Belgian Hotels to Match Clients’ Tastes
By Jerry Soverinsky
With a rich culinary tradition and history, Belgium’s lodging reputation is often deemphasized, if not overlooked. But with a variety of first-class digs throughout the country, your clients will find dozens of properties whose excellence is a well-matched complement to any of Belgium’s Michelin-rated restaurants.
Every discussion of Belgium must begin with its capital city, Brussels. And one of the city’s best hotels is Hotel Le Plaza. Conveniently located along Boulevard Adolphe Maxlaan and within walking distance of Brussels Grand-Place, this 1930’s 5-star hotel is one of Brussels’ most venerable luxury properties. With a rich history that includes hosting some of the world’s most renowned celebrities and politicians, its well-appointed, meticulously maintained facilities no doubt retain much of the hotel’s original charm, a look patterned after Paris’ George V Hotel.
Traditional rooms (137 total) combine a warm, blend of pleasing colors, perfect to soothe the most weary leisure or business traveler. There’s a generous assortment of more than 50 suites, including five Executive Suites that include separate meeting areas, perfect for those high-profile business negotiations; and one Plaza Suite, a sumptuous penthouse space of 750 square feet, complete with salon, private balcony, and every imaginable high-tech convenience. Call (011) 32-2-278-0100; www.leplaza-brussels.be
For those needing easy access to downtown Brussels yet in search of a more sedate living experience than the capital city can offer, the newly opened (2007) La Hulpe Hotel, Resort, and Conference Center is the perfect solution.
It’s hard to believe that wooded parks, beach volleyball, and grass tennis courts could all be associated with a Brussels visit, but such is the case at La Hulpe. The massive complex occupies a former IBM training campus, a 14-building expanse totaling over 450,000 square feet of living and working space, all nestled peacefully in the forest of Soignes, just 9 miles from Brussels.
La Hulpe’s four-star guest rooms, which include 181 standard rooms, 70 executive guest rooms, 12 conference suites, and a grand Segoya Suite, all present tasteful views of the Soignes Forest or the resort’s Feng Shui Garden. The upscale, contemporary rooms offer full amenities, including air conditioning, flat screen television, free WiFi, work desk, VOIP telephone, safe, and mini-bar. La Hulpe’s fitness center offers a full-featured spa and fitness center, suitable for the most discriminating leisure traveler. Two capable restaurants add a professional culinary element that rounds out a visitor’s experience. L’Argan is the less formal, whose space doubles as a 320-seat group eating and breakfast room. Tre-O is a sleek, intimate space for 54 diners. Call (011) 322-290-9800; www.lahulpe.dolce.com
The Belgian Countryside
Less than four miles from Spa lies an extraordinary hotel and its accompanying restaurant, Manoir des Lebioles.
Constructed in the early 20th century on a hill above the town as a summer palace for royalty, the manor has long been known by locals as the “Versailles of the Ardennes.” It was neglected and fell into disrepair at the end of the 20th century, before undergoing substantial renovation and reopening to the public in September 2006.
Today, the manor bursts with luxury and elegance at every step. Its warm, lush lobby opens to reveal meticulously kept gardens and an expansive terrace, the Ardennes hills unfolding gently in the distance.
Inside, 16 lavish rooms and suites integrate harmoniously into the property’s regal personality, with bold, rich tones and materials that are striking in their clean lines and elegance. No room is like another; each has been meticulously crafted to take advantage of the individual layout of each space. The Suite Royale is the hotel’s top room, a decadent 750-square foot space located within the manor’s alcove.
All rooms offer overflowing elegance that leaves visitors feeling pampered if not privileged. Whether it’s soaking in a soothing, tower room bath, enjoying an in-room breakfast at a perfectly carved out nook overlooking the Ardennes, or reading a book by a crackling in-room fireplace, each room rewards its guests with sumptuous decadence. Standard amenities include air conditioning, flat screen television, DVD and CD players, and Wi-Fi.
No mention of the manor would be complete without equal emphasis of its world-class cuisine. Chef Olivier Tucki, an acclaimed European chef, is a master at preparing fresh, local ingredients that arouse the senses in full gastronomic vigor. Preparations favor light, healthy cuisine with sophisticated presentation; menus are seasonal and constantly changing. Call +32-49-87-79-1900; www.manoirdelebioles.com
Sizzling Summer Specials
Thon Hotels: Rooms from 55 Euros or about $85 per night at the five Brussels-area Thon hotels. Offer available July 4-August 31. Visit www.thonhotels.be
Hilton Hotels: Rooms from 89 Euros or about $140 at Hilton’s Conrad Brussels, Hilton Brussels, and Hilton Brussels City properties. Valid July-August. Visit www.hiltons.com
Plaza Hotel (see main piece): Summer rates from 140 Euros or about $220 per night, including breakfast; July 4- Aug. 31.
Dolce La Hulpe (see main piece): One night with breakfast from 99 Euros or about $155 per night, through August 31. Visit www. lahulpe.dolce.com
Getting There: The 111-minute London to Brussels Eurostar journey just got more comfortable. Rail Europe is currently offering up to 50% off regular priced one-way full-fare tickets, on all routes of the high-speed Thalys trains, connecting cities in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Thalys tickets can be booked on the agent website below now through September 17, 2008 for travel through September 30, 2008. Rail Europe’s one-way Summer Special fares* from Paris to Brussels start at $109 (1st) and $70 (2nd). Call 888-382-7245; http://agent.raileurope.com
For information, contact the Belgian Tourist Office at 212-758-8130 or visit www.visitbelgium.com
October 2007 Feature
Wallonia: Belgium’s French-Speaking South
By Jerry Soverinsky
Most Americans visiting Belgium focus on Brussels and the Dutch-speaking area to its north, Flanders. The country’s southern French-speaking region, Wallonia, has remained a far less popular travel destination than the area that includes Antwerp, Brugges, and Ghent. But it is certainly no less appealing, as my recent visit confirmed. Combining many of the attributes of Europe’s most popular destinations, French-speaking Wallonia merits serious consideration for an extended, dedicated stay. For no matter your interests—culture, recreation, history, leisure, or even education—Wallonia harmoniously incorporates all into a diverse and easily accessible region filled with bustling cities and sleepy small towns, all nestled into a countryside dotted with castles and gardens.
