Robert Holton explores a commune that is seeing a resurgence.
Located in the northeast of the Brussels-City Region, Schaerbeek – or Schaarbeek, if you prefer. The area quickly became a bustling hub for freshly minted industrialists and affluent Belgian families, who built the tall, narrow and deep terraced houses synonymous with the dawn of the 20th century. Many of these buildings were designed in the distinctive Art Nouveau style. Today, buildings inspired by Horta and other leading lights of the movement can still be seen throughout Schaerbeek – and on rare occasions these magnificently crafted homes are available to buy or rent. These houses are symbolic of Schaerbeek’s golden age, where money was no object and right angles were out of fashion.
“Many of these buildings were designed in the distinctive Art Nouveau style”
A tale of two cities
The opulent nature of the area witnessed a decline in the mid 20th century, when the outskirts of Schaerbeek became the favoured destination for factories and breweries. Many migrants gravitated to the area in search of work.
The eastern part of the commune comprising Square Vergote, Boulevard Lambermont and Place de Jamblinne de Meux around Park Josaphat is much more affluent and benefits from its proximity to the EU institutions and NATO. On the other hand, the area around the beautiful Schaerbeek railway station leading up to Rue Royale is in a more dilapidated state. Like St Gilles before it, there is increased gentrification, but there is still some way to go.
Schaerbeek has a thriving Turkish community, this can be seen in the bakeries and restaurants. It has its own theatres, parks and bobo-chic eateries. Once shrouded in gloom, the area has now been enlivened by young entrepreneurs, no doubt attracted by house prices that are much more accessible than other communes. The mix of people and the sense that it is apart from the City of Brussels imbues the area with a distinctive feel.
Over recent years, the commune and regional government have invested heavily in the neighbourhood, renovating and introducing new sustainable infrastructure including cycle lanes, updated tram lines and car free zones.
If it’s leafy green woodlands, ponds speckled with lily pads and lush undulating grass banks you’re after, Josaphat Park has all of this and more. Widely regarded as the green lung of the commune, it is located in the centre of Schaerbeek. It is over one hundred years old and boasts some fine specimen trees and an abundance of hills, creeks and open space to keep kids, dogs and discerning parents entertained for hours on end. In addition to this, there are several trendy bars, restaurants, markets and cafes, perfect for post-work summer tipples or Saturday morning brunches. Python beer cellar ticks pretty much all of these boxes and sits on a quiet corner nestled beneath a curtain of wisteria on Avenue Emile Max – a street lined with cherry blossom.
“The better news is, prices here are – for now – still relatively low compared to the rest of Brussels”
The good news is that Schaerbeek has a wide variety of property for buyers and renters alike. The better news is, prices here are – for now – still relatively low compared to the rest of Brussels. If you’re looking to rent a one bed apartment for instance, you can expect to pay anything in the region of €450 to €800 per month. If you want to buy a one bed apartment, prospective buyers can expect to pay anything from €250,000 to €400,000. At the other end of the scale, it is possible to find a large townhouse still for €600,000 though it may well need renovation and around €1,000,000 for a fully functional family home in turn-key condition. Regardless of where you are or where you want to be on the property ladder, there is no doubt that there has never been a better time to live or invest in Schaerbeek – an area on the cusp of another golden age.