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Up my street: The Bulletin's neighbourhood guide to Berchem-Sainte-Agathe

10:37 07/08/2018

One of Brussels’ smaller municipalities, Berchem-Sainte-Agathe (Sint-Agatha-Berchem in Dutch) is on the northwestern side of Brussels, between Molenbeek, Koekelberg and Ganshoren. While not a favourite choice among the expat community, it has lots to offer those looking for a village-style atmosphere without straying too far from the city centre. We asked Bulletin readers to tell us what they like about living here, and what they’d change.

One anonymous reader loves this part of town for its tranquillity, transport and cultural activities. “I’ve lived here for four years. It’s calm and green, with all the benefits of the city; there’s public transport everywhere and frequent transport at night. It’s full of trees and pretty houses,” they told us in response to our reader survey. “There are a large number of sustainable projects, the Wilder wood, public orchards, De Kroon and Fourquet cultural centres… There’s also the citizens’ sustainability collective Bled, which organises lots of events and initiatives.”

Sap is a Belgian with Tunisian roots who has always lived in Berchem. “It’s nice and green and quiet, but there are not a lot of things to see here,” they told us. “It could maybe do with more infrastructure like shops and transport, because they’re only available in part of Berchem, and more events for children and teenagers. The staff at the town hall are quite fast and helpful, but you have to pay for every document you get there.”

According to Kristien Viaene, CEO of Noa real estate agency, Berchem is “quite an unknown commune that’s often forgotten about. Noa does a lot of work in the northwest but we don’t often have property available in Berchem and there’s not too much new construction on the market. It’s an old commune, very Belgian, with lots of locals still living there and lots of small old houses.” People choose to live here because of the easy access in and out of the city, the proximity to the Ring and the ease of travelling outside Brussels towards Ghent and the coast.

“It’s not very expensive, really affordable and offers a good quality of life,” she explains. “If you want to live in Brussels but don’t want to spend too much money, you can find property there. Like in Jette, you have a market square and some shops; it’s not vibrant but there’s some life. From a real estate perspective, there’s not much happening there at the moment, but that’s perhaps what makes it more interesting from a buyer or renter’s perspective. The prices are still reasonable, as big developers aren’t finding a lot of opportunity to build there, and if they develop it’s difficult to immediately get a good return on investment.”

From a broader perspective, she says, the whole of the north side of Brussels is increasing in popularity. “I believe Berchem will benefit from the developments,” she adds. “It doesn’t have a negative reputation like Molenbeek has had; Berchem has always been considered much better, safer, more classic, more Belgian, but it’s not a place anybody really thinks about, so it’s a bit boring in that way. It actually has a bit of a rural character; I believe there is still one farmer active in the commune and you can see his field of cows when you drive into Brussels!”

The old village square, the 12th-century church, the neoclassic 19th-century century houses and the old brewery with its neo-Renaissance brewery owner’s house form a lovely if idealised vision of how Berchem once looked. Climbing up the hill from the church is Rue de l’Allée Verte, which is bordered by old farms. At the top is the old cemetery, next to the 20 acres of the Wilder Woods, consisting of forest, grasslands, streams, ponds and orchards among hills and dales.

Property prices in the area are low in comparison with other parts of the city, with one- and two-bedroom apartments readily available for less than €750 a month. And real estate website Immoweb lists dozens of three- and four-bedroom houses on the market for less than €400,000.

The local railways station links Berchem with both the EU quarter via Schuman and Luxembourg, and with North, Central and Midi in the city centre, while trams 19 and 82 also pass through the commune.

Favourite spots Les Marseillais fast-food joint • Wilder wood • Zavelenberg park • L’Auberge Kasterlinden restaurant with large garden terrace • Basilix shopping centre • Brasserie de le GareLa Bonne Franquette Belgian restaurant • Café in de Linde, a charming old cafe between the Wilder woods and the cemetery, filled with a mixture of locals, cyclists and day trippers

Positives

  • Calm and quiet with a rural feel
  • Good for families
  • Lots of green areas
  • Good transport links
  • Close to city centre and Ring
  • Affordable properties

Negatives

  • Can be dull
  • Shortage of shops and infrastructure in certain parts
  • Not many restaurants, cafes or bars
Written by Sally Tipper