes centre stage in the festivities, Brussels has many other diversions for tourists not tempted by the amber nectar.

To get a feel for the city's history, begin your tour in the magnificent Grand'Place, an impressive collection of Gothic and Flemish renaissance buildings topped with dazzling gilt detail and sculpted stone. It was rebuilt in four years after being flattened by the French in 1695.

The Grand'Place is magical, even more so at night. Or you can take a walk to the Marolles quarter where, on Sundays, the flea market, or the 'vieux marche' (old market), is a great place to bag a bargain.

Strolling through the vibrant heart of the capital, it's hard to imagine that the European quarter around the EU's Berlaymont building is a stone's throw away, with politicians and civil servants from 27 different countries going about their business.

Their spending power has boosted the city. Prices are sky high in the chocolate shops of Place du Grand Sablon, while Rue Dansaert has top fashion and designer names.

Short-break visitors with a Brussels Card (pounds 20) get three days free travel and entrance to the main museums. One of the best, The Museum of Fine and Modern Arts in Rue de la Regence, has works by the Belgian Primitives, including Bruegel the Elder, and the surrealist Rn Magritte.

There are regular festivals, but the Belgian Beer Weekend, in its 12th year in 2010, is a highlight.

Brussels is reached by motorway from Zeebrugge, or you can get the train from Bruges.

More than 40 breweries, from small to large operations, showcase their best beers - beginning with a splash of pomp as Saint Arnould, the patron saint of brewers, is honoured in the grand setting of the cathedral.

The blessing of a barrel of beer is an indication of how seriously the Belgians regard brewing. The entourage, wearing ceremonial attire and with buttonholes of sweet-smelling hops, make their way to the elegant surroundings of the town hall for the enthronement ceremony of the Knighthood of the Brewers' Mash Staff.

It's standing room only as the new knights, who have rendered loyal service to the brewing profession or are related to the industry, are admitted to the direct descendant of the Guild of Brewers.

Then the Belgian Beer Weekend is officially open and the hard work of sampling an array of brews begins.

In a convivial atmosphere, beer fans of all nationalities swap glasses and thoughts on their favourite tipple. With so many to choose from, a little of each makes sense.

Why not try something different, such as fruit beers? Grisette, which comes in cherry and fruits of the forest varieties, is truly delicious!

For those keen to learn more about brewing, then Cantillon Brewery is a must. The last traditional brewery in Brussels, completely independent, has a fascinating museum and tour of the mashing house, hop boilers and crushing machine, the granary, cooling room and barrel store.

The centre of Brussels has many fascinating bars just off the beaten track. Get a guidebook to find some of the best ones, or ask the locals.

While Brussels is home to Europe's decision-makers, there's nothing stuffy or bureaucratic about this fabulous city - particularly when the Belgian Beer Weekend hits town.

CHECK IN Belinda Szonert was a guest of the Belgian Tourist Office - Brussels & Wallonia, and P&O Ferries. P&O Ferries reservations: 08716 64 64 64 or visit Accommodation in Brussels area starts at [ETH]115 per room per night at The Dominican Hotel, close to Grand'Place.

Short break operators include Superbreak (0871 221 3344) and Octopus Travel (020 71362 856). Destination info at Free brochure line: 0800 9545 245.

Useful websites: and


The Flea Market The Grand'Place
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 16, 2010
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