Whilst my partner is spending a couple of months in Holland with family, we are taking it in turns to travel between the Netherlands and the UK. For the bank holiday weekend, though, we decided to take a meet-in-the-middle approach, with Brussels being the easiest candidate. Except for a school trip almost two decades ago, I’d never visited Belgium unless transiting, so we intended to take a day elsewhere in the country in addition to exploring the capital.
None of the chains had particularly compelling offers, so it was over to the aggregators – hotels.com and bookings.com. The latter had both a 3-for-2 offer on a centrally located property, and attractive cashback rates via topcashback, so we went for it despite no familiarity with the brand, Martins. They turn out to have a handful of properties in Belgium – enough to justify a loyalty scheme, with an unusual green twist! Our particular property, Martin’s Brussels EU, turned out to be a stone’s throw from the European Commission HQ at Berlaymont. This created a pleasing symmetry with our previous bank holiday European trip, where we stayed a short distance from the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Three nights came in at €165 (including VAT but not the €7.15/night city tax – I do dislike those!), for which we received a small but pleasant room in a very convenient location.
To minimise the environmental impact of our long-distance relationship, I’d once again agreed to take the train for this trip. With Eurostar operating a direct service from St Pancras to Brussels, it’s probably not much slower than flying once you factor in the ease of stations compared to airports. Better still, the outbound was being offered for £5 less in standard premier than standard class! Since I was clearly going to take that, I was able to convince myself to book it for the return leg too – all in, that came to £174 (about five weeks prior to departure)- sadly I could probably fly for half that.
My understanding is that the standard premier service used to be a lot closer to business premier – this intermediate class of travel now only offers a ‘light meal’, rather than three course dining. They turned out to be very light indeed! Departing Friday at 10:58 -and thus eating not far off midday – I received an underwhelming breakfast of bread, croissant and yoghurt. Returning late afternoon I was presented with something that looked more substantial – quinoa, salmon and a mix of tomato and onion – but turned out to be a cold dish, so not quite as appetising as hoped.
Still, these are rather more substantial than you’d get on an economy shorthaul flight, and the hard product – larger seats in a 1-2 configuration and thus with fewer passengers per carriage – remains the same as for those on business tickets. The solo airline seats were particularly appreciated since I was travelling alone.
I also managed to link my Carte Classique number to the booking – despite only having an account via American Express, without the £250 transaction usually required to activate – and some points were indeed added to the account, although I have no idea if this is an error…
The tourist attraction
Although convenient for us geographically, Brussels is not somewhere that I feel is actively sought out by tourists! In our usual fashion, we spent plenty of time exploring by foot and admiring architecture, both historic (around the Grand Place) and modern (in the ‘European District’). An unexpected bonus near our hotel was the Parc du Cinquantenaire; we also ventured out to the parkland by the iconic Atomium for a picnic.
However, the main highlight was not Brussels, but a side-trip we took to Ghent. This is a beautiful city with an extensive old town including several churches, a castle and a picture-perfect harbour; it made us realise that what Brussels is missing is a decent waterway! With temperatures approaching 40C, our explorations of Ghent were very leisurely, but I hope we’ll revisit in the future – perhaps in combination with nearby Bruges, which was the other option we were considering.
Given our dessert-based explorations elsewhere in Europe, you might imagine that we were here purely for waffles. In practice, though, we found them simply too rich to finish! Instead, then, our pick of the trip is an Indian restaurant not far from the hotel, the Royal Kashmir. Based on the limited TripAdvisor reviews and that we were the only people there for much of our meal, this seems to be somewhat overlooked. This is a shame since both our orders – the butter chicken curry, and a vegetarian thali – were so good that my partner returned for another round on her last evening in town. With the hot weather showing no remorse, we particularly enjoyed the option to dine in the garden at the back of the restaurant. Entirely recommended!