Belgium’s Artistic Side

And in the town of Louvin-la-Neuve 20 miles southeast of Brussels, there’s a new museum devoted to the work of Herge, the self-taught artist who created Tintin, the boy detective who travels the world solving mysteries. Financed in large part by the artist’s wife, the $20 million concrete and glass Herge Museum resembles an isolated ship which visitors reach through a long wooden gangplank. Inside, steel footbridges connect the various exhibition rooms, many of which feature Tintin. Herge introduced the Tintin comic strips in 1929 and later compiled them into books which to date have sold 230 million copies in 80 languages. The museum encompasses everything from the artist’s advertising work of the 1930s, to his dozens of cartoon characters created over a long and prolific career. This is one museum the kids won’t mind visiting.

Consistent with Belgium’s respect for tradition are four historic hotels in Brussels, all revamped in period style but with modern amenities. In 1895, a Brussels family bought the former bank building next to the Cafe Metropole and converted it into a hotel. Still in the same location and still owned by the same family, the Hotel Metropole reflects a more opulent era of marble hallways, crystal chandeliers and Gobelin tapestries. Along with the most spectacular and comfortable lobby in town, it offers 298 refurbished rooms and suites, 24-hour room service, a business center with 10 meeting rooms, a fitness center, beauty salon, 24-hour room service and the many other amenities expected of a luxury hotel. The Cafe Metropole, one of its four restaurants, is a masterpiece of art nouveau architecture and decor.

Of a slightly later vintage, the Crowne Plaza Brussels-Le Palace dates back to 1908, when it opened as Le Palace. Recently, the public areas and accommodations have been upgraded in the art nouveau style of the artist Gustav Klimt. Here, there are 354 cheerful rooms and suites, a health club and sauna, a 24-hour business center and 18 meeting rooms. The smaller but no less comfortable Hotel Le Plaza, owned by the Baron de Meise, was built in the 1930s and still has its original lobby furniture—now reupholstered—while the Manos Premier—occupying several converted 19th century townhouses—recalls its earlier history with traditional Louis XVI- and XVI-style furnishings for a touch of Old World elegance to an already charming property. Leisure clients especially will appreciate the hotel’s sophisticated cuisine served in the garden out back, weather permitting.

go exploring Heading south from Brussels towards Wallonia and the Ardennes, the fortified city of Namur is well worth a stop. Known for its 12th century citadel twice destroyed in two world wars and twice rebuilt, Namur became the political capital of French-speaking Wallonia in 1986. As such, it offers some impressive attractions, among them its restored citadel, now demilitarized and open to the public; an archaeological museum housed in a 16th century meat hall; and a gambling casino on the banks of the Meuse River. Clients can treat themselves to lunch at Cuisinemoi, whose innovative French cuisine, soothing surroundings and perfect service are worthy of its two-star Michelin status.

Only 50 miles from Brussels, at the Gateway to the Ardennes, the landscape becomes increasingly rural, its rolling farmland dotted with chateaux too expensive to maintain except as hotel properties. Outside Namur, in Marche-en-Famenne, the Chateau d’Hassonville’s sprawling 19th century maze of meandering hallways, overstuffed velvet furniture, brass chandeliers, and well-worn Persian carpets, are worthy of Agatha Christie. Guestrooms are comfortable if a bit outdated, and its restaurant turns out first-rate nouvelle cuisine. For all its character and Old World charm, the Chateau d’Hassonville may not be suitable for clients who demand elevators, air conditioning, English-language TV, Internet access, mini-bars and room service. By contrast, Chateau de la Poste, a castle of similar vintage in nearby Maillen, has been completely redone in light woods and airy spaces as a full-service country resort offering tennis, golf, hiking, horseback riding and biking. The hotel is planning to add an outdoor swimming pool in 2010.

Before the 1960s, the city of Liege was an industrial hub. Recently, as part of an ambitious gentrification program, the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava was commissioned to design a new Leige-Guillemins railway station to reinvigorate the city and provide high-speed train service to Brussels, London, Paris, Frankfurt and Cologne. Calatrava’s goal “was to create a 21st century transportation facility that would not only unite Liege with the rest of Europe, but would also serve as a symbol of the city’s renewal.” The futuristic new building in glass and steel—its arched white ribs joined by panes of glass soaring 121 ft. above the rails—dominates the skyline for miles around.