As you surely know already, this month is all about travel at The Word, having kicked off our holiday special last week with Belgium’s best travel blogs. But travel doesn’t always have to mean exotic and far flung – you’d be surprised at what succulent travel adventures are waiting for you just under your nose. We’ve handpicked – and tested – our very favourite Belgian getaway spots, from the seaside to the deepest Ardennes and all the major cities in between. From hotels for architecture and design fans to fairy tale-like suites and the most charming of charming little bed & breakfasts – we’ve covered them all. Ever slept in a Trojan horse? Or in an art gallery? We thought not.
Suite 17, Nieuwpoort
From the briefest of glances it’s obvious a design fan has gone to work on Suite 17, a true gem of modern architecture. Located in a typical seaside residential neighbourhood (the beach is 3 km away) with its simple brick houses, this former Deuss shop and storage facility was converted into a family home 8 years ago, giving it a contemporary, clean and geometrical sheen. When the parents decided to move to Italy in the winter of 2010, the son turned a part of it into a Bed & Breakfast with three double bedrooms of different sizes, all tastefully decked out with modern and vintage furniture. The sleek and sober but altogether homey common area is an eyecatcher with its long concrete table, paintings by Belgian artists like Manor Grunewald and Thomas Dhanens, and an outside space with a small swimming pool at its heart. The whole place has a zen buzz, with white walls all around closing it off from the outside world. Sofas, huge shelf full of art books, TV, open kitchen and toys for the kiddies make it feel more like a luxury apartment than a hotel, particularly with the presence of a so-called “honesty bar”, meaning you take whatever you want from the fridge as long as you make sure to jot it down on a piece of paper and pay for it later. A happy find for travellers who appreciate thoughtfully-arranged design interiors mixed in with an apartment-sharing type atmosphere.
La Balade des Gnômes, Heyd-Durbuy
If you feel the itch to inhabit a completely different universe for a while, then La Balade des Gnomes is for you. This fairy tale-like Bed & Breakfast is all about creating spaces that have no relation to the daily grind: each and every suite or room is fantastically decorated to the tune of its own distinct theme, all DIY’d by owner and architect Mr. Noel. “With this B&B I can let my imagination run free”, he explains. “It’s for all those who stayed children in their minds”. Though the icing on the cake is undoubtedly the massive habitable Trojan horse (book well in advance), we tested the Spanish suite, and what impressed us most about it wasn’t the private sauna and jacuzzi but the love and effort that has obviously gone into building and furnishing the place, all the meticulous little details that make the theme come to life. This is true of all ten rooms – from the “Route du vin” suite with its own tiny indoor vineyard and carefully-selected old wine barrels from the south of France, to the forest-themed chamber with indoor fish pond and miniature waterfall. Even the bathtubs are handcrafted and homemade, adding to the oh-so magical feel. With its otherworldly interior, this hotel makes a great spot for escaping reality, and it’s great for the little ones, too. Plus, it’s a good jump-off point for checking out the beautiful nature of the Belgian Ardennes, with the gorgeous old town of Durbuy only 15 minutes away.
The Ardoisière, Alle-sur-Semois
The Ardoisière estate, set on beautiful forested grounds near Alle-sur-Semois, a village in the deepest Ardennes not far from the French border, is a one of a kind spot for exlporing Belgium’s green regions. With its blend of traditional countryhouse thrown together with modern, contemporary, sleek design, it has a special look and feel, and we especially love the floor-to-ceiling windows that really invite nature in. Each huge apartment has its own distinctive style, from ‘The Hamptons’, with its American country flavour and Scandinavian-style ‘Gunnar’ to ‘L’Escaille’, a gorgeous 4-bedroom cottage. The food is regional, exquisite and brought to you by the owners themselves, and there’s even an indoor swimming pool. Ideal for families who want their independence, and also great for groups of friends, with some of the suites hosting up to 10 people.
