Elegance reigns in shrine to the good life
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.
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).
The Bruges hideaway