City Guide: Weekend in Brussels

A Girl, A Style _ BrusselsA Girl, A Style _ Brussels

Between all our recent European travels, I feel as though my feet have barely touched the ground the past few months. But one of my big New Year’s Resolutions for 2016 was to take more frequent small trips and explore Europe more (rather than eschewing the cities on our doorstep in favour of the extended long-haul trips we usually take).

Although I frequently travel to Brussels for work, I only ever get to see the Government district and the inside of the European Commission buildings while I’m there (with an occasional detour through the Grand Place on the way back to the Eurostar station if the weather is behaving). Given how easy it is to get there from England, I decided it was about time we properly explored all the city had to offer (which is so much more than just the seat of the European Union).

So when Alcatel asked if I’d like to put together a city guide in conjunction with their current promo (get return flights to one of eight European cities when you buy the new Pop4 handset), it was the perfect excuse to finally explore this grand old city. It was my first time trying the handset, but I have to say it was the ideal phone for travelling; because of the dual-SIM function I could put both my UK and travel SIM in at the same time, and the camera and maps were excellent for navigating our way around town without getting lost (and snapping everything along the way, of course).

A Girl, A Style _ BrusselsA Girl, A Style _ BrusselsA Girl, A Style _ Brussels

Brussels is the perfect size for a weekend city break; small enough that you feel you can cover a decent chunk of it in two days, large enough that you’ll have no shortage of things to do. These were the best things we covered during our stay:

Do // For a dose of culture, start with the magnificent Grand Place. A large cobbled square bordered by the opulent Town Hall and guildhalls which marks the centre of the old town; it is a Unesco World Heritage site and surely one of the most beautiful squares in Europe.

Afterwards, walk over to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (around €8) on Rue de la Régence for a morning with Rubens, van Dyck and all the Flemish greats. Afterwards, head to the Royal Palace next door; it is free to visit from July-September when the Royal Family go away, and the spectacular rooms are worthy of any Disney princess (I’m not sure I have ever seen quite so many chandeliers in once place). Afterwards, we bought an ice cream and happily lazed beneath the canopy of trees in the Parc du Bruxelles across the road.

Shop // Treasure hunt for antiques: We visited both the Sablon (every Saturday and Sunday at the Place du Grand Sablon) and Les Marolles (every day on the Place du Jeu de Balle) flea markets and the surrounding antique shops. On the first Sunday of every month there is also a vintage market at Halle Saint-Géry. I picked up vintage postcards from Paris and a set of 1960s cocktail glasses at the Sablon, and an antique bust of Marie Antoinette and a pair of golden pheasants for the dining room table at Les Marolles. During a sudden downpour at Les Marolles, we dashed into the Cafe La Brocante on the corner of the square for coffee, which was charmingly stuffed with locals and antiques in equal measure.

Grand arcades: Don’t miss the beautiful Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert near the Grand Place. Built in 1847, it is a beautiful glass-roofed passageway housing luxury shops and cafes. We loitered for nearly an hour in the magnificent Tropismes Libraires bookstore in the Galerie des Princes section.

Hip boutiques: For the best small, independent fashion, design and lifestyle boutiques, head to the Rue Dansaert / Rue des Chartreux district. We made the mistake of visiting on a Sunday morning when many stores were closed, so visit on a Saturday or weekday instead for the best range of options.

A Girl, A Style _ BrusselsA Girl, A Style _ BrusselsA Girl, A Style _ Brussels

Eat // It would be positively remiss to go to Brussels and leave hungry. From the famous chocolate and waffles to the traditional carbonades flamandes (beef stew) and moules frites (mussels and fries), there is no shortage of gourmand delights on offer.

For brunch, head to Peck 47 on Rue du Marché aux Poulets for eggs + savoury waffles or the original Le Pain Quotidien on Rue Dansaert (both a short walk from the Grand Place).
For lunch or dinner, make for local-favourite Le Fin de Siecle on Rue des Chartreux. We had dinner there on Saturday night and the atmosphere was lively and cosy; the food a delicious offering of Italian and authentic Belgian dishes.