Le 2ème étage & Refuge du Pêcheur, Hoeilaart
Set on a hill overlooking the town of Hoielaart just outside Brussels, this massive 1924 art nouveau villa, complete with turrets and terraces and surrounded by beautiful gardens, is an impressive sight. The quiet, residential neighbourhood is full of gorgeous and old houses set wide apart, all with a lot of greenery (back in the day they were the homes of greenhouse farmers). In 1986, after many years in the Ivory Coast, Michel and Cécile Mottet-Caers bought up this jewel and have been living here ever since, and when the kids moved out in 2003, the couple decided to turn it into a B&B. Having spent a lot of time on the African continent, with a son based in Morocco, the two comfortable and lovingly decorated rooms, Ebony and Marrakesch, are both Africa-themed. We were truly fascinated by the collection of African furniture and objects, not just deco items purchased in the major homeware stores but original hand-crafted items imported from African villages. Antique boxes from the Tuareg, artworks with paint made out of leaves, wooden sculptures and the famous head baskets – Michel and Cécile know their stuff. The rest of the house is filled with little treasures too, like Cécile’s hat collection. The lovely breakfast room located in a sunny, indoor veranda and the mosaic floor deserves special mention. If you are travelling by car, this is a great place from which to explore the capital, offering a dose of nature with the enormous Forêt de Soignes just next-door.
The Refuge du Pêcheur is located in the vicinity of the 2ème étage bed & breakfast, and is also run by Michel and Cécile – but is completely independent from the main house. This hand-built wooden cabin with multi-level pond and a little waterfall is such a lovely spot for a breather from the city. It’s so lovely, in fact, that a number of couples have opted to spend their wedding night here. Surrounded by beautiful gardens with a veranda and terraces right on the water, this is a truly special place, beautifully picturesque and idyllic. It’s small but super cute and cozy, and the comfy sleeping berth with curtains and all the other small details make up for the size. It comes with kitchen corner and bath facilities, so you have complete independence. Nice for lovers and honeymooners, or anyone looking for an escape.
Ursule la Libellule, Brussels
Kim Verbist is a La Cambre-bred interior designer who usually takes care of the big shots of the hotel world: Just recently she took care of the interior of a Marriott hotel with 200 rooms. But when it comes to her own bed & breakfast, located in her very own backyard, the dimensions are a little bit different, and she can do exactly as she pleases. Behind her family home in Ixelles a generous garden stretches out, leading to a flat-roofed little building, which is the former lunchroom of an insurance company, though nowadays, you could never tell: The place, with two lovely rooms, has been transformed into the epitome of cuteness. Patterned wallpapers, floral motifs, soft colours and just the right dose of cool kitsch, plus the idyllic garden full of roses and lampions makes for a charming, slightly romantic feel. It’s obvious there’s a pro at work here. Breakfast is served in an equally lovely eating room in the main building, and you’ll only find organic products on the menu. This picturesque and quiet hidden treasure is just lovely for those who appreciate an almost countryside feeling, slap bang in the middle of the action, in one of Brussels’ most buzzing neighbourhoods with loads of trendy bars, restaurants and shops a few steps away.
Charlie’s bed & breakfast, located in the busy neighbourhood of St. Gilles, just a few meters away from the terribly trendy Parvis de Saint-Gilles with its hip cafés and famous market, is actually one single big apartment (sans kitchen). It’s run by three friends who, after living together in a shared apartment, bought a house together that they soon decided was too big for them. The apartment consists of a large bedroom, a modern bathroom and an equally big living room, all with stucco ceilings and thoughtfully decorated with an obvious 50s touch – the patterned wallpaper or typical three-legged tables give it away. It’s stylish, spacious and makes you feel instantly at home. Breakfast is served in a cute 50s-inspired kitchen downstairs and can be eaten at any time – a nice touch for nightowls and party people.
