It is the overhead snippets of conversation, that tells me that Winter Wonders or Plaisirs d’Hiver in French, is popular with visitors. “I was like…” the repeated “like” in twenty something females’ conversations. The oral version of a Facebook Wall. Or “I am lucky, as I can catch a train and be here in less than two hours” uttered by a fifty something male, identifies them as having English as a first language. You will often find English spoken in conversations in Brussels, but away from the main visitor attractions. It is a common means of communication between speakers whose first language is differs, such as between the Flemish and the Finnish.So having established that the Winter Wonders attracts lots of travellers from outside Belgium, let me give a brief overview of what is on offer. The event opened on the last Saturday in November and runs until January 1st.
Starting from Central Station, head towards the Bourse and you should find a blue trailer (caravan in UK), this is the Information Centre for the Winter Wonders Festival. I suggest you pick up the Winter Wonders brochure / map published before proceeding. Notice the smell of Brussels waffles and mulled wine from the nearby stalls and perhaps listen to the musicians on the corner.
There is an abundance food stalls around the Bourse. I tried some Vin Chaud (Mulled Wine) from the Belgian wines stand, but there is abundant alternative warming drinks on offer nearby. If you are visiting Brussels for the first time, you could sample a Geuze at Á la Becasse or Le Cirio, which are both very close to here.
Across the other side of Boulevard Anspach, light frame human figures float over rue Paul Devaux. These are “Les Voyageurs de Cédric Le Borgne” which have toured the world for about five years. A night their wire framed bodies are illuminated like ghosts watching the revellers at Winter Wonders.
Continuing on to Place Sainte Catherine you will probably encounter the Greek Zone, in the small square by the entrance to Saint Catherine’s church. Here a number of stalls sell Greek produce under the lines of blue and white flags. Greece is the guest of honour at this year’s festival, last year it was Morocco. You will also find the first of the two Steam Punk carousels by Andrea’s Magic roundabouts.
You will need to walk to the centre of Place Saint Catherine to find the second children’s roundabout. You will find most of the Christmas Market stalls here as well as more refreshment stands. The Big Wheel is the most striking feature found at the opposite end of the square to the Church forms a striking backdrop. The Ice Skating Rink is one of the most popular attractions is in front of the wheel. There is also the perennial Ice Monster, which I find tempting me to enter its opening and closing mouth. Shame it is for children, but I’ll go looking for my Ice Monsters in Chamonix. The children’s sledding run for children is also found down this end.
From 10 December until 25 December snow will hide the street of Mont Des Arts and the only way down will be on skis or a snowboard. The surprise for me when I visited yesterday was seeing a piste groomer and a team of men building a magic carpet ski uplift.
Finally, the attraction marked number one on the Winter Wonders brochure is Electrabel Nights. Using environmentally sensitive technology, light is projected onto the Hotel de Ville and all over Grand Place, while beams reach up into the sky in time with classical music, but look out for an orchestra and choir performing AI. Even the Christmas Tree lights are synchronised with the music. Don’t leave without taking a look at the realistic Nativity Scene in the full size stable.