1000 Travel Guide
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.
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.
Who would have thought that faux fur and babies would actually go together like peanut butter and jelly? Well, the folks Down Under at the swanky QT Sydney have come up with the perfect package for those looking for the trendiest Babymoon.
Appealing to more parents like Brangelina or Posh and Becks, the QT has introduced the perfect package for fashion-forward parents looking to get get away from it all with, of course, the children. The creative offer features daily breakfast for the grown-ups and freshly made baby-food for the little ones and a spa treatment for both mom and dad. If the sexy digs aren't enough to relax, the room comes with a bottle of sparkling wine to calm the nerves of new (or old) parents.
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.
Sydney is getting a fresh new design hotel and there's no time to waste if you want in on the deal at the new QT Sydney. The hotel is officially opening on the 17th, but they've been treating visitors to a sneak peak and discounted room rates since Tuesday.
Housed in the former Gowings Department Store and State Theatre, on the corner of George and Market Streets, the QT will be tickling the design senses for guests with 200 ultra-modern rooms, a lobby bar full of swank, a full-service restaurant and a namesake shop, QTique. Maintaining the vintage building's own design elements, the overall design is eclectic and full of funk.
The future is slowly getting here.
It's been a while since we last heard of a hotel using keyless hotel cards (that would be the Clarion Hotel in Stockholm) but we've just learned that The Hotel Brussels will install the Mobile Key by OpenWays system which allows guests to open their hotel room door by using their smartphones.
Currently, the landmark hotel is undergoing a top-to-bottom renovation from its old life as a Hilton but once finished, guests will be able to bypass the front desk and open their hotel room using any mobile phone, any make with any mobile network. Sooo cool. (And on a side note, the hotel has free WiFi as well.)
Not heading to Brussels anytime soon? Word is the Mobile Key by OpenWays will be installed stateside shortly at the Delano in South Beach. We'll keep you dialed in as to when that happens!
We were recently tipped off about a new hotel concept in Brussels, The MaxHotel which is a one-star hotel and supremely proud of it. But unlike most dodgy one-star hotels, which are really a small grotty step above a hostel, the MaxHotel promises guests "brand new, very shiny, non smoking, equipped with flat screen tv and WIFI connection, individual air-conditioning and private bathroom." That sounds promising.
MaxHotel also has done away with the front desk, allowing guests to check into the hotel via automated kiosks in the lobby. These kiosks will do everything a human used to do, even deliver your messages. (But just in case, MaxHotel will have humans on hand.)
There's also no restaurant or bar on-site but rather a vending machine room that serves snacks and drinks, both hot and alcoholic. And much like Tune Hotels, the MaxHotel you pay extra for amenities like shampoo, TV, the internet and cleaning service. (The WiFi is an affordable 5 Euros for 24 hours.)
It was meant to open by the end of October, but with confirmation now that it will be coming on the market just a few days late with its November 8 opening, we can't be too strict yet with The Dominican in Brussels. Do ignore the November 5 opening date given on the hotel's web page, though--staff assure us November 8 is the real date.
A member of the Design Hotels group (the first from Belgium, in fact), the Dominican has already received high praise as the Guardian's hotel pick of the week: they were impressed with its:
sweeping archways, lofty ceilings and an interior courtyard ... its historic look echoes the abbey that stood on the site in the 15th century, but the 150 bedrooms are all ultra-modern.
Room rates start from around $250 per night. If you check in before we do, make sure you let us know if The Dominican lives up to expectations.
· Pick of the Week [UK Guardian]
· Hotels in Brussels [HotelChatter]
· Travel Stories in Brussels [Jaunted]
Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, has a really fascinating place to stay. The Hostel Celica might be cheap and does advertise itself as a youth hostel--but that doesn't make it not worth trying. Celica used to be a prison, is now also an art gallery and has rooms in converted prison cells that were each designed and furnished by a different artist.
