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For a capital city, Brussels doesn't have many grande dame hotels. One exception is the Beaux Arts style Wiltcher’s, which was built in 1911 on the posh Avenue Louise, was later used as an office building, then became a Conrad and was taken over by German chain Steigenberger in January 2013. Steigenberger announced a gradual two-year renovation when it took over - and now, nearly $8m later, the changes are now pretty much finished. So what’s changed?
Hotel gyms. One is normally enough - in fact, sometimes we don’t even get one. But two? Two is definitely out of the ordinary.
The photo above (cropped to avoid showing sweaty guests) is the normal hotel gym at the Wiltcher’s, a Steigenberger Hotel and one of Brussels’ grande dame properties. On the second floor, it’s a decent place with Technogym equipment and a good selection of machines.
But it’s not a patch on this one:
Greece’s new finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos may officially have made a(n intentional?) boo-boo yesterday when he rocked up to negotiations about the bailout situation with his prep notes in full view of the paps, but it was a moment that endeared him to us as we noticed from the notepad that he’s staying at one of our favorite hotels in Europe: The Hotel.
The Hotel is, indeed, the hotel of choice for diplomats and politicians visiting Brussels – even Barack Obama has stayed there. And you know who else has stayed there? HotelChatter. We spent a night there last year and loved it so much that we extended it for three more (as hotel addicts rarely do we go further than a one nighter). And yet it’s predominantly a business hotel, which is definitively not the style that this HC member goes for. So why did we fall so desperately in love with it? Because it’s not your typical business hotel. And here are 10 reasons why.
Hotel Amenities / Hotel Chocolate / Hotel Stores / Hotel Rebrandings / Hotel News / NH Hotels / Best Western Hotels / Brussels Hotels / → All Tags
Chocolates at turndown are all well and good, but here’s a hotel that’s going a step further – a chocolate store and workshop. This could only be in Belgium, of course – and it’s at the new NH Brussels Carrefour de l’Europe.
The hotel was previously a Best Western, but was taken over by NH this month. It’s in the Grasmarkt – a pretty square of medievalish buildings in the old town (though it’s very touristed, quite noisy, and even a little bit drunky – and most of those old buildings are now hotels). You’re right at the foot of the hill that leads to the Royal Palace, and a quick walk across from the Grand Place.
Hotel Bars / Hotel Beers / Brussels Hotels / Boutique Hotels / Affordable Hotels / Hotel Amenities / Hotel Shops / → All Tags
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.
Snapshot / Brussels Hotels / Novotel Hotels / Hotel Architecture / Accor Hotels / Belgium Hotels / → All Tags
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.
Hotel Bathrooms / Hotel Design / Peekaboo Bathrooms / Berlin Hotels / Brussels Hotels / 25Hours Hotels / Barack Obama / → All Tags
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.