Things to do in Antwerp

Less than an hour by train from Brussels, Antwerp is a brilliant choice for a design inspired weekend break. Now known as the fashion capital of Belgium, Antwerp has an artistic reputation dating back to the 17th century when renowned painters Rubens and Van Dyck were inhabitants. The city is compact and so it is easy to walk around, so you can see most things in a day. The food on offer is varied and innovative, and the nightlife scene is lively and exciting. We wandered up and down the pretty streets popping into quirky boutiques, admiring architecture and pausing occasionally for traditional raisin bread and hot chocolate.

To stay 

Hotel Julien – This hotel is a trendsetter and opened in 2004 as one of the first boutique accommodation options in the city. There are 21 rooms, each unique in its layout and feel, some are more rustic than others. Our room was extremely photogenic, with beautiful minimalist décor and lovely stylish furniture. It is thelittle details at Hotel Julien that make this hotel special. The breakfast, with croissants from Domestic bakery, was particularly memorable.

To eat

Chez Fred – this local neighbourhood restaurant is perfect for experiencing delicious Belgian food in an authentic setting. We enjoyed a rustic beef stew and wine whilst flicking through our travel guide ready for an afternoon of sightseeing.

The Jane – It is essential to book ahead if you wish to eat out in Antwerp. A situation which we especially encountered with the pompous staff at The Jane. Housed in a former Military Hospital chapel this gorgeous restaurant offers Michelin starred food from Sergio Herman in a chic, rock’n’roll environment.

L’Epicerie du Cirque – sadly this eatery was shut when we visited Antwerp but I have heard wonderful things about the magical cuisine here. The cuisine and dining room are both inspired by the purity of Scandinavia, with innovative seasonal dishes that delight.

To drink

Caffenation – Many say this speciality coffee roasters and café serves the best cup of coffee in Antwerp. The black and red exterior sign doesn’t look like much, but inside the drinks don’t disappoint. The warm earthy smell of crushed coffee beans is enough to lure anyone in and the smooth creamy coffee will encourage people back.

Sips – a small and funky cocktail bar, full to the brim on weekends Sips has a long list of concoctions to satisfy every customer. The experienced Sips staff conjure up classic cocktails and their own creations, we tried the sweet Spring Bee and A Pig and a Whistle which uses their own Spring gin.

Normo – an independent coffee bar and micro-roastery with a focus on high quality blends. The café has a light and airy feel, filled with hipsters working away on their laptops. I enjoyed a strong takeaway flat white on our first morning in the city.

To do

Rubens House – this is the former home and studio of Antwerp’s most famous artist, Rubens. Immaculately preserved and restored (since he bought it in 1610), it is a real treat to walk through this house which holds so many spectacular paintings and wonderful pieces of furniture. You will be immersed in his world whilst getting an amazing insight into this great man’s life.

MAS – An abbreviation for ‘Museum aan de Stroom’ this is Antwerp’s largest museum and is located in a picturesque spot along the river Scheldt in the Eilandje district. It opened in May 2011 and holds a varied collection of art and historic objects. It memorable for its impressive architectural structure, a design by architects Neutelings Riedijk. The two Michelin star restaurant ‘t Zilte is found on the ninth floor.

To shop

The Recollection – a beautifully curated lifestyle concept store stocking Aesop toiletries, Kaweco stationery, Piet van Eek furniture and other stylish objects of desire.

Huis Boon – Established in 1884 this gorgeous little glove shop has been an institution since opening. Boxes line the walls, filled with every colour of glove you could every wish for. I fell in love with a pair of cashmere lined emerald gloves. For something more delicate Huis Boon also make gloves in other finer materials, like lace.

Hay – this is one of the flagship stores of the successful Danish design brand. The colourful products for desk and home are irresistibly chic, especially when displayed all together.

Goossens Chocolatier – this unassuming chocolate shop is not found in the centre of town but it is worth visiting for their renowned, top-quality chocolates. They are a favourite with royals and presidents around the world, and most excitingly supply the chocolate for the White House.

