Interview: Walking Tours With Les Balades de Bruxellesby HarryPrince, 04 December 2020
Les Balades de Bruxelles is the brainchild of three friends, Adeline, Valentine and Charlotte.
While eating eggs benedict and nursing a slight headache from the night before, they decided to launch free walking tours to help Brusselairs (re)discover Brussels.
We caught up with co-founder Charlotte to hear more about the project.
How Does it Work?
Start by choosing a walk – nicknamed Les BB’s – from their website. There are currently eight walking tours available that span across the city. Then download the map, and off you trot!
Each route includes information about the distance, estimated time, and a collection of the best bars, restaurants, museums, and unusual places along the way.
To make it simple, each BB starts and ends at a metro station. So, the end of one walking tour can lead you to the start of another.
You can keep on track by double-checking their interactive maps at the bottom of each route page. Les Balades de Bruxelles encourages you to look away from your screens as much as possible, though. We appreciate that this may be difficult; a team of illustrators have beautifully created the maps for each BB.
Packing a Bag?
Leave the walking boots, the compass, the rucksack, and the first aid kit at the door. Charlotte told us that all you really need is a phone to access the map.
The walks aren’t excessively long, so regular shoes will do. A bottle for water would be handy too, as there are plenty of water fountains on the routes.
Charlotte also likes to bring a camera with her when she does a walking tour. She wisely reminded us that the photos don’t have to be good; they just need to evoke good memories.
Charlotte noted that the majority of their users are young and predominantly French-speaking, as this is the language of their website.
“We are very grateful that we’ve developed a large public who find the walking tours easy to do; young and older people are open to the concept”.
The young locals particularly love making the most of the city’s canals, which are the perfect place to stop for a break and enjoy a drink.
Not Without Challenges
Charlotte confided that “I think our biggest challenge was honestly to find the time.” This has been harder still as they all have busy jobs.
Creating Les Balades de Bruxelles was a hand-crafted labour of love. None of the girls had much experience with building websites, for example, so they spent lots of time learning. Then there was the research for the content of the walks, as well as collaborations with other artists.
Les BB’s Next Step
Despite their achievements, the girls are not content to sit back and relax yet. Going forward, they are keen to launch English and Dutch versions of their website.
They would also like to increase the number of walks they have on offer. Charlotte said, “of course, we are happy with what we have, but we would like to have a total of ten to twelve walking tours.”
They have also been receptive to feedback about their maps. As beautiful and accessible as they are on your phone, people love to have physical copies of things.
We are personally very excited by this news, and will be among the first people to snap up the maps and illustrations when they go out on sale!
People have been full of praise for the walking tours. In the beginning, they weren’t sure how their project would be received: “We were amazed because we didn’t expect to have that much feedback from people engaging with the project”.
But the feedback isn’t just well-deserved. It’s driving the team to innovate: “It gives you the strength to push forward, and reinforces our faith in the project and idea.” It’s from speaking to users that they have developed their idea to sell maps and illustrations.
Another takeaway is more abstract. The team was blown away by receiving positive feedback from people they didn’t know. Which is, of course, a reminder to us all – always be nice to strangers.
It’s a Team Effort
Of course, the girls can’t always meet in person. It’s a shame because “you can always take an idea further, and I think it’s better to all be together than behind a screen”.
But Les BB’s is slowly building as a community. The artists they collaborate with are becoming a core part of the process.
Charlotte spoke of how they have nurtured their work relationship over cheese and wine: “We made a big dinner with them so we could hear about their experiences, what they could offer, and what they could make better. It was very nice. And it helped build a sort of community between the artists and us.”
A Treat For the End
Since you’ve made it this far, we thought we’d share an insider tip. Pop into Brussels Beer Project Dansaert, and you’ll receive a free beer if you show them a BB map. Pretty cool, right?
On a serious note, if you’re looking for something authentic, try a BB or two. Plus, it’s a locally approved way to see and learn about the city!
As Charlotte said, “It’s user friendly, and you don’t need to plan it before. If you’re in the centre of Brussels and you don’t know what to do or where to go… be spontaneous”.
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