Over thirteen months, I traveled four times to Brussels. First, I got my bearings, and then I took in some of the expected attractions, Grand Place, Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, Jeanneke and her brother Manneken Pis, and Atomium. Then as I delve deeper beyond the obvious I get familiar with a neighborhood or two. I want to claim a little piece of a city as if it was mine. I want to feel like a local, if only for a borrowed fleeting moment.


I soak up the local vibes at the Marché de la Place du Châtelain in this lively trendy neighborhood. I buy a bouquet for my son's apartment I might pick up provisions for tonight’s dinner, or enjoy a plate of oysters and chase it down with a glass of champagne. But most of all I’m taking it all in, watching shoppers faire des courses, the happy hour crowd at the wine bar, well-mannered dogs and their human companions (only if dogs were brought up as well Stateside). I take a few photos and share on Instagram. I have a few Insta followers I’m posting this for in mind. It is a small square but it is a microcosm of the world.

I admire the attractive buildings, variety of restaurants, traiteurs, galleries, the tempting real estate agent listings displayed in windows, and the posh nail salon of Vernis Rouge decorated in red and white with a view of the square perfect for daydreaming while one's nails are drying. On the other side of the square, I get my hair done at Lawerence Kazan. I read years ago that the Europeans blow out one's hair beautifully and it is true. After three trips of packing my yoga clothes in vain, I finally managed to squeeze in a yoga class at Brussels Yoga Loft on my fourth visit. On rue du Page I stock up on one of my favorite tisanes from Eden Teas and Coffee. I go back to Place du Chatelain time and time again as if I’m visiting an old friend.

Le Chalet de la Forêt

Pascal Devalkeeneer’s Two Star Michelin restaurant, Le Chalet de la Forêt, is in Uccle and next to the Sonian Forest. We start in an anteroom, a conservatory of types, where we enjoy an aperitif and an amuse bouche. I briefly meet the chef Pascal Devalkeeneer, who asks me to see if I have any dietary restrictions, and I do not bring up my likes and dislikes as I trust the chef. Soon we are guided to our seats at a corner table next to a window. I admire the elegant decor and contemporary art. Here food, art, and hospitality are unified over a five-course meal. This meal dazzled all of my senses and stretched my comfort zone. The first course was smoked eel paired with two of my favorite foods, caviar, and fromage blanc. The fromage blanc was garnished with radish slices that added a touch of red to the black-and-white palette as well as texture and flavor.

The second course wowed me with the abalone and the presentation of its shell. I have the keepsake on my fireplace mantel as a reminder of this memorable meal and the uniqueness of the abalone shell, as it is a one-sided oval seashell. I’m a fan of fish, and the third course of grilled turbot with chanterelles and scallions did not disappoint. I was slightly apprehensive about the fourth course, pigeon. It resembled a duck. It was served with Swiss chard, shiitake mushrooms, and glazed red beets in miso sauce with a hint of maple syrup. Le Chalet de la Forêt keeps bees, and before dessert, a section of a honeycomb arrived at the table for a tasting. We enjoyed three desserts created by their pastry chef Nelson Lechien. My favorite was 5C. I was spell-bound by the chocolate, an incredible cocoa and cocoa nib crumble with chicory cream, coffee whipped cream, crispy caramel, and a cocoa nibs tuile, dark chocolate ganache, and quenelle of caramel ice cream topped by a maple leaf made out of chocolate. Dress well, come hungry, and with an open mind to explore new tastes.

The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken

On a sunny day in April, I was fortunate to visit The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken in Northern Brussels. They are only open to the public once a year each spring for three weeks. This opening has become a tradition for about the last hundred years. It is easy to book one's ticket online but do not wait as it sells out fast. I took the tram to get there and from the window I watched an urban environment melt into a more verdant one.

The greenhouses were designed in 1873 by Alphonse Balat for King Leopold II in the Art Nouveau style, and construction was completed by 1905. Victor Horta, one of the founders of this architectural style, was Balat’s apprentice on the project. The concept for the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken was the idea of a glass palace made out of glass and iron. It spans one and a half hectares, made up of a collection of pavilions, galleries, connecting spaces, and domed roofs.

The plants are artfully arranged and flourishing. The collection is vast and includes a variety of subtropical vegetation such as palms, rubber plants, colorful azaleas, geraniums, fuchsias, heliotropes, abutilons, and various flowering plants and ferns. One of my favorites is not inside but on the grounds, the cherry blossom trees that were blooming and behind them in the near distance the surprise of the Japanese Tower of Brussels. I’d love to spend a day here painting in watercolors.

I can’t wait to go back to Brussels. There is always more to discover and enjoy.