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Last time we checked in on Brussels, we were all about the beer bar at the new Zoom Hotel in Ixelles (up the hill from the medieval bit, but where all
we the cool kids go). 50 Belgian beers, selected by a top Belgian sommelier? Oui, s’il vous plait.
So obviously, when we were in Brussels last week, there was only one place we were going to stay. More on the hotel another time, but for now, here is the beer bar.
Yeah, it’s not what we were expecting either. Discreet. Grown up. Who knew boozing could be like this?
Who’d have thought it? Boring* old** Brussels is fast becoming a new hotspot for boutique hotels. What’s Flemish for “schweet”?
The latest to open is the Hotel des Galeries, which is pretty special, as it’s actually in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert – the shopping arcade behind the medieval Grand Place, and once of Brussels’ must see spots. To enter, you take the side door to the Galeries, on the Rue des Bouchers (the pedestrianized cobbled street with all the tourist restaurants that you should definitely stay away from).
Owned by French hotelier Nadine Flammarion, whose husband (from a famous French publishing family) owns the bookshop downstairs, there are just 20 rooms (simple but modern), with views of the inside of the Galerie du Roi (the main mall), the cathedral, and the rooftops of central Brussels. Rates start from €160 ($201) per night.
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Ibis Styles Liverpool
As hotel group after hotel group rushes to create new brands that will appeal to millennials, with what feels like new launches bragging about social media-friendly spaces every week, one brand has been quietly reinventing itself. There’s been no real fanfare around it – no extravagant boasts, no flagrant appeals to the self-obsessed generation – just a focus on stylish, unchainlike rooms, low prices and free WiFi. The name of that chain? Ibis Styles.
Not too long ago, Ibis was a byword for budget – in a bad way. Ibis rooms were dark, boring, fusty. They weren’t hotels you planned to stay in, they were hotels you ended up in when you couldn’t find or afford better. (I say this with the hindsight of adulthood – when I was a child, going on holiday to France and staying in an Ibis – or Eebis, as they called it – seemed like the most exciting thing in the world.)
But Ibis Styles are different from proper Ibises (Ibes?) – they have style and verve. Even better, they’re different from each other, too, and relate to the cities they're located in. There’s nothing in the design that screams Ibis, and, speaking (just) as a millennial, that is what we like.
Ibis Styles Brussels
My Ibis Styles revelation came this summer, when I was walking down Avenue Louise in Brussels and noticed two giant smiley faces staring out at me from a nearby window – it was the lobby of the Ibis Styles Brussels Louise, whose chic, startling white rooms start at just €71. Then I read about Ibis Styles Liverpool (from just £71) and was sold.
Now this is how you encourage repeat visitors.
When we checked into the Vintage Hotel in Brussels a few weeks ago, we found this confection on the bed. Two Jules Destrooper waffle cookies – yes please! And this “keep calm and let’s make a deal” card which, when you turned it over, offered 10% off future stays.
Now, of course, 10% isn’t much, not for a hotel where rooms hover around the €100 mark. It’s not the kind of deal to see you hopping on the next Eurostar. But that’s not the point – the point is that it makes you think they value your patronage, and that’s the kind of thing that makes you want to book again.
2014 is proving to be a busy year for Motel One (not to be confused with Motel 6). Its first English property opens in London at the end of the year (an Edinburgh hotel opened in 2012), and the last couple of months have seen two other openings: a major one in Brussels and a slightly more minor one in Leipzig (sorry Leipzig).
Motel One Brussels opened in June on the spectacular Rue Royal, which straddles the old and new parts of town. At 490 rooms it’s pretty enormous but has kept a sense of location with (subtle) Belgian lace trim on the sofas and Arne Jacobsen chairs, artwork of the Belgian royals and even a chocolate display.
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It’s a Novotel, but not as you know it. Because this Novotel is wrapped around the ancient city walls.
It’s the Novotel Brussels Centre Tour Noire, and is built around the Tour Noire – or Black Tower – which was built in the 13th century behind the St Catherine church as part of the original city walls. We’re looking at it here from outside the old walls.
Here's the front entrance:
If there’s one main event in the Brussels social calendar, the Flower Carpet, which runs 14-17 August, would be it. And if you think, “Pshaw, the best they can do is a flower carpet, that just proves everything I thought about Brussels being boring,” you’re totally wrong. Not only is Brussels ace, but the flower carpet is extraordinary: a carpet of begonias in pretty patterns all across the cobbles of the Grand Place, one of the most impressive squares in Europe. It is, apparently, so overwhelmingly beautiful that they can only hold it every two years for three days (disclaimer: that may be hyperbole, and also an excuse).
Seeing the Flower Carpet properly is fiendishly tricky – you can’t walk over it, so you can only get a squiz from the sides. Those in the know book a guided tour of the squareside City Hall – you can get a bird’s eye view from the second floor. But this weekend, there are only two English tours – both on Sunday – and you can’t book ahead, so you’re going to wait in line forever, and probably be disappointed.