Craving something sweet? Head straight to haute chocolaterie Pierre Marcolini for the best chocolate the city has to offer (not to mention glorious macarons and ice cream pops dipped in the chocolate of your choice). For a snack on-the-go whilst sightseeing, the chocolate-dipped strawberries at Godiva and the cheap as frites nutella-topped waffles (find them beside the Manneken Pis fountain) both earn an honourable mention.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Girl, A Style _ Brussels

Souvenir // I’m sure it’s obligatory to return home with a stash of Belgian chocolates in your suitcase. Pick up a box from Pierre Marcolini, Mary or Elisabeth (all have several locations dotted around the city), and a few blocks of Dolfin from the convenience store (I’m especially taken with their Earl Grey-infused dark chocolate tablets). A tin of Belgian waffles or speculoos (traditional cinnamon-spiced biscuits) from Maison Dandoy will also make a marvelous gift for friends back home. For something more unique, hunt for a vintage copy of Tintin or an antique tchotchke from the Les Marolles or Sablon flea market.

Good to Know // Brussels is small enough that you can walk just about everywhere, but if the weather is bad or you want to save your feet, the subway is clean, easy and goes everywhere you need to go (aside from hopping on the subway to get to our hotel, we walked the entire weekend). Everyone speaks English perfectly, but otherwise it’s the perfect excuse to practice your French.

A Girl, A Style _ BrusselsA Girl, A Style _ Brussels

Look 1: J.Crew jacket // Gap jeans // J.Crew top (similar style here) // Ferragamo shoes // Chanel bag // ASOS hat // Kenneth Jay Lane necklace (similar style here) // Chanel brooch // Karen Walker sunglasses.
Look 2: Zimmermann dress // J.Crew necklace // Ferragamo shoes // Valentino bag // ASOS hat // Karen Walker sunglasses // Michael Kors watch.

Love, Miss B xx

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This post is in partnership with Alcatel, who are offering return flights to eight European cities when you buy the new Pop4 handset. 

The Island of Burano, Venice

A Girl, A Style _ Burano, VeniceA Girl, A Style _ Burano, Venice
Wearing: dress // hat // sandals // bag // bracelets // sunglasses // necklace

As those who follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat will know, last month my Fiancé and I headed to Italy for the most marvellous vacation (and some much-needed sunshine; England was in the throes of a very gloomy June). I thought I’d start with our day trip to the Venetian island of Burano; quite simply one of the lovelies places I have ever visited.

Whilst I had seen plenty of pictures and knew to look for the colourful houses, I hadn’t expected the entire island to be such a charming, brightly-hued rainbow. Traditionally, the houses were painted in bright colours so that the village fisherman could find their house in even the darkest storm when they returned each evening, and every single house really does look like that (or, as we say over on Instagram, #nofilterrequired). Nowadays the whole island is a UNESCO world heritage site so that the tradition is officially protected, and if homeowners wish to change the colour of their house, they have to apply to the government – who respond with a list of available colours to choose from so that no two neighbouring properties are the same.

As soon as you arrive at the dock, you’ll see what I mean. And it only gets prettier from there. We were lucky to have blazing sunshine and cornflower blue skies for our visit, and as we stepped off the main canal and explored the little alleyways, I couldn’t help but think how those sunbleached, cheery houses – with their laundry hanging from the windows, children playing happily in the streets, and contented cats lazing in the shade – looked exactly as they might have done a hundred years ago.

A Girl, A Style _ Burano, VeniceA Girl, A Style _ Burano, VeniceA Girl, A Style _ Burano, VeniceA Girl, A Style _ Burano, Venice

Given Burano’s small size, it hardly requires a ‘guide’ to what to do – instead the best thing is to simply walk down each canal and colourful side street, discovering your own secret corners and favourite spots yourself. But nonetheless, here are a few tips to make the most of your visit:

Good to Know // Burano is an island in the Venetian lagoon and is a leisurely half-day trip from ‘mainland’ Venice. The easiest way to get there is to either take a private water taxi or the number 12 vaporetto (water bus) which runs frequently, takes the same time as a taxi – around 40 minutes – but only costs €7.50 each way. Go early or late afternoon to avoid the largest crowds if you can (but don’t be put off either way, as the crowds quickly disperse between each vaporetto arrival).

Do // Burano is really a tiny little island; there are no roads – only footpaths and canals for the fishing boats – but you can walk the entire island and all it’s side streets in a couple of hours (add in another couple of hours for lunch and pausing to take approximately 16,000 photos along the way). There aren’t many shops on the island – which helps retain the traditional charm – but if you like lace, then be sure to stop into one of the little lace shops for the authentic lace linens the island is famous for (I’m still regretting the fact I didn’t buy a lace parasol and a stack of beautiful handmade napkins).

