Magritte & frites in Brussels

IF it is known for anything, Brussels is probably most famous for its beer and frites. Either that, or the spectacular Grande Place, an ornate masterpiece designed to awe visiting merchants. Or the Manneken Pis, the statue of the urinating boy that stands close to the Grand Place. Or the Atomium, the strange construction in the shape of a massively magnified iron molecule. Or its bars, its mussels or its waffles. Or chocolates. In fact, for a supposedly boring town, Brussels has a lot going for it.<br /><br />As of the first weekend of this month, there&rsquo;s another. A museum dedicated to the city&rsquo;s most famous painter, Rene Magritte, has just opened. His pictures of bowler-hatted businessmen and surrealistic pics of pipes are a staple of any collection of 20th-century art. The new museum is based in an annexe to the Museum de Belles Arts, just a 10 minute stroll from the Grand Place.<br /><br />To celebrate, the city&rsquo;s pre-eminent hotel, the five-star Rocco Forte-owned Amigo, has undergone a Magritte-inspired makeover. Rooms are decorated with reproductions of some of Magritte&rsquo;s famous works, as well as carved pears and apples, which recur in his paintings. It&rsquo;s fair to say that it&rsquo;s a bit more comfortable than in earlier days, when it was the town&rsquo;s prison. Amusingly, it got its name because the Spanish invaders in the 17th century misheard the Flemish word for prison as the word &ldquo;amigo&rdquo;, or friend. The name appealed to the native&rsquo;s sense of humour, and stuck.<br /><br />With a whimsically Brussels quirk, they are even offering a Magritte package, which includes a suite on the third floor &ndash; which has views into the Grand Place &ndash; tickets to the museum, a customised Magritte umbrella, and breakfast. There is also a dinner menu at the hotel&rsquo;s restaurant, the Ristorante Bocconi, called &ldquo;This is not a menu&rdquo; (a reference to the famous &ldquo;this is not a pipe&rdquo; painting), which has a &ldquo;Magritte theme&rdquo;, for example, a starter based on the painting This Is Not an Apple, which includes a granny smith foam, and a dessert which &ndash; brilliantly &ndash; involves a chocolate bowler hat. In another reference to Belgium&rsquo;s famous sons, there are small models of Tintin and Snowy in frames on the bathroom walls, which is nice. <br /><br /><strong>EFFICIENT AND UNDERSTATED</strong><br />The hotel is lovely, in an efficient, understated Belgian way, and easily the best in the city. But if I were you, I&rsquo;d skip the museum itself. It&rsquo;s frankly a big old disappointment. They don&rsquo;t have any of the famous paintings and in this quantity, Magritte&rsquo;s art is actually rather boring.<br /><br />Photographs of fully-grown surrealists larking about just make you wish they had grown up and got jobs, rather than trying to bring down civilised society by painting pictures that supposedly resemble dreams and engaging in evenings of automatic writing. The most surreal thing I saw in the museum was a couple snogging in front of a picture, while they each held their audio guide to their ear. In fact, the best way to experience Magritte&rsquo;s bourgeois art is in a bourgeois setting like the wall of a swish hotel.<br /><br />If you must have a dose of oddball art with your minibreak, then the museum of Antoine Wiertz&rsquo;s paintings near the European Parliament is also worth a visit. He painted very odd, 30-ft high paintings of an apocalyptic-Romantic bent. Or just go to the Museum des Belles Arts itself. This is a far superior experience to the Magritte museum, and the paintings by Breugel and Bosch are worth the entrance fee alone.<br /><br />But if none of that excited you, there are worse things to do than while away your weekend chinwagging and peoplewatching in a bar. The Amigo is a short stagger from the super-cool St Gery area where you can experience modern funkiness in terms of Le Roi des Belges, Mezzo or Mappa Mundi, or old-school charm at The Greenwich and the Archiduc. Thank goodness for beer and frites.<br /><br />The Hotel Amigo&rsquo;s Magritte Package starts from &euro;293 per room, per night (two people sharing). The Magritte menu costs &euro;100 per person. <br /><br />Eurostar operates up to 10 trains a day from London to Brussels with fares from &pound;59 return for Brussels/any Belgian station. Fastest journey time 1hr 51mins. For more information and to book, or tel: 08705 186 186. Eurostar emits one tenth of the carbon dioxide of a flight to the same destination.