Which is where the Hotel Amigo comes in. The Rocco Forte hotel has created a brilliant Begonia Package that will get you perfect views without the need for queuing. It includes:
· Availability-dependent upgrade to a Deluxe room
· Specially created Rose Blossom welcome cocktail;
· In-room facial (ooh-err missus);
· Dinner for two including a sommelier-selected bottle of wine;
· 4pm late check out;
So far, so luxury hotel blah. But here’s the kicker: if you check in August 14, you’ll get an invite to the Flower Carpet’s inauguration cocktail party, in the courtyard of the City Hall; and you’ll also get two tickets to the City Hall to see the panorama: something that will be out of reach for all but the most dedicated wait-in-liners.
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The public bathrooms at 25hrs Hotel Bikini Berlin
The 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin hit the headlines last week, not for its funky rooms or its already heaving-with-locals bar, but for its public bathrooms, which are rather more public than intended (at least, we hope so – you know Germans and their toilet obsession). The hotel has floor-to-ceiling windows in the public area bathrooms, and it’s only 10 stories high, meaning that you’re as on display as the animals in the zoo next door while you get down to business. This is the very definition of 'horrendous'.
This is clearly (hopefully?) the nadir of the ghastly peekaboo bathroom trend, but it got us thinking – are they ever ok?
It’s what we wondered during a recent stay at The Hotel (yes, The Hotel) in Brussels. It’s the former Hilton and is a huge tower block perched on a hill overlooking the city center. The views are spectacular, and the renovations of the hotel (The Hotel?) have made the most of this, putting walls of windows center stage, and letting that light and those views flood each and every room.
Yes, the whole of each and every room. Including the bathroom.
Not your usual hotel doorpeople
What happens when you hold an upmarket music festival in a place with no accommodation just outside a major hotel town or city? Neon everywhere and flower headdresses in totally unthinkable hotels, that’s what.
Yes, if you thought Coachella was
bad enough unique for colonizing Palm Springs, you clearly haven’t heard of Tomorrowland, a gargantuan EDM festival that takes place in Boom, an appropriately named town 20 miles outside of Brussels, over two weekends: this and last.
Boom doesn’t really have any hotels, which is where Brussels comes in. For two weekends of the year, the supposedly staid (it’s not, but more on that another time) centre of the European Union is full of dayglo, and three of the city’s poshest hotels get done up as rave accommodation, having been bought up by the festival for the exclusive use of their guests.
Take The Hotel, the European Union's hotel of choice for businessmen, diplomats, and President Obama, where we’ve spent the last few days. Normally, it’s full of suits; this weekend, it’s awash with fairy wings, bro baseball caps and t-shirts that read “Fuck off reality, we’re going to Tomorrowland”. The lifts are paved with fake grass instead of the normal marble, and there are butterflies and flowers 'embroidered' all over the lobby.
If you’re anything like us, you will frown at this picture of the set up of the “tea and coffee-making facilities” in our room at the Atlas Hotel in Brussels. You will raise your eyebrows, sigh ‘this is exactly what I stooped to when I booked a three star hotel’ and wonder how on earth one is meant to raise one’s pinky when drinking from a plastic teacup.
But then you will realize the genius of the Atlas Hotel’s tea and coffee-making facilities set up. Because it is the set up of dreams for hotel germaphobes. If you have any level of OCD, or worry about housekeepers cleaning mugs with spit/mirror cleaner/nothing, it is for you. Because these cups are replaced – new – after every use.
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On January 1, the former Hotel Conrad in Brussels changed hands and reopened as the Steigenberger Grandhotel. We don’t hear much about the brand in North America, so here’s the scoop. They’re a Germany-based group that manages 81 hotels all over Germany and in Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Egypt and now Belgium. This includes their upper mid-range hotel brand, InterCity Hotels and the higher-end Steigenberger Hotels.
The hotel is located on the swishy Avenue Louise with its high-end boutiques and restaurants. We had the chance to get a look inside the hotel this past summer when it was still a Conrad and then, as now, the hotel falls into the deluxe category. It has an old-school glam feel to it with a great “gentlemen’s club” type bar and lounge. There’s even a smoking lounge if that’s your thing which, as you know, is quite scarce these days. Their restaurant, Cafe Wiltshire, has a lovely terrace overlooking the hotel’s courtyard.
We only bring this up because The Hotel Inspector was the name of the UK’s (first-out) version of Hotel Hell, and that show was hosted not by Gordon Ramsay, but by Alex Polizzi. Serious hotel geeks know that Alex's clan are owners of Rocco Forte Hotels. It’s all coming together!
Well, we had the chance to stay at Brussel's Hotel Amigo for our own hotel inspection and will say that it does pass inspection, so Polizzi (or Ramsay) needn't have worried.
The hotel has 173 rooms and feels cozy and intimate. The decor is very authentic with original Surrealist artwork and other Belgium touches scattered throughout, and leans more toward a contemporary, refined style in both the public areas and the rooms.