You're not going to get a huge room--remember, they were prison cells--but most people agree that the funky furnishing is enough to make up for that. Shared (but clean) bathrooms and a basic buffet breakfast are also the go. Recent guests say there are plenty of positives:
The cells are marvellous, small but funky, and the staff delightful ... Creative atmosphere, including the bar and hang out rooms downstairs ... The cell bars on the window are a great touch. It's not claustrophobic as you might think it is in a cell!
But if you do want more comfort, you can actually just take a tour of the hostel at 2pm every day--for free.
[Ed. Note: Bachelors visiting Bulgaria should take note of this story from Hotel Maven Wildstag. Although with a big disclaimer from us: We have no idea if this hotel really does have some agreement with a call-girl agency. Again, enjoy.]
The Grand Hotel Sofia refused to let my date in.
I met a Bulgarian girl in a nightclub and she agreed to come with me in my hotel room at Grand Hotel Sofia but what was my surprise when the receptionist refused to let her in because she might be a prostitute. (I wonder why this should bother me so much since the prostitution is not a crime in Bulgaria.) I couldn't convince them by any means that I can take care of myself pretty well.
They ruined my night and my stay at this hotel. I guess that the guys at the reception have some kind of financial agreement with call-girls agencies not to let the competitors in Grand Hotel Sofia. I really didn't care if my girl was a streetwalker or not - I think I have the right when paying load of money to stay at a certain hotel to be able to invite my friends to visit me for couple of hours in my room.
[Photo taken at hotel but not of Wildstag's date: St Stev]
· Grand Hotel Sofia reviews [TripAdvisor]
Slovenia's pretty capital Ljubljana is increasingly popular as a short break destination from Brits, and should definitely be put on the to-visit list from others traveling around Europe. But you should heed the warning from blogger Sheila who recently described the Hotel Park in Ljubljana as the hotel from hell. This picture of the view from her window looks pleasant enough, but apparently it needs audio to understand what kind of hell she was going through:
It really doesn't give you a clue what it was like living with saws and machinery above our heads, working from 7 or 9am till about 5pm. Constant grinding/sawing noises.
In frustration Sheila's already started posting unfriendly reviews around the web, including:
It felt like the whole hotel was being rebuilt in the room above our heads. There was a letter of apology in the room, but that doesn't actually help anyone sleep. I shared a lift with mattresses, and bits of wood, but at least the lift worked. The coffee at breakfast was undrinkable, no kettle in the rooms.
The list goes on. The building work will continue until March 2007, so it'll be a bit longer until there's even a chance that Sheila's hell will return to some semblance of normality.
· Hotel Park Ljubljana reviews [TripAdvisor]
Cubicle Dreamin' is a feature in which we ask the hotel mavens to take some time out of their busy work day, surf the Internet, and tell us what hotel they wish they could beam themselves to right that very second--all on the slave driving companies dime, of course. Oh, like these people aren't surfing aimlessly anyway--at least now their purposeless clicking will be cobbled together into useful hotel stories--we hope. Have a destination hotel you are just dying to leave your cube for? Send the story our way.
Today's special edition is brought to us by hotelier Richard Chanter of the Chanters Lodge hotel and blog in Livingstone, Zambia who is desperate for a vacation. Enjoy.
I'd love to go back to Dar es Salaam for a break. Kunduchi Beach was beautifully located as I recall, 35 long years ago, with white sands and glorious sunshine. The architecture makes the hotel seem like an Arabian palace! Life of a king! No responsibilities for a week! Visit new friends!
I bet the Tanzanians that stayed at our Lodge are great cooks, Indian ladies usually are, so when I got menu fatigue in the hotel I'd call them up and book myself in for a curry or two! No stock taking! Not my staff! No purchasing! No guests! I'm a guest! Wow!
Do I take the laptop? Guess so, after all it's a pleasure not a pain. Gotta blog anyway! Does Kunduchi have wifi? Don't know, no stress, if they don't I'll find somewhere that does and explore a bit! Tanzanians are humble, friendly and cheerful, so I guess my short break on the beach in Dar will be just great! Swim in the pool, enjoy the seafood, read a book. I'm nearly there already!
[Photo: Heart of Daftness]
· Hotel Blog Watch: The Chanters Lodge Blog [HotelChatter]