THE ROAD TO FLANDERS
Along the back lanes of Wallonia, the pine, oak and beech forests form leafy green necklaces aroundfields of red and violet heather. Above the treetops, the picturesque skylines of Belgium’s medieval cities stand proud, like the venerable manor houses and castles that dominate the Bouillon region, a land irrigated by trout streams and rivers punctuated with old mills. The roe deer venture to the water’s edge just long enough for a drink, while a flock of doves darts across the sky - as though pointing the way toward the country’s apiaries and the breweries of Namur, whose nectar flows amber or blonde, the beer of the Trappist monks or the bûcherons (woodcutters). It’s time to meet in one of the many informal eateries that serve Belgian specialties. The table fills up with endive gratin, Belgian Blue beef and Flemish-style asparagus. And for dessert, speculoos shortbread rich with cinnamon and brown sugar, or manon chocolates filled with buttercream.
In Flanders, to the north, there awaits another sweet treat… for the eyes: Bruges, the “Venice of the North,” its canals lined with Gothic churches and old houses. The architecture takes a more sensual turn in the wrought iron arabesques that meander across the façades of the apartment buildings, shops and townhouses of Brussels. Iron, stained glass and the influence of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc can be seen in the creations of Victor Horta and Paul Hankar, the leading architects of Belgian art nouveau. An art that lives on in Horta’s former home and studio, now a museum, the renowned Hôtel Tassel and the residences of the Saint Gilles district - most notably the house called Les Hiboux (“the owls”) on Avenue Brugmann - that have preserved their original luster and function. Interlaced with this romantic charm is the sense of fantasy endemic to the Belgian people, the same burlesque surrealism expressed in the canvases of Magritte. Contemporary art sparks the collective curiosity, providing a counterpoint to the nostalgic atmosphere of the landscapes.
The mood is prolonged across the border in Luxembourg, a territory guarded by impregnable fortifications, founded as a grand duchy in 1815. Along the Chemin de la Corniche in Luxembourg City, the old ramparts trace the languorous contours of the Alzette Valley, and conjure up the legend of the mighty Sigefroi, who founded the kingdom in 963. A past glory whose only extant reminder is a single tower, the Dent Creuse (“Hollow Tooth”), still standing on the Bock promontory, a lofty emblem of the medieval history that laid the foundation for the world of today.
Hotel and restaurant in the woods. The Relais & Châteaux spirit holds special significance at the Moulin Hideux. In 1960, the magnificent 17th century mill, set in the heart of the Semois Valley, became the first Relais & Châteaux member outside of France. Family spirit is also of great importance here; the hotel has been handed down from generation to generation of the Lahire family. Look forward to long walks in the forest, a few strokes in the heated pool, an aperitif by the crackling log fire or in the shady garden next to a babbling brook, topped off by Julian Lahire’s delectable cuisine. Each guest is welcomed into the family fold so heartily, that it becomes very hard to leave. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant in town. Only 50 metres from the Place du Marché, this fine 19th century building is the ideal starting point to explore on foot, by carriage or boat the historic, mythical and romantic town of Bruges, its museums and boutique. On returning to the Heritage, relax in one of the guest rooms with their unique, sophisticated décor or in the comfortable lounge bar, Le Magnum. To savour local cuisine, head for Le Mystique restaurant, with its charm that has remained intact since 1869, where you will be privy to the delights of a 14th century wine cellar. The vaulted fitness room has also been wonderfully preserved and dates from the 12th century. ... Learn moreless
Restaurant in the woods. On the edge of the beautiful Sonian forest, renowned Chef Pascal Devalkeneer achieves the perfect balance between traditional and avant-garde concepts. This talented chef’s cuisine is well-thought out and beautifully executed. Delectable Per Se caviar and broccoli flowers, Parmentier style, enhance the special Gillardeau oyster tartar. Savour his creative dishes in a contemporary and warm setting or on the terrace, with its fragrance of aromatic herbs, a heavenly environment for your ‘al fresco’ dinner. The knowledgeable sommelier presents wine from both French vineyards and further afield that is in harmony with the gourmet offerings. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant in a park. A few kilometres from the city of Maastricht, you will find this charming Hostellerie in an exceptional wooded setting, on the doorstep of Hoge Kempen National Park. This beautiful estate with its idyllic patios, lakes and exclusive garden suite, creates the perfect decor to relax in an elegant and contemporary setting. The hotel is decorated in the highly valued ‘Flamant’ – style. Restaurant La Source, with its secluded terraces, offers exquisite cuisine. Bistro Gourmand Het Binnenhof offers regional dishes, to enjoy around the cosy fireplace. The in-house Shiseido Spa “Aquamarijn” was voted the best in Belgium. ... Learn moreless