Expert advice on where to stay, what to do
and Brussels' business etiquette
Text and photos by Joanna Ebbutt
Brussels must appear in the dateline of news articles thousands
of times, in any given year, since it's the headquarters of the
European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
It's also a base for 159 embassies (along with 2,500 accredited
diplomats), 60 foreign banks, approximately 1,000 international
organizations and 1,700 multinational companies. All of which makes
it the world's seventh largest financial marketplace and a leading
hub for trade. Although the country has two official languages,
Flemish and French, it's advisable to initiate communications in
English, which most Belgians speak.
Don't for one minute think that Brussels is all work and no play.
For a small country, approximately the size of Maryland, Belgium
overflows with diversity - and nowhere more than in its capital.
Brussels is home to some of Europe's top restaurants, and utopia
to beer aficionados (a passion since the Middle Ages, much of Belgium's
400 types of beer is produced by small family-run breweries and
monasteries). You'll find an eclectic range of cultural and sporting
events, and galleries whose exciting collections range from Flemish
primitives through to Cubist, Expressionist and Surrealist paintings
and sculptures - all in a city where the well-preserved 17th century
architecture is a joy to behold.
Getting down to business
Brussels' central location - 1-1/2 hours by high-speed train from
Paris, three hours from London, two hours from Amsterdam and three
hours from Düsseldorf - works to its advantage for business meetings
and conventions. If you arrive by air, Brussels International Airport
is only 20 minutes from the city centre.
There are some 125 hotels in Brussels, including 12 five-star deluxe
hotels and 42 four-star deluxe hotels. With the mass exodus of business
travellers on Fridays, weekend rates plummet dramatically, should
you decide to incorporate a weekend into your trip. Consider the
Spanish Renaissance styled Hotel Amigo,
close to the Grand- Place (1-3 rue de l'Amigo, tel: 547 47 47).
Its 152 rooms, furnished in a variety of styles, from Louis XV to
Empire and Colonial, feature every technical convenience that a
business traveller requires. During the week, room rates (single
occupancy) range from 7,700 to 15,500 Belgian francs. On Friday,
Saturday and Sunday nights, year-round, a superior room can be booked
on the Internet for 4,900 Belgian francs including taxes, service
and continental breakfast, while a deluxe room sells for 6,900 Belgian
francs. Visit http://www.hotelamigo.com
In the past year I have stayed at two other hotels that I can comfortably
recommend. The Hotel Le Dixseptième
(25 rue de la Madeleine, tel: 502 57 44 or www.ledixseptieme.be
) is centrally located between the Grand-Place and Central Station.
Most rooms overlook a quiet inner courtyard and all are named after
Belgian painters. Each comes with telephone, fax and e-mail facilities.
During the week, nightly room rates range from 6,300 BEF to 15,800
BEF (single) including taxes, service charge and breakfast, and
special weekend rates are available.
|17th century guildhouses
in Grand Place
Close to the EEC headquarters, Hotel Montgomery
(134 avenue Tervueren, tel: 741-85-11 or www.montgomery.be)
is an elegant yet intimate hotel that smoothly combines old world
charm with 21ST century efficiency. Every guestroom has a private
safe, a fax machine, a large working desk, and three telephones
with modem and computer connections. There are also fitness facilities
and a Scandinavian sauna. From Sunday to Thursday, their rates (including
taxes and service charge) range from 10,400 to 19,400 BEF single
occupancy. Weekend rates drop to 5,200 BEF single occupancy.
A culinary gem
Belgium is paradise to epicureans. Its cuisine is generally regarded
as one of Europe's finest, combining French flair with the best
of Flemish. On one cobbled Brussels street, the Petite Rue des Bouchers,
every house is a restaurant! Although famous for its frites,
mussels and chocolates, local specialities such as Flemish carbonade
(beer stewed in beer) or Choesels au Madère (sweet breads with Madiera
sauce and mushrooms) should be tried. Seafood also features prominently
on many menus. While dining may seem expensive, remember that taxes
and gratuities are included. In addition, you can eat very well
in many cafés for under $30.
A few eateries worth trying include Chez
Vincent (8-10 rue des Dominicains, tel: 511 23 03), which
is renowned both for its fish dishes and for red meat cooked in
many wondrous ways; Ultieme Hallucinatie,
(316 rue Royale, tel: 217 06 14) is a "must see" for art nouveau
enthusiasts, and you can sample its sophisticated French cuisine
in either the main dining room or the more informal café; or L'Ecailler
du Palais Royal (18 rue Bodenbroek, tel: 512 87 51) which
serves only seafood within its high-ceilinged, club-like rooms.
With just a minimal amount of research, you're likely to find that
Brussels is as conducive to pleasure as it is to business.
It's always helpful to know how business is conducted in a particular
destination. Andrea Murphy, a cultural officer at the Belgian Embassy
in Washington, D.C. recently provided some insight into business
dealings in Belgium:
- Belgians shake hands with everyone, from the secretary to the
president, at the beginning and end of a meeting; a brief, lightly
pressured handshake is all that's required.
- First names are rarely used, and when you are introduced, it's
a good idea to repeat your name.
- Most international business negotiations are conducted in English.
- Belgians are more formal than North Americans; don't request
a drink that has not been offered (for example, if you're offered
beer or coffee, don't ask for wine).
- While gifts are not customarily exchanged at business meetings,
a bottle of wine, flowers (but not chrysanthemums) or a book are
appreciated if you're invited to someone's home for dinner.
- Do not suggest a breakfast meeting, as this Type A style of
doing business is not popular in Belgium.
- Women in the business world are treated equitably, and it is
perfectly acceptable here for a female to host a male at a restaurant
and pick up the tab.
- Remember that Belgians are known for their skill at compromise
Prolific freelance writer and editor Joanna
Ebbutt is a member of the Society of American Travel
Writers. She contributes to The Toronto Star among other
publications. She wrote the Insight Pocket Guide: Toronto
and co-authored Off The Beaten Track: Western Canada. She
is also Update Editor on Insight Guides Canada, Insight Guides
Montreal and Insight Pocket Guide Quebec.