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Come on get healthy: fitness and wellbeing in Brussels
If you’re looking for a way to stay in shape in Brussels, there are plenty of places that can help take care of your fitness and wellbeing
Five-star fitness in Brussels is synonymous with one place: Aspria, the upmarket health and fitness club that’s been catering to those who appreciate a touch of luxury with their workout since it set up here in 2001. Its flagship site is on Avenue Louise, an adults-only retreat where members come to unwind, work up a sweat and even network. Members of this location can also make use of the two other Brussels sites, at Arts-Loi and Royal La Rasante in Woluwe, where kids are welcome. The top-of-the-range facilities at each location include all the latest fitness equipment, pool, sauna, personal trainers, group workouts and massage therapy; La Rasante also has tennis courts.
After a consultation, members are given a personalised fitness plan that’s stored on an electronic key. Plug it in to any of the exercise machines and you’ll be told how many reps to do, at which intensity or for how long. Trainers monitor your progress remotely and as you reach your goals they’ll up the intensity, so you see real results. They’ll even give you a call if you’ve not been for a while, to check everything’s ok and adjust your plan if necessary. Aspria Louise general manager Miguel van Ackere has done his time as an expat, so he understands the lifestyle of his international clientele and takes pride in the personal touch each member receives. Of course, there’s a premium to pay for this kind of service, which is why every potential member is invited to visit the facilities to see just what their money will get them, to discuss their goals and work out a suitable package and regime. Discounts are available for, among other things, corporate clients, couples and off-peak membership.
In leafy Uccle, David Lloyd offers indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, sauna, varied group workouts and a fitness centre, as well as lots of activities for kids.
Wellness in all aspects of life is the philosophy of Melissa Rancourt, the American engineer and entrepreneur who took over the luxury Brussels spa Serendip with an associate two years ago. Authenticity is guaranteed here: all therapists have the same origins as the treatments they provide, be it Tibet, Nepal, Bali or Thailand. This has led to strong links with communities in these countries, allied with a positive presence in Rancourt’s adopted country; events such as vintage clothing sales for charity and evenings supporting emerging artists are a regular feature on the Serendip calendar. Group yoga and meditation sessions are given in a converted print shop with a bank of sloping windows at one end. Though it’s handily placed on Place Stephanie, you’ll feel safely cocooned from city life as you enjoy, for example, a candlelit yoga session while the rain beats down outside. The vast range of therapies extends to fast-track shoulder massage, mother and baby treatments, reflexology, fingertip eye lifts and treatments for tired feet, hands and hair. Corporate and social groups can hire the centre for a day of tailored rejuvenation and meditation; couples can indulge themselves with a five-hour ultimate relaxation package. Rancourt believes in taking the experience into everyday life, and the attached shop sells hard-to-come-by natural beauty and health brands, including the British This Works, the Belgian Spinée and the Dutch Dr Alkaitis, as well as lavender-scented, fleece-lined yoga mats by Holistic Silk and yoga clothing by London-based eco-friendly brand Wellicious.
Yoga/meditation from €15 per session; massages €25-€195
Just off Place du Luxembourg, Livia Kova offers a menu of wellness and beauty treatments including massages, facials, peels, wraps, pedicures, tanning, waxing and slimming programmes. It’s open until 20.00 during the week.
What started in the Woluwe attic of Dutch-American couple Barbara and Marc Pouw has grown into a great word-of-mouth success: the Yoga Loft. As long-term Brussels expats who’d seen friends come and go, they wanted to create a community of like-minded people and began teaching yoga to friends and neighbours in their loft. Seven years later, the couple’s original philosophy remains, and you’ll find a welcoming and supportive atmosphere where people are happy to linger and chat after a vigorous practice that builds endurance, flexibility and mental focus. Workshops can be arranged in your office, group classes are available for kids or pregnant and postnatal women, and teacher training is provided too.
Single class €12, five-class card €50, 10-class card €90
American expat Tessa Buon Viso offers small group and private classes in Saint-Gilles; once the weather improves she’ll be offering outdoor sessions with a donation-based payment system where you give what you can. Contact her via Facebook to arrange a trial class.
