If you want to know what the ninth art is, take the Eurostar to Bussels.
It’s that simple. Much simpler, it has to be said, than trying to name the other eight arts – some of which can also be seen in Brussels, by the way.
Not necessarily one of the first cities in Europe you’d choose for a weekend break, its big appeal to UK holiday-makers nevertheless is the fact that it’s now just two hours door-to-door from London St Pancras. Sit back, fold open your latest Tin Tin comic book, and watch le countryside flash by.
And before you know it, you’re in La Grand Place, taking-in not only one of the finest sights of any European Tour, but also the first of your Belgian beers (a bottle of chilled Duvel, at a whopping 8.5% volume). The first thing on the agenda after this is a Pis. The world-renowned Maneken Pis to be exact, whose lesser-known sister, Jeanneke Pis, can also be found tucked-away and hunkered-down along a tiny alley, the Impasse de la Fidélité.
At the entrance to this Impasse is Beenhouwersstraat, this is as-good-a-place as any to enjoy a pan-full of moules, with frites and mayonnaise – as much a national institution in Belgium as the waffle, chocolates, and beer (mine’s a bottle of Bush, at 12% volume, in case you’re asking).
Lest you think I’m only here for the beer, I should point out there are other, more sober, pursuits to enjoy in Brussels, including a stroll through several centuries of Flemish and international paintings in The Royal Museum of Art and History – being careful not to miss Jacques-Louis David’s masterpiece, The Death of Marat.
This is REAL art. But to find “le neuvième art”, you’ll also need to find the quiet side-street Rue des Sables, and to step inside one of the loveliest building in Brussels – the Comic Strip Centre.
Belgium, as well as France, comic strips – known as bandes dessinées – are considered a genuine art form, or, more specifically, “the ninth art”. But you really don’t need to be a fan of Herge, Tin Tin, Asterix, or The Smurfs. Because the real stars of the show are the building itself, the art nouveau genius of Victor Horta, and whoever it was who came up with the idea of restoring a property where life imitates ninth art.
Featured in many comic strips, the former warehouse is a monument to both art and architecture. The place where you’ll find more about each of these unique selling points to Brussels, it’s also a good starting point to follow the colourful comic art trail around the city. (Just make sure you stop-off along the way at the fabulously atmospheric café-brasserie A La Mort Subite, on the rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères, for a well-earned glass of their home-brewed ale).
And if you enjoyed the art nouveau setting of the Comic Strip Centre, then you’ll love the Horta Museum off the Avenue Louise.
Museums are closed in Brussels on Mondays. So that’s as good a day as any to take-off across Flanders by train to the coast and promenade along the sweeping seafront at Ostend – or to bask in the brilliance of Bruges.
If there’s an art to fitting everything into a short break, then this place displays all the right brush strokes…
I travelled to Brussels via Eurostar, courtesy of Railbookers (www.railbookers.com) and Flanders Tourism (www.visitflanders.co.uk). (Oh, and my favourite beer was the Mort Subite Gueuze sur Lie! Take a look here for more details. Cheers!).