Loft Styles – we found this shop amongst the antique outlets on Kloosterstraat, though Loft Styles felt special. The retro furniture and ornaments are mostly industrial in style, exhibited in an effective way and priced reasonably. If only I lived closer I would have bought something from the unique collection.

Thoroughly Modern Milly travelled to Belgium with Eurostar.

Things to do in Brussels

Brussels has garnered a reputation as a boring business destination, but I discovered a range of shops, restaurants and cafes that illustrated a creative and exciting side to the city. Just two hours from London on the Eurostar, Belgian is accessible and easy to get to.  As the capital city Brussels is home to many of the flagship stores and important sights. We particularly enjoyed the chocolate, beer and chip tasting!

To stay

The Dominican – this hotel has a focus on design, art and history and is set on the site of what used to be a 15th century Dominican abbey. Located in the centre of Brussels, this accommodation is part of the Design Hotel group featuring the designs of the renowned Amsterdam brand FGStijl. The interior is a modern renovation and revitalisation of the old cloisters and original architecture.

To eat

WY Brussels – this is the newest project from star chef Bart De Pooter, and was prompted awarded a Michelin star. It is a very special and unusual eatery, concealed within Mercedes House, the posh car showroom. We enjoyed a delicious lunch here trying their specialities like the innovative Bacon and cabbage dish.

La Boule D’Or – those searching for traditional Belgian cuisine should head to La Boule D’Or. Most often crammed with hungry locals, this characterful corner café serves favourites like meatballs and steak with chips. Prices are reasonable and the service is friendly.

To drink

Hortense – we were delighted to discover this spirits and cocktail bar, hidden in a tiny cave along Place du Sablon. The little candlelit bar is very atmospheric and serves up tasty inventive drinks. We enjoyed short flavoured cocktails accompanied with the house salt and pepper popcorn.

Chez Franz – this local and atmospheric venue is easy-going and trendy. The perfect stop for a hearty weekend brunch or an evening pint of Belgian blond beer.

OR Espresso Bar – a micro roaster, coffee training centre and coffee bar this little venue was recommended to me several times as the best place to get my morning caffeine fix. Small and characterful I was pleased with my strong but creamy takeaway flat white.

To do

Marolles Flea Market – This street market is open every day all year round and is the place to find a bargain. Rare antiques and vintage trinkets are found amongst the modern tat, you just need the patience to rummage through.

Museum of Musical Instruments – housed in a magnificent Art Nouveau building this impressive collection of instruments from across the ages is presented here in an informative and fun way. As you walk around the audio guide will play you the authentic sounds of the instruments in front of you.

Manneken Pis – “Little man Pee” in Dutch and le Petit Julien in French) is a bizarre landmark in Brussels. The small bronze sculpture depicts a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618 or 1619.

To shop

Maison Dandoy – we stumbled across this charming little biscuit shop. A sweet institution established in 1829, Dandoy produces irresistable oven-fresh biscuits. Coincidentally the original shop is found in Brussels on rue au Beurre (Butter street).

L’Antichambre – an unmissable boutique on the Brussels shopping scene. Owner Anne Pascale has created a sensual shop with the highest quality scents from Grasse, and will work with clients to create their very own bespoke fragrance. I was lucky enough to make my own, which I named Resolument Moderne including Chocolate, Spicy Pepper and Fig ingredients. L’Antichambre also produce a range of beautiful scented candles, try the unique flavour Le tomate verte.

Mary – this pretty feminine shop has packaging that is just as lovely as the chocolates. There are now a few branches of this artisan brand, all stocking the signature illustrated boxes filled with seriously delicious treats. My favourite chocolate shop in Brussels, a box of Mary chocolates would be a memorable gift for someone special.

Hunting and Collecting – this spacious, cleanly arranged shop stocks a range of labels, which are rotated regularly, so you are bound to find a new gem every time you visit. The basement hosts art exhibitions whilst upstairs you can browse the tailored clothes, and lust after the design objects and striking accessories.