Eat // We had heard great things about Trattoria al Gatto Nero (my friend Julia had gone there earlier in the year), and the name – which translates to The Black Cat - had us sold, but when we arrived there wasn’t a free table to found until fully three days later (moral of the story: book ahead). My friend Alex had also recommended Trattoria da Romano, but both the restaurant and street looked a little too crowded with tourists when we passed. So instead we simply followed our noses and ended up at the charming, pastel pink Riva Rosa Enoteca, which turned out to be the very best choice of all. We had big plates of spaghetti alla vongole (a local specialty, pictured below) outside at one of the tables overlooking the colourful canal, and it was quite simply one of the most delicious, memorable meals I’ve ever had.

A Girl, A Style _ Riva Rossa Burano, VeniceA Girl, A Style _ Burano, VeniceA Girl, A Style _ Burano, VeniceWearing: H&M dress // Eugenia Kim hat // Valentino bag (mini version here) // Dune sandals // Kenneth Jay Lane bracelets (necklace version here) // Tom Ford sunglasses // J.Crew necklace // Chanel brooch.
Beauty: Chanel ‘L’Eclatante’ lipstick // MAC ‘Dollymix’ blush // James Read tan // Essie ‘Limoscene’ nail polish

There was just something so magical about Burano, and I couldn’t help falling a little in love more in love with each street we explored. I’m so glad that places like this – frozen in time and still retaining every ounce of charm and history – still exist in the world. I can’t wait to return one day.

Stay tuned for Venice, Florence and Bologna soon!

Love, Miss B xx

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Off to Paris!

A Girl, A Style _ Laduree Paris.jpg
Bonjour mes amis! My fiancé and I are off to Paris for 5 nights this weekend and I couldn’t be more excited!

We’ll be staying at the beautiful Hotel Emile in Le Marais (my favourite district) and – a huge novelty for two perpetual over-schedulers – we have absolutely no plans. We’re just going to wander our favourite neighbourhoods, visit a few galleries, loiter in tiny bookstores, sit at pavement cafes on the Left Bank, eat too many desserts, have picnics in the park, and take a daytrip out to Versailles.

I’d love to know your tips and suggestions for the best new places to go, or your favourite things to do!

Love, Miss B xx

 

City Guide: 36 Hours in The Netherlands

A Girl, A Style _ Bloemenmarkt Tulips, Amsterdam NetherlandsA Girl, A Style _ Amsterdam, The NetherlandsWearing: Coach trench coat // Current Elliott jeans // Paul & Joe top // Ferragamo flats // Marc Jacobs bag // Tom Ford sunglasses c/ VisionDirect // Chanel brooch 

Last week, I found myself in The Netherlands for a whirlwind 26 hour trip. Although I was in The Hague for a TED event for work, I managed to squeeze in a little sightseeing around the talks, and booked myself on the last flight back on Friday night so that I could spend the whole afternoon exploring Amsterdam. I hadn’t been to Holland since I was small and travelled around the country with my family, so I was so happy to be back in this beautiful country.

Honestly, I couldn’t have loved it more. I had forgotten just how gorgeous this city was, and each street and canal I happened upon seemed even prettier than the last. I was blessed with the most glorious sunshine on what felt like the first spring day of the year, and had the most perfect two days in Amsterdam and The Hague. I’m already planning my next trip back!

A Girl, A Style _ Amsterdam Canal HousesA Girl, A Style _ Amsterdam Canal HousesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m not sure I can really call this a city guide (as I was only there two full days, and much of that was taken up with work commitments), but here’s what I got up to and enjoyed the most in my (far too brief) time there:

Do // Amsterdam:

Culture: It would be rude to arrive in Amsterdam without making a pilgrimage to one of the exceptional galleries which pay homage to the great Dutch artists. Don’t go past the grand Rijksmuseum or the equally spectacular Van Gough Museum nearby (smaller and thus more realistic if on a tight schedule, as I was this time).

Soak up the city: The best way to see the city is just to meander around those beautiful streets or 17th century canals at the most leisurely pace you can manage. Rent a bicycle or just wander along the streets of the negen straatjes (nine streets) – my favourite part of the city – have a picnic on the banks of a canal, or sit outside a little neighbourhood cafe at sunset. My favourite way to do it is to just head to the area and then wander with no particular destination; there is no such thing as a wrong turn here, as each street in the area is prettier than the last.