The BKS Iyengar Yoga Centre of Brussels is a small and friendly centre in an Etterbeek townhouse run by Willy Bok and Rita Poelvoorde, who have been teaching Iyengar yoga to groups of varying abilities since 2008. Pregnancy and postnatal classes are available on appointment and there are intensive Sunday workshops throughout the year plus a retreat in Wallonia in July. Beginners are welcome and instructors keep a close eye on all participants to ensure they get the most out of the poses. Classes are given in a mix of French and English.
Classes €13-€15, membership from €100
Irish-Belgian physiotherapist Aisling Christiaens offers pilates and powerplate primarily for rehabilitation at her practice in Tervuren.
CrossFit Power Factory: the very name of this gym in Rue d’Idalie conjures up terrifying images of medicine balls, never-ending press-ups, screaming and tears, but – though it’s a definite subscriber to the “no pain, no gain” theory of exercise – it’s a welcoming place for a group workout you’ll remember. Using circuit-style training with free weights and cardio exercises, the attentive instructors will push you to your limits, all the while ensuring you’re safe and having fun. After an hour of sit-ups, pull-ups, burpees, squats and chest presses, you’ll stagger away exhausted, shaking and a little bit exhilarated.
Membership from €99/month; free trials available
Basic Fit has 19 branches in Brussels, some of which are open 24/7, and membership allows you access to all of them. You can take part in group classes with real teachers or via a video screen, and there are downloadable training plans on its website. Membership from €15.95 a month.
The Scandinavians’ greatest legacy in Brussels is Friskis & Svettis, a democratic fitness club with classes given by (fully trained) volunteers at a price that won’t break the bank. From September to June, they offer a host of indoor classes at venues across Brussels, including aerobics of varying intensity, yoga, dance and stations, plus outdoor running and Nordic walking. Each semester they hold a couple of special events – a dance night, a Halloween session, a discovery week – and some venues offer free babysitting during classes. The icing on the cake is the free sessions in Cinquantenaire Park every summer – they’re open to everyone, and great fun.
Full adult membership €195 for 10 months (discounts available); single sessions €10
Known mainly as a tennis and squash club, Castle Club in Wezembeek-Oppem also offers stages for kids, a swimming pool, cardio centre, sauna and weight training. All-in membership costs €495 a year; reduced membership is €195.
Stadium is a vast leisure centre with branches in Molenbeek and Schaerbeek with something for just about everyone. Alongside several rooms of fitness equipment and free weights, it offers a huge variety of group workouts including kickboxing, pilates, aqua aerobics, zumba, jiu jitsu, fit ball, step and salsa; there’s also an indoor climbing wall, vibrating bodyplates, squash and badminton courts, a pool, sauna and sunbeds, personal training and diet advice. You can pay by the class (€10) or sign up for a month (€99), six months (€384) or a year (€649), and free trials are available.
With eight branches around Brussels, there’s bound to be a Health City near you. Group classes and personal training available, as well as nutrition workshops and all the usual equipment.
Get kitted out
Loved by fans of discount gear, Decathlon is the answer to most of your fitness needs. You’ll find clothes, shoes and accessories for running, cycling, pilates, skiing, hunting, horse-riding, boxing, sailing and just about any activity you care to think of. The Brussels branch is conveniently located near Ikea in Anderlecht, and, even more conveniently, they deliver.
Specialist Jogging Plus in Rue de Luxembourg is renowned for its good advice when it comes to choosing just the right pair of trainers, and Brussels runners swear by their service. They carry all the major brands, as well as some more specialised names.
At the other end of the scale is Sports Direct, the massive chain that stacks ’em high and sells ’em low. You’ll find all the usual brands, in shoes, clothes and accessories, and though the place can be frenzied, you’re likely to come away with a fully stocked sports kit without the huge price tag. Branches in Chaussée d’Ixelles and City 2.
Photos: Friskis & Svettis by Julian Bickley
This article first appeared in The Bulletin's Newcomer spring 2014 edition