El­e­gance reigns in shrine to the good life

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - AT THE INN

THERE is some­thing en­dear­ing about a ho­tel where a break­fast waiter of­fers you a glass of cham­pagne be­fore cof­fee, tea or crois­sants. Where the chef seeks out gluten-free bread to meet your di­etary re­quire­ments, and where scram­bled eggs come hot and steam­ing from an Aga.

There is also some­thing com­fort­ing about a ho­tel with a lobby con­sumed by a quiet li­brary and sit­ting room with soft light­ing, an open fire and small stacks of vin­tage Louis Vuit­ton suit­cases.

All this awaits at the Pand Ho­tel in the his­toric, me­dieval town of Bruges in north­ern Bel­gium. The ho­tel is in an 18th-cen­tury house that has been im­mac­u­lately re­stored by the own­ers, the Van­haecke fam­ily.

They have cre­ated a shrine to the good life and a wel­come re­minder that the age of el­e­gant and com­fort­able travel is alive and well.

The Van­haeckes have paid par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to the ju­nior suites, which are dec­o­rated with Ralph Lauren fab­rics. The New Bond Suite is dom­i­nated by an orig­i­nal ma­hogany Lauren bed. They have also shown im­mense flair and panache in their choice of in-room toi­letries. While the rest of Europe’s classy ho­tels are still ob­sessed with Bul­gari, the Van­haeckes have taken a more re­fined tack and gone for the scents of chic Parisian par­fumiere An­nick Goutal: her prod­ucts ap­pear in all ju­nior suites.

The ma­jor prob­lem with the Pand Ho­tel is that it is so cosy and en­velop­ing that it’s very hard to leave and ven­ture out into the cob­bled streets of this beau­ti­ful town. But Bruges is unique and to be ex­plored. It is a re­mark­ably well­p­re­served place, hav­ing es­caped bomb­ings in both world wars. Its me­dieval build­ings and el­e­gant squares are strik­ing, and the canals that run through it of­fer a lo­ca­tion for ro­man­tic walks and cruises.

Its cen­tre is a UNESCO world her­itage site and in­cludes nu­mer­ous build­ings erected on prof­its from the suc­cess of Flem­ish cloth in the 13th and 14th cen­turies and from the 17th-cen­tury lace boom.

Flem­ish fab­rics were sold to visit­ing mer­chants and be­came all the rage in Europe’s royal houses. Deals were struck in the main square, the Grote Markt, and out­side the house of the Beurze fam­ily on Vlam­ingstraat, where the world’s first stock ex­change, the Bourse (from Beurze), was founded in the early 14th cen­tury.

Bruges is packed in the north­ern sum­mer months, so try to go out of sea­son. In a month like Jan­uary you can al­most have the streets to your­self, apart from the rush-hour rat­tle of bi­cy­cles and bells. Af­ter a day of walk­ing or cy­cling the streets and ad­mir­ing the mer­chants’ houses and wooden wind­mills that line the outer ring of canals, re­turn­ing to the Pand Ho­tel is a de­light.

The fire is roar­ing in the lobby li­brary, the sauna is siz­zling and co­gnac is be­ing served to pa­trons in the leather arm­chairs in the bar. Up in the suites, baths are run­ning hot and those An­nick Goutal prod­ucts are lined up ready to re­fresh. Such com­fort is in­creas­ingly rare. Matthew Brace was a guest of the Pand Ho­tel.

Check­list

Pand Ho­tel, Pan­dre­itje 16, Bruges, Bel­gium. Phone +32 5034 0666; www.pand­ho­tel.com. Tar­iff: From ($308) to taxes in­cluded. Get­ting there: Sev­eral trains from Brus­sels to Bruges daily (one hour, about re­turn). Take a taxi from the sta­tion over the cob­bled streets to the ho­tel for about Check­ing in: Eu­rophiles seek­ing his­tory, com­fort and the good life. Wheel­chair ac­cess: No. Bed­time read­ing: The won­der­fully at­mo­spheric Bruges-la-Morte by Ge­orges Ro­den­bach. Step­ping out: Walk over cob­bled lanes, past me­dieval houses and along the lazy canals that weave through the city. The outer edge is lined with old wind­mills. Brick­bats: This is Europe, so pre­pare for small rooms. And even though you may have a non-smok­ing room, some­how cig­a­rette smoke can seep in from else­where. Bou­quets: The ho­tel is fam­ily owned and run, and that warmth is ev­i­dent ev­ery­where. The staff are gen­uinely keen to help, no­tably the hus­ban­dand-wife team run­ning the din­ing room (Ig­nace and San­dra).

All class:

The Bruges hideaway

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