Chez Gaspart, Brussels
Chez Gaspart is an elegant bed & breakfast located in an impressive Art Nouveau house that overlooks one of Brussels’ green oases, Parc Forest. Built in 1910, this building has been renovated, but has managed to keep some typical elements of the beautiful architectural style, like mosaic floors or floral details. As an art refurbisher, owner and host Estelle, who made this jewel her own 5 years ago, has an eye for beauty, and it’s evident in the tastefully decorated and exclusive interior. Everything has been carefully chosen and is of the highest quality, and the wooden floors and warm colours make you feel at home right away. All three rooms come with private bathrooms (one even has its own kitchen). The spacious and stylish but cozy common room where breakfast is served in the morning blends old and new and makes for a great spot for hanging out – you might end up chatting away with the lovely Estelle, who lives and works in the same building. A nice base far from the tourist trail to explore the city, with the trendy Bar du Matin just around the corner.
Room National, Antwerp
With its trendy shops and top-notch museums, Antwerp is a fabulous city trip, and the chic suites of Room National, located right in the buzzy center, are the ideal jump-off point. With its restrained mix of a bit of vintage, some IKEA pieces and newer stuff, this place is hip and stylish without overdoing it. The suites, all decorated in different styles, are spacious, consisting of a bedroom, living room and bathroom. One is all red and black with a rather masculine, clean contemporary look, with a giant cactus as an eyecatcher, while another is all 70s in beige and brown. The one under the roof only has one room, but with its cozy interior and spectacular view it’s almost our favourite anyway. Created by a fashion designer and a stylist and now managed by Jan Michiels, who’s also behind some well-established bars and restaurants in Antwerp such as Berlin, Hangar 41, Zoro, D-Club and others, you almost get the impression here that you’re hanging out like a local – privacy and independence are guaranteed. And should you want breakfast, there’s the super cool café McQueen on the groundfloor – of course also owned by busy multitasking entrepreneur Jan.
L’Ecume des Jours, Ghent
When artist/housewife Sophie and her former doctor husband Michel first laid their eyes on this Art Nouveau house in a beautiful and quiet residential neighbourhood just next to Ghent’s major green oasis, the Citadelpark, they fell instantly in love – just like we did when we first caught sight of it. With its wood-panelled walls, pretty windows with floral ornaments and magnificently carved staircase, this building is clearly one of those rare treasures that has managed to remain completely untouched by the pervading spirit of radical renovation over the years. Sophie and Michel, who bought the house from an older couple, had to promise the former owners that they would keep its special spirit – something that’s been splendidly achieved. Not just a bed & breakfast but also the family home, it’s characterised by an interesting blend of ancient architecture and vintage pieces thrown in with modern designer furniture, and guests are invited to stay in a massive suite that takes up almost a whole level of the building. Our absolute favourite feature is the antique bathtub with a view onto a private roof terrace and the city of Ghent itself. Yes, indeed, L’Ecume des Jours is the perfect digs for a romantic stay. Also worthy of note: this B&B also hosts regular cooking classes in the gigantic old-style kitchen, easily one of our favorite corners of the house.
Verzameld Werk, Ghent
As soon as you step into Verzameld Werk, an art gallery that opened 20 years ago, there’s a sense of relaxation that overcomes you, a certain zen vibe. Owner Ingrid De Coster, who represents artists such as Klaartke Martens or Suze May Sho, originally imagined it as a place for art and contemplation, and it truly is a sanctuary of peace and quiet in the busy heart of Ghent. With its mainly white and sober look and scarcely furnished spaces, the two bedrooms upstairs from the gallery have a lofty feel to them, filled with a sparse few carefully chosen designer pieces and art objects (think Matali Crasset and Marc Newson). A major architectural renovation from the 14th century, the building (it was a former wholesale for paper and textiles) has been transformed into almost an art piece in itself, with a silo tube turned passageway as the principal eyecatcher. Inventive and original, Verzameld Werk draws guests from Brazil to Australia, and it’s a place not only for artsy types but for anyone who has an open mind, doesn’t expect to be taken care of, and isn’t looking for party and entertainment. Opened in 2002, it has become the talk of the underground, more so abroad than in Ghent itself even, a place that’s still rather unknown. A peaceful alternative, a place that lets you breathe and gives you room for your thoughts. You should try it.