Where in the World
Wallonia’s superlatives begin with its most striking features: Standing in sharp contrast to the flat, nondescript Flanders region, Wallonia is literally bursting with vibrant, eye-pleasing natural beauty. With a seemingly endless expanse of rolling hills, bubbling streams, gushing waterfalls, and forested woodlands, it is indeed worthy of Ernest Hemingway’s declaration that it is “something out of a Grimm’s fairytale.”
Those in search of cultural diversity will be well-rewarded with a stay in Mons. It was here (actually, it was in Cuesmes, 3 miles away) where Vincent Van Gogh lived in in 1879, gaining inspiration from the people and scenery, subjects of some of his earliest drawings. Today, Mons is filled with historical and architectural treasures: its central square, one of Europe’s finest, seamlessly integrates a range of architectural influences from the 15th through 20th centuries; its 17th century Belfry, a Unesco world heritage site, rings traditional melodies four times each hour while providing Mons with its iconic skyline; the Francois Duesberg Museum, housed in a former bank, showcases rare clocks, gilded bronzes, and bindings, one of the world’s most unique collections; and the 15th century Sainte-Waudru Collegiate Church, filled with the works of Belgian architect-sculptor Jacques Du Broeucq, houses one of Europe’s finest collections of religious goldsmith, with pieces dating from the 8th century.
All are integrated into a small-town feel, with bountiful cafés, shops, hotels, parks, and gardens providing the perfect infrastructure and backdrop from which to base an extended weekend of exploration. www.paysdemons.be
Castles and Gardens
No visit to Belgium would be complete without its castles. One particularly impressive example is the Castle of Modave, situated an hour’s drive southeast of Brussels in Modave.
Perched majestically on a rocky plateau 200 hundred feet above the Hoyoux River Valley and offering stunning views of a nearby 1,100 acre nature reserve, this 13th century complex is a brilliantly maintained French-style castle. Self-guided audio tours accompany visitors as they discover the history and architecture of this Wallonian treasure. Open April 1-November 15, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Closed Mondays. Visit www.modave-castle.be
Garden lovers will be well-served with a visit to Wallonia. Roughly 60 miles east of Mons, the Gardens of Annevoie are a treasure trove of meticulously landscaped greenery. This 18th century masterpiece of landscape architecture harmoniously incorporates elements of French, Italian, and English gardens, all gracefully coexisting among dozens of waterfalls, basins, ponds, and trees. Open daily, April through October, 9:30 am-5:30 pm (extended summer hours).
About $10 per person. www.jardins.dannevoie.be
Any visit to Wallonia should include a stop at the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial, the final resting place and memorial to 5,328 military dead and another 462 missing soldiers whose remains were never recovered or identified. A massive stone memorial, bearing an American eagle on its façade, memorializes the dead, the majority of whom died in World War II during the 1944 Battle of the Bulge. There’s an onsite chapel and large marble murals that depict military battles and activities, and a knowledgeable staff is on-hand to answer questions and escort relatives to graves and memorials. The cemetery is in Neupre, 12 miles southwest of Liege; about an hour’s drive southeast of Brussels. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/ar.php
Well-deserving of its three-star Michelin Green Guide rating, the Caves of Han, 75 miles southeast of Brussels, are massive networks of interconnected caves whose nearly 10 miles of carved-out limestone “rooms” and “galleries” housed mankind dating from the Neolithic period. Massive stalagmites and stalactites (some reaching over 15 feet) populate the caves, accessible via tram and boat. Guided tours (the only way to access the caves) cover nearly two miles (by foot) and climb 400 steps. Hours vary by season; admission is about $14.50. Visit www.grotte-de-han.be
Spa and Relaxation
Looking for rest and relaxation? Wallonia practically invented the word, with the town of Spa providing—what else—therapeutic spa treatments.
Since the 14th century, Spa’s nearby hot springs have attracted travelers in search of the water’s purported curative properties. Today, its Thermes de Spa offers therapeutic treatments in a contemporary, full-service facility. Admission to the baths costs about $25; hydro- and physiotherapy treatments are priced a la carte. Open daily, 10am-9pm (Friday until 10 p.m., Sunday until 8 p.m.). Visit www.thermesdespa.com
For those in need of acquiring foreign language expertise, CERAN Lingua International, just 5 miles from Spa, offers intensive language instruction in a resort-like atmosphere. The 24/7 CERAN immersion approach, where students study, eat, and socialize with their instructors in their chosen foreign language, has earned it a reputation as one of Europe’s best. In fact, it’s the same school where the Belgian Princess Mathilde went to learn Flemish after she married Prince Philippe in 1999. The school provides French, Dutch, German, and Japanese instruction. One-week classes begin at $3,175, which includes instruction, room, and board. Visit www.cerean.com
Like much of Europe, Wallonia’s major sites can be covered easily by either train or car. Even at its most distant points, you’re never more than a 100-mile drive—most of which can be covered by both fast-paced highways or more leisurely country roads—from your destination. For information on Wallonia, visit www.opt.be or contact the Belgian Tourist Office at 212-758-8130; www.visitbelgium.com