Day trip: The Netherlands is relatively compact, and there are so many beautiful trips you can take out of town (even if you only have an afternoon to spare). On this trip I spent most of my time in The Hague, but I also remember loving Gouda (famed for its dairies and cheese market) and Delft (my mother went a bit crazy for the blue and white porcelain back in the day) and will make a trip there next time.

A Girl, A Style _ Vintage Books, Amsterdam NetherlandsA Girl, A Style _ The Hague, Netherlands

The Hague // My first day in the Netherlands was spent in Den Haag; most famous for being the seat of the International Criminal Court, the UN, and more government bodies. They are worthy sites to visit in their own right, but the most spectacular is the Binnenhof – the cluster of buildings that house the Dutch government and wouldn’t look out of place in Hogwarts (I was lucky enough to be inside the old Hall of Knights for one of my events).

Just beside the Binnenhof, overlooking the Hofvijer (a picturesque stretch of water), sits the magnificent Mauritshuis museum (below), which houses all the Dutch Masters – Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, et. al. I snuck away during the lunch break to spend an hour exploring the rooms in here, and can honestly say it is now one of my favourite galleries in the world. As an art lover, I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of all those works I had grown up appreciating (not to mention the gorgeous gallery itself), that I was physically moved to tears several times when I would walk into a new room; and that was even before I spotted Vermeer’s The Girl With A Pearl Earring. A must-do for any history buff or art-lover.

If you’re visiting The Hague on a Thursday or Sunday, there is an antique and book market beneath the canopy of trees on the beautiful stretch along Lange Voorhout (during the winter months, it is held on Thursdays on Plein Square beside the Binnenhof). I am powerless against the lure of an antique market, and managed to squeeze in a happy half an hour – though I could have spent triple that – browsing the stalls before a talk, and came away with a couple of antique maps from 1900 for just €10 each.

If you’re making the trip to Amsterdam, then I absolutely recommend a day trip to The Hague. Although most of my time there was taken up with work, I had such a lovely time strolling the streets lined with blooming spring tulips and handsome architecture.

A Girl, A Style _ The Binnenhof, The Hague, NetherlandsA Girl, A Style _ Vermeer Girl With A Pearl Earring, Mauritshuis, The Hague

Shop // I didn’t have much time to hunt down the best shops before everything closed at 5:30pm (as it was such a flying visit, seeing as much of the city as I could trumped shopping), but these were the gems I spotted along the way:
Frozen Fountain: a design store filled with the coolest decor, art, gifts and things for the home you didn’t know you needed until now.
De Weldaad
 (below): A veritable cabinet of curosities; brimming with a curated collection of vintage furniture and homewares (I imagine it’s where the Anthropologie homewares buyers come for inspiration).
Flea Markets: The city is brimming with markets of every variety, so I will be working through this list of the city’s vintage markets on my next visit.
De Bijenkorf: I could have spent an hour on the homewares floor of department store (but as it happened, only had 15 minutes for a speed-lap of the store on the way back to Centraal Station to make my flight).

A Girl, A Style _ Amsterdam, The NetherlandsA Girl, A Style _ Wooden Clogs, Amsterdam Netherlands

Souvenir // A tin of stroopwafels (delicious little caramel waffles that are traditionally served with coffee) from the airport, some Dutch tulip bulbs from the bloemenmarkt (flower market) for your windowsill garden back home, a block of Edam or Gouda cheese, or a set of golden tealights shaped like little Amsterdam canal houses by Pols Potten (a dutch interior design label) from De Bijenkorf.

Stay // Because I was there for work, I stayed in a standard-issue Mercure in The Hague, but when travelling for pleasure I always book into a small boutique hotel with character and a pretty location. I’m already planning my next trip back (hopefully this autumn), and plan to stay at either The Canal House, The Andaz, or The Dylan (below; I passed this whilst walking around the nine streets area and it looked so charming; right on a canal with bikes out the front for guests to borrow).

A Girl, A Style _  The Dylan Hotel, AmsterdamOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGood to Know // It is a short train ride (20 minutes / €5) from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam Centraal station (flights from London take around an hour). Once there, the city is entirely walkable; I walked all over the city without needing to take transport once. The Hague, Delft and Gouda are each less than an hour away by train (trains go every 20 minutes or so and cost less than €10), and are both easy day trips. Everyone can speak English perfectly (it is the second official language), and I found everyone I met along the way to be exceedingly friendly and helpful.

Have you been to The Netherlands? Please do share your suggestions + favourite things to do in the comments below; I’m already planning my next trip back!

Love, Miss B xx