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Sometimes a hotel needs to be more than just a place to sleep
Belgium is no slouch when it comes to quirky, unique or historical hotels. Here are a few of our favourites, to suit all budgets and occasions.
From the moment you walk through the door, you know you’re in no ordinary budget hotel. Bright colours and modern fittings contrast with open brick and walkways remaining from the building’s origins as a flour factory, the lobby is filled with games and a small courtyard beckons. Rooms start at €59, and for €129 up to five people can comfortably share an extra large room. The place is full of thoughtful touches, and everything is included in the room price so there are no nasty surprises at checkout. And they do mean everything: breakfast, wifi, soft drinks, beer, snacks, games, a laptop and a mobile phone with free local calls. Friendly staff and a laidback atmosphere also come as standard. Schaerbeek may not the most obvious location for a weekend break, but it’s a striking building in a quiet residential street, ideal for backpackers, families or business travellers (the EU institutions are a short walk away).
From the outside, Martin’s Patershof remains true to its roots as a neo-gothic Franciscan church; walk through the sliding doors and you enter a strikingly modern lobby. The contrast between ancient and modern is seamless and playful: projections of stained glass adorn the floor, while the former church windows add a splash of colour to the earth-toned rooms. In what was once the choir room, you can now enjoy an extensive continental breakfast while admiring the original 19th-century altarpiece under the vaulted ceiling. With its ancient art and modern luxury, it’s a hotel like no other.
In the heart of Belgium’s German-speaking region, minutes from the Hautes Fagnes nature reserve, is the stunning B&B Julevi. The warm and welcoming Mattens family own this stately 19th-century mansion and are quick to offer their local expertise. Original elements, like the striking spiral staircase leading to several upstairs bedrooms, highlight the modern decor. The bedrooms are spacious, particularly the ground-floor room, which has its own private sitting room. In summer, guests can enjoy the fresh and ample breakfasts on the terrace or in the cosy formal garden. With rooms ranging from €75 to €95, this really is affordable luxury.
A 400-year-old fortified farm and castle is the setting for this decadent spa, with modern facilities that make the most of period architecture. Imagine soaking your cares away in a former wine cellar or relaxing in a former hayloft turned sauna. The spa provides options for both clothed and unclothed relaxation and both sides are equipped with a variety of pools, saunas and hammams. The spacious yard offers plenty of room for lounging in the sun. Dining from the extensive menu in the elegant former castle is a must, between steams, saunas, and relaxing soaks.
A Michelin-starred restaurant first, chambres d’hôte second, that’s the divine combination at this highly rated address. Owner-chef Mario Elias and wife Aurore re-opened their award-winning restaurant after renovating a castle farm in a picturesque village close to tourist haven Durbuy. There are nine bedrooms (guests have to dine in the hotel at weekends) including suites and terraces overlooking an outdoor pool and a view of the surrounding countryside. Rustic features combine with contemporary decor: the perfect match for Elias’s breathtaking and creative cuisine. As a member of Generation W, the chef collective promoting gastronomy and artisan food producers in Wallonia, Elias is a culinary ambassador.
For period charm, comfort and relaxation, this former 17th-century three-star coaching inn is ideal for couples and families escaping to the Ardennes. With 24 rooms – all beautifully decorated – swimming pool, sauna, jacuzzi, gym and extensive gardens, there is no lack of relaxation space. You’ll be tempted to dine in: owner-chef Luc Scheffers is at the helm of the gourmet restaurant offering French cuisine with a contemporary twist. A cosy lounge adjacent to the bar is ideal for an aperitif, digestif or afternoon tea, while local activities include kayaking down the river Lesse, going underground at the world-famous Han caves and exploring the Rochefort Trappist brewery.
There’s no better base for exploring the old port of Antwerp than a cabin on this luxury sailing ship moored on the Willemdok in the city’s Eilandje district. It’s ideally situated for visiting the towering Lego-block Museum aan de Stroom, the Red Star Line museum and the Royal Ballet of Flanders, and taking boat tours of the Scheldt and the port. This is also an up-and-coming area for drinking and dining: cafes, bistros and bars are transforming the once rundown area into a waterfront hotspot, albeit with a salty whiff of its seafaring past.
This article was first published in The Bulletin Best of Belgium 2014