Travel: Give me a break: Brussels on pounds 250

City+: City to city: beer and bureaucrats, chips and chocolate - and a healthy set of mussels. Cathy Packe revels in the best of Brussels
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Down payment

Cheapest fare at the moment is the pounds 79 Eurostar Saver fare (0345 303030). You have to book at least three days in advance, on specific trains which can't be changed later, and you must stay over a Saturday night. From your starting-point at Charing Cross, Waterloo International is a 10-minute walk; at the Brussels end you arrive at the Gare du Midi, which is on the metro system.

If you prefer to fly, Virgin Express (0800 891199) has a return fare of pounds 85.56 including tax, on nine flights daily in each direction from Heathrow, and four using Gatwick. But with the new high-speed link through Belgium, the Eurostar train is almost certain to be fastest.

Instant briefing

The Belgian Tourist Office (0171-629 1988) in London is open only 1pm- 5pm, Monday to Friday. In Brussels itself the tourist information office is in the Hotel de Ville, on the Grand' Place. If you want details of current films, exhibitions and so on, buy a copy of the weekly English- language magazine The Bulletin - a dowdy equivalent of Time Out.

Rest assured

Brussels is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, mainly because there are so many visiting Eurocrats travelling on expenses, so beware of getting caught with a huge hotel bill. It is an easy city to get around, so it is not absolutely vital to be in the centre, but if you want a hotel close to the Grand Place, the Legende in rue du Lombard (00 322 512 8290) has double rooms with private bath at 2,950BF (pounds 50) and singles at 2,700BF (pounds 45); prices include breakfast.

Also centrally located is the Hotel Mirabeau, in the Place Fontainas (00 322 511 1972); there the double rooms are 2,000BF (pounds 33) and the singles 1,500BF (pounds 25), which includes breakfast and en-suite bathroom. A little farther away, but in a pleasant area close to the shopping district around avenue Louise, is Les Bleuets on Rue Berckmans (00 322 534 3983). A room with a shower and breakfast costs 1,650BF (pounds 27.50) for a single, 2,000 for a double.

Must see ...

Must buy

The expensive designer shops are mainly around avenue Louise, and there is one department store - Inno - in the pedestrianised Rue Neuve; but if you are looking for clothes you would do better to go to Antwerp. The one thing that is really worth investing in is chocolate. The Belgians, even more than the Swiss, have turned chocolate-making into an art form, and there are chocolatiers on almost every street corner: Neuhaus, Godiva and Leonidas all have branches around the city.

Must eat

Mussels. Along with frites, these have become the national food of Belgium, and there are very few restaurants where you can't find them on the menu. If you want to be dazzled by what can be done with a mussel, go to chez Leon in the Rue des Bouchers, one of the few reasonably priced restaurants in an otherwise touristy enclave; it is also a national institution. For a larger selection of traditional Belgian food, with loads of atmosphere, go to Stekerlapatte, in the Rue des Pretres, just behind the Palais de Justice, or Falstaff, an Art Nouveau brasserie opposite the Bourse. Amadeus is a more gentle place, housed in Rodin's old studio; although the candlelit tables make the evening atmosphere pleasant, I like it best on Sunday mornings when you can spend several hours having brunch.

Night moves

Belgian beers are classified according to the brewing method, whether they are brewed in an abbey (and if so, whether it is a Trappist monastery) whether they are blended with fruit, brewed for Christmas and so on. And then there is the question of serving it in the right shaped glass. There are bars all over the city, but two of the longest-established are De Ultieme Halllucinatie in Rue Royale, and la Morte Subite in Rue Mont- aux Herbes Potageres.

If you prefer the non-alcoholic night-life, take the metro to Heysel and go Kinepolis, which claims to be the largest cinema in Europe, with 25 screens. The architects were refused planning permission until they came up with an alternative use, which may explain the ramps and large concrete pillars. If the cinemas ever go out of business, the place can easily be turned into a multi-storey car park.

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