Pierre Marcolini – when you ask the locals in Belgium for the best chocolate, most will point towards the haute chocolatier, Pierre Marcolini. The shop is more like a museum with immaculately presented chocolates everywhere you look. I loved the coloured heart collection, which are almost too pretty to demolish!

La Fabrika – Opened by Kelly Claessens in 2010 this design haven stocks a beautifully curated collection of classic furniture, unusual books and chic accessories that would complement any home. La Fabrika is a trendsetter in Brussels and is popular with the stylish Bohemian locals.

Le Typographe – I have been excited about my trip to this stationery emporium for months, so entering the doors of the perfectly ordered shop was a joy. Alongside the carefully hand-picked pens, pencils and other writing paraphernalia Le Typographe stock their own brand, often neon, cards, envelopes and notebooks. An atelier of the finest stationery, I wanted it all.

Thoroughly Modern Milly travelled with Eurostar.

·         Eurostar operates up to 9 daily services from London St Pancras International to Brussels with return fares from £69.

·         Tickets to any Belgium station start from £79.

·         Fastest London-Brussels journey time is 2 hours.

·         Tickets are available from or 03432 186 186.

114 Faubourg, Le Bristol, Paris

You can’t beat Le Bristol. This hotel is the epitome of Parisian elegance, renowned for exceptional accommodation, fantastic facilities, exquisite decor and the very best French dining. The main restaurant Epicure has three stars while the more casual brasserie-style eatery 114 Faubourg holds one star.

On a Saturday evening we arrived at 114 excited to taste the cuisine, the grand opulent room was full and busy, waiters frantically trying to attend to every table. Despite its prestigious accolades, 114 Faubourg retains a jovial relaxed atmosphere which I really appreciated. There’s something rather horrible about eating fine food in silence.

The menu is varied and tempting, well balanced dishes with indulgent ingredients. A 52 Euro set lunch offers a choice of two options per course, I can imagine there are lots of gossiping ladies who love taking advantage of this reasonable deal. After a much needed glass of champagne and some melt-in-the-mouth cheese twists, warm bread and fresh butter arrived and we tried hard to resist it in preparation for the courses ahead.

To start we chose the platter of Bellota Bellota cured ham with tomato on bread, and the pan fried langoustine ravioli with Sichuan pepper, coconut and lime emulsion. Both were beautifully presented: a generous and rich pile of ham was perfectly complemented by the crusty bread and the ravioli was a delightfully light and exotic dish topped with foam and specks of lime and pepper, it looked like a contemporary work of art. For main, we opted for the Matured beef rib-eye with grenaille potatoes to share. This whopping great dish took a while to arrive, understandably when you consider the size. The great hunk of meat arrived on a wooden board with its very own waiter and a whole tray of sides to accompany. It was a beautiful cut, perfectly marbled with a smooth almost velvety texture. The crispy potatoes were good, but it was the creamed mash and bearnaise sauce that really thrilled us, deliciously decadent. The feast of steak was overwhelming, impossible to finish, but too good to leave… I began to feel quite stressed about the dilemma, to continue eating or not?

Considering we had dessert on the way, the speciality Bourbon vanille millefeuille and pistachio ice cream with strawberries and meringue, to be precise, we set aside the steak to prepare for pudding. As we were a late sitting we had spent the majority of our meal eyeing up the neighbouring tables’ choices, deciding on our desserts well before we needed to. Pistachio ice-cream arrived in a bubbling pot of dry ice, topped with ruby red strawberries and crushed meringue, a magical looking dish which had a delicious and nutty flavour. The millefeuille is a delicate and classic French dessert, at Le Bristol they add a touch of devilishly sweet salty caramel. Immaculately assembled by the talented pastry chef, the flavour and texture was sublime.

Miniature truffles were packaged up for our taxi ride home and we waved goodbye to the exhausted staff at Le Bristol. This hotel is the definition of Paris…a place of perfect sophistication, style and romance.

More information here:

Take advantage of Eurostar’s sale here.

Thanks to the Paris Tourist Board, more information here.