Staff Review

Brussels and Flanders - a whistle-stop tour


18 Nov 2016

by The Kirker Team

Kirker Holidays

While I have now worked for Kirker for more than 15 years, Belgium remained a gap in my knowledge and I was therefore delighted to have the opportunity to travel recently with one of our contract managers, Marcus, who apart from negotiating excellent value for our clients, also proved to be an excellent guide. We departed from London’s gleaming St Pancras station on a Sunday evening and our Eurostar experience was seamless, taking just 2 hours to reach Brussels and we arrived at the Hotel Amigo just 15 minutes after gliding into Brussels Gare du Midi - I would recommend first class seating in Standard Premier class for extra comfort.'The Amigo is part of the Rocco Forte Collection and is superbly located a few steps from The Grand Place, recommended for clients who wish to stay in comfort and style. Dinner was in a local restaurant recommended by the Kirker Concierge - a popular brassiere which offers simple, authentic Belgian cuisine including Waterzooi, steak tartare and of course waffles!'Brussels is synonymous with the European Union and is often overlooked by travellers as they continue to other cities in Belgium, however, while it perhaps lacks the glamour of other cities, it is an excellent destination for a short break, particularly when hotel rates are much lower at the weekend. The city is best explored on foot to discover its Art Nouveau architecture, the up-and-coming district of Marolles, antique shops of the smart Sablon quarter, a stop for lunch at the Place du Grand Sablon and not forgetting Brussels’ finest chocolatier, Pierre Marcolini. For those interested in Flemish Art, the Musee des Beaux-arts contains Flemish Primitive, Renaissance and Baroque works by Memling, Bosch and Rubens to name but a few, while the adjoining Magritte museum contains over 200 pieces of his work – the Kirker Concierge can arrange advance tickets.'After visiting our hotels in Brussels, I was very impressed with Le Dixseptieme, which I would highly recommend. The former residence of the Spanish Ambassador, it has now been transformed into a boutique hotel and offers an oasis of calm very close to Galeries St Hubert, a historic 19th Century shopping arcade. From the hotel it is a couple of minutes’ walk to the Central station, where we boarded a train for the 30 minute journey to Ghent, a charming city with a mediaeval centre and very accessible and welcoming to tourists. The central skyline is dominated by the 3 spires of the Belfort (The Belfry), St. Nicholas’s church and St. Baafs Cathedral, the location of Van Eyck’s most famous work “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” and a cruise along the city’s canals is recommended. Our featured hotel The Harmony, is a contemporary, family run property (named after the owners’ daughter) located in the mediaeval centre, overlooking a canal, which also boasts a heated swimming pool in the summer. After a quick lunch overlooking the Vrijdagmarkt, we continue to Bruges station, which has been now completely renovated with lift access to all platforms and taxis are available in front of the station to deliver you to your hotel (approximately 10€).'Kirker feature 9 properties in Bruges, from a good value 3* located behind the Belfry to a former palace with spacious private gardens, and while each property is different, they all offer excellent service, many with canal views and no more than 10 minutes from Market Square – for personal advice call the reservations team to talk to an expert who has visited the city. I would recommend visiting Bruges during the week as the city is much quieter, particularly once the day-trippers have left: many of our hotels will even offer a complimentary night not available at weekends.'Bruges is a picture postcard city of cobbled streets and canals and it is easy to find a quiet corner if you are prepared to explore. While many of its shops cater for tourists, we are able to recommend the best local artisan chocolatiers who offer a tempting selection perfect souvenirs to take home. Beer is synonymous with Belgium and before making any purchases, you may wish to consider sampling a glass or two (for research purposes) at T’Brugs Beertje, a small, typical brown café hidden away in a quiet cobbled street, where the bartender will be able to offer suggestions from its menu of hundreds of beers.'Arriving on Monday many museums were closed, but during the rest of the week the Groeninge museum showcases Flemish artists from the 15th Century to 20th Century and is most noted for its collection of art by the “Flemish Primitives” of which Van Eyck is the most famous. One of his most famous works, “Madonna with Canon George Van der Paele” is on display here. Six works by Memling are also on display at the nearby St. Janshospitaal Museum. 'Bruges is also a gastronomic centre and boasts three Michelin star restaurants, including one with the coveted three stars. I would strongly suggest contacting Charlie Dyson, the Kirker Concierge, in order to make restaurant reservations prior to arrival to avoid disappointment. We sampled two restaurants which offered a mix of traditional and modern Flemish cuisine in contemporary surroundings, with a €35 “Bib Gourmand” menu offering excellent value. For a more simple snack, the Belgian speciality of twice fried frites and mayonnaise from one of the two “Frituur” vans located on the Market square is an essential experience, if not the healthiest dining option.'For those able to stay longer, Bruges is an excellent base for day trips, the idyllic village of Damme is close by, while the seaside resort of Knokke is a short train ride. Ypres and the World War One battlefields of Flanders are just one hour away and we can arrange day trips with an excellent guide to Ypres, the Menin Gate, Passchendaele, and Tyne Cot.'We left Bruges on Wednesday morning, passing through the lively weekly food market on the Market Square and travelled by train to Antwerp, whose cathedral-like Central station is considered one of the finest examples of station architecture. Antwerp is Belgium’s second largest city, famous for its diamond district and bustling port and the centre of the Belgium fashion industry. Our flying visit allowed us to visit both of our centrally located properties - the T’Sandt offers a friendly welcome and a delightful summer courtyard while the De Witte Lelie is an exclusive, fashionable hideaway. Rubens is synonymous with Antwerp - he lived and worked in the city - and it is possible to visit his home and studio. While the Royal Museum of Fine Arts is closed for renovation until 2017, some of his works are on display at the magnificent gothic cathedral. Other cultural highlights include the modern art museum ‘MAS’, the Museum Plantin-Moretus, a world famous historic printing works and UNESCO heritage site, where Rubens’ works are on view in its private art collection.'While I returned home, connecting by Intercity train to Brussels in order to catch the Eurostar to London, my colleague Marcus continued to Amsterdam, just 45 minutes by high speed Thalys train and once again proving extremely popular since the reopening of the Rijksmuseum. While each city can be enjoyed on their own, multi-centre options are highly recommended due to the short distance between cities in Belgium (and Holland) and an excellent, efficient rail network. The team and I look forward to assisting with any type of tailor-made itinerary.

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Our expert reservations team regularly travel to a wide range of destinations to explore new cities, visit hotels and to research museums, galleries and restaurants so that we can offer the most up-to-date advice and recommendations.


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