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Highlights of the Low Countires

By The Kirker Team, 18 November 2016

Having only ever-so briefly stopped in Belgium and Amsterdam previously, and many years ago, I was delighted to spend a week inspecting the hotels and finally seeing both in more depth – as well as some less obvious places too, which would prove to be just as fascinating.

After an early start on the first Eurostar departure of the day, my colleague Marcus and I had just about finished our complimentary breakfast provided in Standard Premier class when our train pulled into Lille station. Our Kirker driver was waiting at the meeting place, which meant that within an hour of stepping off the train in Lille, we were in the lobby of the Heritage hotel in Bruges. We headed straight back out and after less than two-minutes' walk, were stood in the main square looking at the famous Belfry; not a bad way to start the week. With a busy day ahead we were straight on to one of the first stops where we had time for a frothy cappuccino provided by the ever-friendly staff at The Pand hotel – accompanied by a deliciously smooth and rich chocolate mousse – in their cosy hotel bar. Although a mild May day, I could imagine how inviting the bar would be after a walk around the Christmas markets in December – with its deep leather armchairs and dark wood.

We then decided to walk off a well-deserved lunch by making the most  of our 72-hour Museum Pass (complimentary with all Kirker trips to Bruges) and climbing the 366 steps of the Belfry, catching our breath while marvelling at the views far and wide below us. At the Groeninge Museum we admired pieces by local painter Van Eyck, before we finished the day back in the lounge of the Heritage hotel, where original paintings and antiques also decorate the warm and homely lounge. A lovely dinner of fresh asparagus and chicken in a nearby local restaurant – recommended and pre-booked for us by the Kirker Concierge – rounded off an excellent day.

After another walk around the historic streets and a quick look inside the magnificent 13th century town hall, the next morning saw us finish our time in Bruges in the newly-finished restaurant and bar at the Duke's Palace hotel. While it would have been easy to spend an afternoon in this contemporary restaurant overlooking the private gardens, I was also looking forward to an afternoon in Ghent, where we were headed. Our first stop in Ghent was long-time Kirker favourite hotel the Harmony, after which we made a beeline for some of the city's many gothic churches and cathedrals (having glimpsed them from one of the Harmony's beautifully-decorated rooms), with my personal favourite being the imposing St. Nicholas' Church.

A thirty-minute train ride later and we were in Brussels and being warmly greeted by the staff at the Hotel Amigo as we checked-in. A brief stroll away is the historic Grand'Place which we had a look around before dinner at another excellent restaurant we wouldn't have known about were it not for some advice from the Kirker Concierge back in London! In the morning we continued onto the prestigious St. Hubert shopping arcades, before we looked in on the excellent Chagall exhibition at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts and the nearby Brussels Palace and Sculpture Park. We finished our Brussels visit with another well-deserved coffee in the Metropole hotel's wonderful 19th century bar, having seen how the hotel has cleverly incorporated a former bank lobby into a splendid reception area.

Another short hop by train brought us to Antwerp, where we arrived to glorious sunshine and found ourselves at the home of Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. Having a look at many of his impressive works, we then used Antwerp's towering cathedral to keep our bearings and navigated quaint market squares via some diamond-district window shopping, before stopping outside the town hall for a late lunch. Re-fuelling accomplished, we stopped by the two Kirker hotels, with De Witte Lelie's ultra-discreet entrance revealing a fascinating contemporary design that works well with the historical atmosphere of the building and the city itself.
Still watched over by the cathedral's spire, we made our way back to the unusual multi-level train station, where it was straightforward to find our Thalys train to Amsterdam. We tucked into a tasty meal provided in our first-class seats as the sunset over the plains, and before we knew it we had sped past a couple of windmills, through Rotterdam and were pulling into Amsterdam's Centraal station just ninety minutes later, where The Owl hotel was to be our home for the first night.

Despite the hotel's nocturnal name, we awoke refreshed after a good night's sleep, enjoying breakfast in the hotel's courtyard. The Owl and the nearby Jan Luyken are both excellent bases from which to get a head-start on the crowds for some of the city’s world-famous museums. With fast-track entrance tickets provided to either the Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh museum with any Kirker Amsterdam booking (of course, both can be added upon request for a small supplement), you can be first through the doors and enjoy Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ in relative peace.

Having visited Venice in early January, I didn't think there could be anywhere with as many canals, but I thoroughly enjoyed mingling with the cyclists as we made our way between hotels. The Waldorf Astoria was a particular highlight for me – from the outside there was hardly any sign that the inter-connecting townhouses contained such a luxurious hotel – but inside is a beautifully peaceful garden and sumptuous bedrooms. We stopped for lunch at the Grand Amsterdam, where the Michelin-starred restaurant is set in a relaxing courtyard, before we found ourselves checking in at Kirker favourite the Ambassade Hotel. Although initially reluctant to leave (such was the fantastic canal view from my room), it was a lovely sunny afternoon for a fifteen minute stroll along (and over) canals back to the Rijksmuseum, where the crowds had again quietened down and I was able to explore some magnificent pieces of art.  After visiting the huge collection of world-renowned pieces at the Van Gogh museum next, I was truly aware why Amsterdam is proving so popular as a cultural destination once again.

The next morning we tucked into the Ambassade's generous breakfast in the hotel's newly refurbished breakfast room while watching boats go by on the canal and cyclists on the cobbled-streets immediately outside the hotel, which was a great way to start the last day of the trip. After visiting the Pultizer’s newly renovated rooms, it was time for another of Amsterdam's many museums: this time an outpost of St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum. We had checked with Charlie the Kirker Concierge back in London before our trip and decided to spend our time taking in the fascinating Napoleon exhibition, where we saw all manner of swords, sabres and weaponry used by the man himself; one of the most interesting articles being a death-mask of Napoleon made just a matter of hours after his death in St. Helena in 1821. Although this exhibition is temporary, there is a comprehensive programme of up-coming events and we would be very happy to check what’s on before you plan your trip.

Continuing the museum visits of the Netherlands, shortly after lunch we found ourselves pulling into The Hague's main station. Taking just a few minutes by tram, we made our way into the rich, royal décor of the Des Indes hotel, with lots of deep purples and reds giving this hotel a really important feel – indeed, it is often used by heads of state visiting the city. About a fifteen-minute walk away through the quiet leafy streets, our last stop for the trip was to be the newly re-opened Mauritshuis where we enjoyed an excellent lunch in the museum's café and many a famous work such as Vermeer's The Girl with a Pearl Earring and Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp to name just two, these were brilliant highlights to finish off the week before our short train ride to Amsterdam airport and flight home.

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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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