Brussels after lockdown
We arrived in Brussels with some trepidation following the Paris terrorist attacks 13th November. Brussels had been in lock down, the highest level of alertness and we were due to arrive less than two weeks after the attacks. Fearing the people of Brussels might be targeted by extremists the schools and subways were shut down and people were asked to stay away from public places during the five day lockdown.
We saw strict controls at Paris Nord train station as we boarded for Bruxelles Midi with officers searching our bags and cases before we boarded the train. When we arrived we found after five days of lockdown the deserted streets still had the presence of soldiers armed with machine guns and officials were trying to entice back the tourists who may have been scared away.
While lockdown may have helped with investigations, the standstill was causing huge losses to those who relied on tourism. Brussels, like Paris, was seeing a drop in tourism and last minute hotel cancellations. Normally the Grand Place at this time of the year would be crowded with festive merry makers, but the presence of Police, Soldiers and journalists was causing the central square traders to feel the pinch.
When we arrived at our hotel, Mercure Brussels Centre Midi, we were greeted warmly. The hotel, conveniently located near Gare Du Midi train station is usually at full occupancy, but had only a handful of guests. We found the location of Saint Gilles away from the city’s main square had less controls and military presence, therefore a less tense atmosphere. The area is very easy to navigate, a six minute walk to the station, fifteen minutes from Manneken Pis and the city’s vibrant 14th century main square, Grand Place.
We found the area to be a multi-cultural dense municipality with semi derelict tenements near the railway station and a mix of elegant art nouveau houses, artistic student life and tourist hotels. On Sundays there is a big market between the hotel and train station and we found several salons nearby to drink tea and coffee or eat a crepe.
This newly built hotel is an ideal base, not just for the location. Offering 4 star services, the rooms are warmly decorated. The attention to detail during the 8 year build is apparent in the décor and elegant fittings. Our room was very comfortable and had a large double glazed window to allow ample natural light into the room but kept the cold and noise out. Not that we noticed any noise as our room was not facing the street. The room itself was very large, with a toilet separate to the well-appointed bathroom with walk in shower and rain head. I loved the vanity mirror, it featured an anti-fog button and even had a digital clock display. The room featured an extremely comfortable bed with high quality linen, a lounge and work desk, safe, Wi-Fi, tea/coffee making facilities and minibar.
We were taken on a tour of the hotel and amenities which included a chic bar, a fitness room, whirlpool and steam room, a meeting room and a large, elegant breakfast room. During our tour we could see the meticulousness in the soothing colour scheme of the harmonious interior decoration, in particular the sophisticated lighting. Each light fitting throughout was a chic designer label fitting.
The breakfast buffet had an amazing selection of pastries, hot and cold dishes and an almost endless selection of cheeses and cold meats and of course waffles.
We found all staff to be very attentive and they made us feel at home, whilst being discreet and not in our face. Clearly this is quite a special quality and management should be very proud of their attentive staff who went out of their way to make our stay very comforting despite the current situation. We found the added bonus for us was the proximity to the midi station as this was our first train journey of many throughout Europe and made our added daytrips to nearby Bruges, Ghent, Luxembourg and Antwerp idyllic.
So whilst our timing to Europe may not have been perfect, the location and staff at the hotel certainly made up for any apprehension we may have felt prior to our arrival.
Brussels has the most interesting architecture surrounded by a maze of winding streets full of bistros and cafes offering world famous Belgian specialities and we found the Mercure Brussels Centre Midi to be an ideal base that we would love to return to.
Now your turn, tell us would you have continued with your planned holiday the day the lockdown was lifted? Would staying in an area away from the heart of the tourist area make you more at ease? Please leave a comment below and let us know.