A kitsch copy of a Lourdes shrine, a modernist housing development influenced by Le Corbusier, historic lampposts, a memorial to homing pigeon trainers, a hidden passageway Leopold II used to visit a mistress ... Nothing really really juicy, but I still revelled in a few oddities on my “Secret and Unusual Brussels” guided cycle tour. It was run by Pro Velo: a non-profit organisation set up to encourage cycling in a city prone to traffic problems. They offer a regular programme of themed public tours in French and Dutch, featuring cafés and bandes dessinées, beers and brasseries, the green belt around Brussels, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modernism ... And yes, intrepid explorer, you’ll see the city from a different perspective and cover more ground that on a walking or bus tour. I am particularly looking forward to learning about the mysterious history of freemasons in Brussels come October. For tours in English (or Spanish, Italian, German), ask for a quote for a 3-4 hour private tour at least five working days in advance. Choose from a good selection of themes “à la carte”; including “Brussels for Beginners”, “Magritte and the Surrealists”, “Art Deco and Modernism” and “Castles and Abbeys”. As with the public tours, don’t forget that you can hire bikes if necessary.
I would like to recommend an Art Nouveau bus tour operated by ARAU (Atelier de Recherche et d'Action Urbaines), a non-profit local resident's group of architects, designers and interested citizens. The tour takes you to the most extravangant houses of the time around 1900, explaining not only who built it, but also who lived in it and what happened to the building throughout the century. The tour includes visits to the interiors of some Art Nouveau buildings, some of which are not open to the public.
The tour guide we were lucky to join was a very entertaining man, who also told us a lot about city developement and the way Brussels deals with its historical monuments.
The Cantillon Brewery is the last of what were once plentiful Gueuze Breweries in Belgium. The family brewery makes Gueuze, a unique beer that depends entirely on windborn yeast to complete the beermaking process, introducing an element of luck that most brewmasters wouldn't dream of accepting. To use the wild yeast the brewery has a number of unique features that cannot be found in any other brewery.
The location is also ideal. Just a fifteen minute walk from Brussels' Grand Place, there is no problem with imbibing as much of this wonderful beer as you would like and then wondering how to get home. The metro public transport system makes this a wonderfully tasty and safe experience.
Only 10 minutes walk from the Gare du Midi, down a (frankly rather unprepossessing) street, is the Cantillon Brewery. This is an independent family-owned brewery producing lambic, one of Belgium's most authentic and original beers. You get a short and enthusiastic introduction, and can then follow the brewing process on your own.
What makes lambic beer unique is that it ferments spontaneously. The wort cools down in a shallow copper tray in the attic where it comes into contact with airborne wild yeasts.
You can wander through the barrel store, with its heady and musty aromas, where it will ferment for up to three years. Tasting is an education. You will be offered the slightly tart Gueuze, a blend of old and new lambics, and the sweeter Kriek beers, blended with fruit.
This is a fascinating and evocative museum, offering a rare insight into traditional brewing methods.
A really fun - and tasty - tour of a unique brewery can be found in the gritty working class Brussels district of Anderlecht, where some of Brussels' best kept secrets are also hidden!
The Musee Bruxellois de la Geuze offers a great tour around the Cantillon Brewery, the last working brewer of Lambic, a strange spontaneously-fermenting beer, that has to be tasted to be believed and once tasted will be craved ever after! It takes Lambic brews from three different years to make a Geuze beer, so it's something pretty special and well worth waiting for!
The Cantillon Brewery opened in 1900 and little has changed since then. It is a great retreat from the modern world to an age when people had more time to sit back and enjoy a glass of beer.
We loved the tour but got a little confused, after tasting and sampling, about all the processes and spontaneous fermentation, so we might have to go again to refresh the memory - hic.
Musee Bruxellois de la Geuze
Admission: 5euros (includes a cold glass of beer)
56 rue Gheude
Metro: Gare du Midi or Clemenceau
Tel: +32 (0)2 521 4928
Open Mon-Fri 08.30--17.00, Sat 10.00--17.00
Google map: tinyurl.com/l6jal2
Belgium Beer Tour is a tour operator specializing in tours of Belgium breweries. It offers a great way for beer lovers to visit their favorite breweries and discover new ones. The tours cover a wide range of beers and appeals to connoisseurs and amateurs alike.
Gueuze is the beer style unique to Brussels and the area around it in the valley of the River Zenne. There are now only about a dozen producers of this beer, which is brewed without the addition of yeast, but using the natural micro-organisms that are native to the area.
Every two years, HORAL, the trade organisation for the producers of this beer, organises the Toer de Gueuze. On one sunday in April, virtually every producer opens its doors to visitors so they can see how this wonderful beer is made. You can make your own way around the producers or you can take a seat on one of a number of coaches that tour around (each coach visiting a different selection of brewers and blenders).
You can sample the beer at every producer and many of them also put on food and entertainment. The day isn't well-publicised outside Belgium, but judging from the number of people I saw when I went on it this year (2005) it's pretty well-known in Belgium. Guided tours round the various producers are only in Dutch, since there isn't really time for multi-lingual commentaries. However, even if you don't understand the language, you'll find the whole experience fascinating (and you'll love the beer.)
Coaches start out from various places around Brussels, depending on the itinerary. Have a look at HORAL's website:
to see when the tour's happening; the next one should be in April 2007.
Walking tours (lasting about three hours) around certain districts in Brussels. The tours give a fascinating insight into the city's distinctive wealth of art nouveau architecture, led by knowledgable and friendly guides. Lovely!
Visit www.arau.org/ct_home.php or get info from the tourist centre in the Grand Place
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