Talk of the toon

Sarah Bostock and Jon Brennan take a Tintin-themed tour of Brussels to mark the 100th anniversary of his creator's birth

Take a photo slideshow of the tour
Tintn at the Belgian centre for Comic Strip Art
Tintin's further adventures ... at the Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Art. Photograph: Jon Brennan

He’s everyone’s favourite mystery-solving Belgian in bad trousers. Who else can he be but Tintin? This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth his creator, Hergé, and Belgium has no intention of letting their national hero’s centenary go unmarked.

Today, on Tintin’s “birthday”, a new mural at Brussels Midi train station will be unveiled. This will be followed by a Tintin plane on its SN Brussels airline, Tintin stamps and a 20-euro Tintin coin. 2007, it seems, is the perfect year for a Tintin-themed holiday in the Belgian capital.

Situated on the Rue de Sables in the heart of Brussels, the Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Arts (www.comicscenter.net) is a good place for any Tintin enthusiast to start. The centre has a wealth of information on the character and his creator, as well as other comic favourites such as The Smurfs, Nero and Lucky Luke.

The museum traces Tintin’s evolution from an almost featureless line-drawing in the original newspaper strip to a fully-formed, full-colour character in later editions (gaining his trademark quiff after a ride in an open-top car in 1929’s The Land of The Soviets).

It also charts the introduction of sidekicks Snowy the dog, the cursing Captain Haddock (named after the reply when a restless Hergé asked his wife what was for dinner) and the vain, glass-shattering opera star Bianca Castafiore – a dig by Hergé at his opera-loving wife.

Designed by art-nouveau master Victor Horta, the centre is also a beautiful structure in its own right, and its elegant-yet-cosy café is a great place to stop for a coffee or cold Belgian beer.

“I learnt to read with Tintin,” says 46-year old Etienne Chevalier, Belgian editor of the Danish fansite Tintinologists, and a fellow beer quaffer in the café. “I received a copy of Destination Moon as a first communion present at the age of eight.”

“Tintin is something you can read and re-read and discover something new every time,” says Chevailer, who has passed his love for the cartoon on to his three children. “My sons like the books because of the plots and the action, while I like Hergé’s subtle ideas and jokes.”

Chevalier and family often visit the centre to take advantage of its vast comic book library and reading room, which boasts 50,000 volumes in languages from Turkish to Icelandic.

If this inspires you to stock up your own Tintin collection, La Boutique Tintin (13 Rue de la Colline, www.tintin.com) is just off the nearby Grand Place. As the official Tintin gift shop, La Boutique contains an impressive array of memorabilia, but, as Chevalier accurately observes, it is “incredibly expensive – not for kids”.

After that, it’s time to hit the Tintin trail, which starts just a few streets away. Brussels is dotted with cartoon murals, and a map guiding you around these, known as the ‘Comic Strip Trail’, is available from the tourist information office in the Grand Place (www.brusselsinternational.be; +32 (0) 2 513 89 40).

As the Tintin mural is yet to be added to the list, save a bit of time by first popping round the corner to see it on Rue de l’Etuve.

For a more intensive Tintin hit, however, aim for Stockel underground station at the east end of this small city. Here you’ll find a 135m-long mural, featuring all 140 characters from the books, which was drawn by Hergé shortly before his death in 1983. Comic strip scenes can also be found at Ribaucourt and Porte de Hal stations.

After a day chasing Hergé’s intrepid reporter under and over ground, you may be in need of a break, so take some time out to relax and admire pictures of our cartoon friend in the swanky Bar Dessiné (Hotel Radisson SAS, 47 Rue du Fossé aux Loups; +32 (0)2 219 2828).

True Tintin fanatics, however, may want to delve deeper into the things that inspired his creator. Born in the Etterbeek district in the south-east of the city, Hergé’s modest family home can be found at 33 Rue Philippe Baucq (look out for the plaque) by taking the 71 bus from Brussels Central station to Place Flagey, followed by tram 82 to Germoir.

Further out in the same direction, you can also follow Avenue de Dieweg to the Dieweg cemetery, where Hergé is buried. Further still, try tracking down the house that was Hergé’s inspiration for his drawing of Professor Tarragon’s home in The Seven Crystal Balls and Temple of the Sun (6 Avenue Delleur, Watermael-Boitsfort). Take tram number 94 to Boisfort and the house is unmistakeable.

After a day’s investigating, even intrepid reporters need food (or, in the case of Captain Haddock-a-likes, a slug of Loch Lomond whiskey). Make your way to the Tintin-themed Faubourg Saint Antoine restaurant (65 Avenue Albert Giraud, Schaarbeek; +32 (0) 2 245 6394; lunch Mon to Fri; dinner Thurs to Fri). This affordable and family-friendly bistro is decorated wall-to-wall with the cartoon adventurer, and is a short walk from Verboeckhoven on the 92 tram route.

Round off your Tintin adventure the next morning with a trip to the flea market in the Place du Jeu de Balles, which sells antiques, vintage clothes and books. Featured in the 1943 story The Secret of the Unicorn, this is where Tintin finds the model ship containing the map to the buried treasure of Sir Francis Haddock. It’s also is a great place to grab a bargain for yourself. On July 21, the market will also host a Tintin-themed evening, selling a range of memorabilia, plus hot food, and all to the sound of a brass band.

Essential information

• Eurostar operates up to 10 daily services from London Waterloo and Ashford International to Brussels with return fares from £59. All Eurostar tickets to Brussels are valid to/from any Belgian station at no extra cost. Tickets are available from eurostar.com or 08705 186 186.

Rooms at Rocco Forte's Hotel Amigo start from 175 euros (£117) per room, per night (www.roccofortehotels.com; +32 (0) 2 547 4747.)

One-day ‘Jump’ travelcards to get you round Brussels cost four euros (£2.70) and are available from all metro stations.

Other Tintin events worldwide

Quebec City, Canada
The Museum of Civilisation’s In Peru with Tintin exhibition looks at the Inca culture that inspired Hergé to write The Seven Crystal Balls and Temple of the Sun, and includes the mummy Hergé used as inspiration for his character Rascar Capac. It’s on until January 6 2008 (www.mcg.org

Paris, France
The Centre Pompidou’s Hergé exhibition brings together over 200 original drawings and plates of Tintin, Quick & Flupke, and others. It’s on until 19 February 2007 (www.centrepompidou.fr).

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