|In Brussels, The Dominican Hotel‘s interiors have been inspired by a monastery that stood on its site in the 15th century.|
Smack dab in the heart of old Europe, Belgium’s Flanders region is chock-full of historical treasures and good eats famously said to be prepared à la française, but served in generous German-size portions. A quick hop on the Thalys high-speed TGV train from Paris and Travel Agent was gaping at canvases by the Flemish Primitives, noshing on the best fries and chocolate in the world, and strolling cobblestoned streets lined with gingerbread houses in Ghent.
What impressed us most, however, were the hotels that are themselves unique destinations and architectural icons. Case in point: The Martin’s Patershof in the town of Mechelen, a splendid, under-the-radar destination just 20 minutes outside of Brussels. The Belgium-based Martin’s Hotel Group transformed a Franciscan church into a four-star hotel in May 2009.
The Martin’s Patershof has 79 guest rooms, each sporting unique architectural details (think corniced columns, organ pipes, and stained glass windows). Rooms on the top (fifth) floor have beds nestled beneath the soaring vaulted ceiling. Dressed in silver or chocolate tones, the rooms come with espresso machines and decor designed in Belgium (including Salus beds made in Mechelen). The best rooms are the three suites (the Best of Home category) above the altar on the third, fourth and fifth floors. A divine breakfast is served next to the altar. For VIP bookings, contact Front Office Manager Karolien Verduyckt (011-32-1546-4603, [email protected]).
Despite its impressive sites, tourists are few and far between in Mechelen. Off the beaten path yet easily accessible, Mechelen boasts 300 historical-listed monuments (including four on the UNESCO World Heritage list). Mechelen was the capital of the Low Countries under the Dukes of Burgundy, and Margaret of Austria’s Palace was the first Renaissance building in the region. Mechelen’s churches are filled with paintings by Rubens and van Dyck, and the Royal Manufacturers De Wit is the world’s leading restorer of fine tapestries. Above all, Mechelen makes a great home base for exploring the region, providing a real value on accommodations a short drive from Brussels.
The Capital of Europe
In the heart of Brussels, The Dominican Hotel, one of the Design Hotels, is a chic choice steeped in its setting. Just a short walk away from the Saint-Hubert Royal Galleries, the covered arcade that’s a destination for sublime shopping, the hotel’s architecture alludes to the Dominican Abbey that stood on the site in the 15th century. Carefully preserving the building’s facade, the Belgian firm Lens Ass Architects created lofty interior spaces, marked by archways and wall-length windows, to conjure the building’s past life as a monastery.
|Agent Advice |
Linda Miller of Avanti Destinations headed to Brussels for the buzz-worthy opening of the Magritte Museum two years ago. “I stayed at the Hotel Amigo, which is amazing! It is a stone’s throw from the Grand Place and is a fabulous combination of historical elements and local style. The guest rooms have Magritte prints on the walls, and in the bathroom there are two toy characters from the Tintin comic strip. The service is superior—very relaxed and friendly. It is everything you’d expect from a Rocco Forte hotel.”
Award-winning Dutch design duo FG stijl decked the halls in a sleek, contemporary style with references to tradition. Breakfast in the Grand Lounge, a soaring space filled with natural light, is a fabulous way to start the day. In the evenings, the Lounge Bar attracts a stylish crowd of guests and in-the-know locals to imbibe cocktails while DJs spin the soundtrack.
The 150 guest rooms were designed with comfort in mind and feature complimentary Wi-Fi and Nespresso machines. Suites, Executive Rooms and Loft Rooms come with free video-on-demand and minibar treats. For VIP bookings, contact Director of Sales Gilles Devos (011-32-2203-0808, [email protected]).
Tip: The top-floor Grand Place Suite is the best room in the house, and art lovers will want to sleep in the split-level Jacques-Louis David Suite, where the artist lived and worked.
Drive for an hour through the fertile “vegetable garden of Belgium,” with endives and white asparagus, and you’ll arrive in Bruges, where, in May 2008, Kempinski debuted a five-star luxury hotel that’s captivated the hospitality world. The Kempinski Hotel Dukes’ Palace occupies an extraordinary iconic edifice in the middle of historical Bruges: the Prinsenhof, the 15th-century palace where Philip the Good and Isabelle of Portugal were married. Bed down in the Prinsenhof Suite, a triplex, and you’ll gasp at the views of the canal-laced city, its entire historical center designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The suite’s private terrace—surrounded by turrets and gilded statues—is the perfect place to enjoy cocktails while the sun sinks over Bruges.
Of the hotel’s 22 suites, six are heritage-listed. Some, like the Maria of Burgundy Suite, boast their own collection of 15th-century paintings. Other top digs in this palace-cum-hotel include the Isabella van Portugal Suite and the Graaf van Vlaanderen Suite. Elegantly furnished, the 93 rooms come with oversized marble bathrooms, 300-thread-count cotton sheets, and all the latest technology. Contact Director of Sales & Marketing Carine Suenens (011-32-5044-7888, [email protected]) for VIP bookings.
|A room on the top floor of Martin’s Patershof hotel, formerly a Franciscan church, in Mechelen.|
As one would expect, the former home of the Dukes of Burgundy is a sophisticated place, boasting facilities that appeal to worldly travelers. A vast, contemporary art collection complements the Renaissance portraits in the hallways. Named for an artist’s studio, the Atelier bar is marked by a sculpture of giant paint brushes, their tips illuminated with green lights. A session in the spa’s hammam or a dip in the only indoor pool in Bruges hits the spot after a day of sightseeing. Businesses from Brussels love the light-filled meeting rooms that afford access to the terrace.
Note: The cat’s out of the bag about Bruges as a fairytale destination. The “Venice of the North” is swamped with visitors in the summer months, especially on weekends, making spring and fall the best time to visit. Beer enthusiasts will want to stop at De Halve Maan, the only brewery in town, and foodies will dig a cooking class with Chef Patrick Devos. A real value at $99 (70 euros) per person, the class includes the three-course meal and aperitif in Devos’ 800-year-old wine cellar.
Get to Ghent!
A lively university city, Ghent has recently been singled out by Lonely Planet as “one of Europe’s best kept secrets.” We were struck by both its vibrant energy and meticulously preserved heritage. One minute we were gaping at van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb in Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, and the next minute, wandering through exhibits of cutting-edge decor at The Design Museum. Don’t miss: A three-hour walking tour called Nibbling through Ghent with Leentje Verhaeghe, a cool tour guide who shares funny anecdotes about the city while generously plying her guests with local sweets and gourmet ham from the Great Butcher’s Hall.
Facing the River Lys, the Marriott Ghent offers landmark lodgings in the heart of town. From the outside, the facade blends in with the row of 16th-century merchants’ houses on the Korenlei. But step inside and you’ll be struck by the contemporary style; the lobby atrium soars upwards—all steel and glass. Noteworthy: The hotel uses 100 percent green power.
The 150 guest rooms have all the comforts of home, including flat-screen TVs, spacious work desk, and coffee- and tea-making facilities. The eight Junior Suites and three Suites, including the vast Presidential Suite, have exquisite views of the merchants’ houses on the banks of the River Lys. Extensive facilities (basement parking, fitness room) coupled with the light-filled meeting rooms make this a favorite of business travelers. Contact Reservations Manager Isabelle Tournicourt (011-32-9269-7722, [email protected]) for bookings.