Staff Review

Highlights of Belgium and Holland


by The Kirker Team

Kirker Holidays

After what has been an extremely trying time of late for Belgium it is important for us to remember the depth of cultural heritage and diverse gastronomy this country has to offer. There remains an array of enthralling cities beyond Brussels which can be reached in a short train journey. Brussels itself not only provides a focal point for the European Parliament but has also established itself as an enjoyable place to explore Belgium's history. A five minute stroll from Brussels Central station will lead you to the iconic Grand Place - the capital's most famous location. You will be dazzled by the opulence of the city's guildhalls, not to mention the carved stone façades of the Town Hall and the Museum of the City of Brussels. The Grand Place is most certainly the place to sit with a mid-morning coffee from a traditional Belgian café and people-watch. The Hotel Amigo (5* deluxe) could not be better positioned - situated directly behind the square in a cobbled pedestrian area. This Rocco Forte hotel is undoubtedly the best in town, and after a full refurbishment in 2015 the chic lobby area is once-again adorned with traditional oak and Belgian tapestries. The rooms are of a generous size, equipped with all modern amenities and there is a bar with live jazz on Fridays and Saturdays. For those who wish to dine in, let the Kirker concierge book a table at 'Bocconi' (The hotel's Italian restaurant.)

A thirty minute train journey through Belgium's rural farming landscape will take you to the idyllic town of Ghent on the River Leie. This charming market town possesses a wealth of gothic churches alluding to Ghent's deep-rooted religious history. A tram journey or a stroll along the main thoroughfare Limburgstraat will take you to St Nicholas' Church where a quiet moment admiring the intricate stained glass work is highly recommended. For those who enjoy art, an essential purchase is an entrance ticket to St Bavo's Cathedral to behold the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb altar piece by the Van Eyck brothers. Ghent is worthy of a couple of days in itself, and The Harmony (4*) is the perfect place to stay - in a delightful setting on the banks of a small canal, and close to a convenient tram stop. This family owned property is renowned for its personal friendly service and the location is unrivalled: close to St Bavo's Cathedral and Vrijdag Markt square where one can enjoy the grand surroundings over a glass of surprisingly good regional wine. During the summer months there is a tranquil courtyard and an outdoor swimming pool to relax in after a hard day's sightseeing. I can highly recommend the luxury rooms which are traditionally furnished and those on higher floors look out onto the canal.

Bruges sits amongst a network of canals an hour away from Brussels and half an hour from Ghent on the train. The medieval charm of this UNESCO market town draws tourists from far and wide all year round. Most visitors tend to stay around the atmospheric Market Square - a hub of activity throughout the day and an enjoyable place to sit and watch the departures of the horse drawn carriages or listen to the soothing chimes of the Belfry. The Heritage (4*) is certainly the most suitable hotel to take advantage of Market Square, situated only 100 metres away. This stylish Relais & Chateaux town house is great value for money and exquisitely furnished. There is a cosy lounge to enjoy afternoon tea or a pre-dinner drink, and guests absolutely must eat in restaurant 'Le Mystique' which provides a fine gourmet experience. Either side of the busy canal, known as the Dyver, there are a host of attractions covered by the Kirker Bruges Museum Pass (72 hours.) Do pop into St John's Hospital to see the works of Hans Memling, but real connoisseurs cannot leave the city without spending some hours in the Groeninge Museum and studying the celebrated 16th century Flemish Primitives - including Van Eyk and Breugel. A few strides from this fine collection you will come across The Pand (4*) set slightly back from the Dyver. This family run 18th century aristocratic house is a real Kirker favourite. The epitome of personal service and arguably the most prestigious amongst the 'Small Luxury Hotels of the World' brand - this wonderful property pulls out all the stops for Kirker clients whether it's the beautifully adorned junior suites with Ralph Lauren fabrics or the classically furnished breakfast restaurant where you can enjoy a champagne breakfast. Nearby St Salvator Church and the Church of Our Lady - home to an intricately sculpted altar by Michaelangelo - are testament to mediaeval Bruges' religious fervour. A short stroll from these along the Dyver will take you to Hotel Die Swaene (4*), Kirker clients looking to enjoy a canal view should stay in the pergola wing and enjoy a drink from the brasserie terrace as the river boats glide past.

Amsterdam is on every traveller's European wish list, such is its wealth of art galleries and architecture. Whether you are staring at the red brick wonder that is the Rijksmuseum in the heart of the museum quarter or sitting with a coffee by a canal in the picturesque Jordaan district, the sheer variety on offer in this compact multicultural city makes Amsterdam the ideal short break. Accessing the city cannot be easier, merely an hour's flight away from most UK regional airports or for train lovers the high speed Thalys service will deliver you to Amsterdam Centraal in under two hours from Brussels and one hour from Antwerp. Kirker clients enjoy staying in the Museum district where in museumplein you will find the modern Van Gogh (self-portraits a must-see) and Stedelijk museums, the historic Rijksmuseum - home to Rembrandt's seminal De Nachtwacht, and the Concertgebouw concert hall (ask the Kirker Concierge about current schedules and tickets before you travel). A stay in the Jan Luyken (4*) would be perfect to experience all of these. Situated 10 minutes' walk from museumplein the two adjoining town houses offer 39 modern rooms (upgraded rooms recommended for size.) There is a relaxed lobby area which leads into the buffet breakfast area and a small garden courtyard. For those who would like to delve in and out of Amsterdam's museums the Jordaan district is highly recommended and provides welcome respite. The Pulitzer Hotel (5* deluxe) has been painstakingly restored to resemble a traditional Dutch mansion. Running along the Prinsengracht canal the hotel is only five minutes' walk from Anne Frank's House and has an attractive outdoor terrace extending from the restaurant - the best spot from which to watch the river boats and sip a coffee. Anyone visiting Amsterdam should not leave without booking a table at the 'Brasserie Ambassade'. The charming 4* Hotel Ambassade has been a Kirker favourite for many a year and the exemplary personalised service of this 17th century Dutch town house hotel is reflected in the brasserie. A wonderful evening is in store with much variety on the menu.

For any discerning travellers looking to piece together a Low Countries itinerary, one must factor in a stop or even a stay in The Hague. This tranquil seaside city, only 50 minutes from Amsterdam, is steeped in history with attractive Baroque architecture and sleepy squares lined with cafés and independent shops. The Hotel Des Indes (5* deluxe) is one of the most prominent city landmarks where Dutch nobility would often meet for traditional high tea. The marble columns, glistening chandeliers and rich fabric furnishings convey the opulence of the hotel and a stay in one of its grand bedrooms is a real treat. No stay in the Hague is complete without a visit to the iconic Mauritshuis. This classical Dutch heritage building has had many functions through centuries from political state house, to secure storage for the Royal Cabinet of Paintings, and now a National Museum. The two stories contain some priceless works by masters such as Vermeer's (Girl with the Pearl Earing) and Rubens' (Old Woman and Boy).

Speak to an expert - 020 7593 2288

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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