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The market place: the Sainte-Catherine neighbourhood
Dutch émigré Michiel Van Deursen, 40, came to Brussels 11 years ago to launch the Belgian versions of Tweedehands (www.2dehands.be / www.2ememain.be), the classifieds website he set up in the Netherlands in 1997. His quest for a living/work space saw him move around central Brussels before finally settling in Place du Samedi, a tiny square near Place Sainte-Catherine. “My loft apartment used to be a printing house, a place with a lot of paper. And now it’s become the base of my online company, which I entirely decorated with secondhand furniture found on the website,” Michiel says with a laugh.
At Christmas time, the neighbourhood smells of mulled wine and pancakes because of the Winter Wonders market, but for the rest of the year it’s best known for the fish restaurants along Quai au Bois à Brûler and Quai aux Briques. The former canal docks were covered in the 1880s and the resulting square housed a large fish market until 1950. The water features there now were created to give people an idea of how things used to look. The imposing Sainte-Catherine church (built in 1854 and designed by Joseph Poelaert) has been in the news lately as the city of Brussels is planning to renovate it. As a listed building, it cannot be knocked down, but since it is slowly falling apart, intervention is required. The church serves only a small congregation today and discussions over when and in what manner the renovation should happen are still ongoing. “I dread the idea of their turning it into a twelve-storey housing block, but I would be in favour of a covered market hall,” Michiel says. “A small but popular Saturday market is already held in front of the church.”
Living in an area packed with great restaurants is a blessing, especially if, like Michiel, you don’t like cooking. As a vegetarian, though, his choice is more limited. “Luckily, newcomer Ellis Gourmet Burger (4 Place Sainte-Catherine) serves delicious veggie burgers,” he says. “Bakery Charli (34 Rue Sainte-Catherine) sells the best bread I have ever tasted. I also often lunch at Soup in the City (36 Rue de Laeken), only a few steps from home. Chinatown isn’t far off, either. I love the food at the Vietnamese and Thai restaurants in the area, especially Gourmet d’Asie (14 Rue Van Artevelde).”
When it comes to having a drink, Michiel prefers the ‘authentic’ Brussels bars. “I enjoy the company and the dialect of the locals at Kafka (21 Rue des Poissonniers) and Au Daringman (37 Rue de Flandre). I also like to visit Rue des Chartreux for its many bars and restaurants. There are cocktails and tapas at Publico (32) and Italian food at Divino (56). The street is also known for its secondhand stores, which is interesting to me, obviously.” And for nightcrawlers, there is always a gig or party at Madame Moustache (5-7 Quai au Bois à Brûler).
Another of Michiel’s tips is the sky bar at the Viage Casino (30 Boulevard Anspach): “The city view from up there is stunning.” For another nearby spot with great views, Michiel suggests the top floor of Parking 58 (1 Rue de l’Evêque). “I’m lucky enough to have a great view from my loft as well.”
And shopping? “I enjoy a stroll down Rue Antoine Dansaert,” Michiel says. “Design shop La Fabrika (182) and book shop Passa Porta (46) are my favourites.” One of Brussels’ most charming secondhand books, Het Ivoren Aapje, can be found on Place du Béguinage, with books in French, English, Dutch and Italian, providing the perfect oasis to read a book – or, come December, escape from the Christmas market madness.
You’ll mainly find old, renovated houses in the area, but there are some new-builds as well. Renting a double-bedroom flat costs around €1,000; buying property starts at about €2,800 per square metre (Vlan Immo)
Metro stations Sainte-Catherine and De Brouckère are both on lines 1 and 5. Buses 29, 38, 46, 47, 63, 66, 71, 86 and 88 and Noctis night bus N18 all stop at De Brouckère, as do tram lines 3 and 4
Meet the neighbours
A mix of expats and Dutch-speaking Belgians live in the area
In & Around Place Sainte-Catherine
For the best pan-Asian cuisine, head straight to the streets between Place Saint-Géry and Place Sainte-Catherine
Ellis Gourmet Burger
One of Brussels’ newest burger joints, where you can get everything from veggie burgers to American milkshakes. 4 Place Sainte-Catherine
Mer du nord
Tuck into a plate of fish or seafood while sipping a glass of white at this Brussels institution. 45 Rue Sainte- Catherine
Michiel says: “Living in the centre of Brussels is very convenient, with shops, bars and restaurants everywhere. Because there are so many tourists visiting the area, I always see a lot of happy faces, plus renting in Brussels is cheaper than in Amsterdam!”
Photos by Dieter Telemans