Luxury Hotels

Brussels’ stately luxury hotel

Looking up at Wiltcher's Steigenberger

Looking up at Wiltcher’s Steigenberger

And so to Brussels, to yet another significant luxury hotel. The gal first knew what is now Wiltcher’s Steigenberger when it was Conrad, and then in 2013 it switched to Steigenberger. Apparently when it opened, first in 1911 and then again in 1993, it was called Wiltcher’s, and now the name has been revived, to show both its origins and the current management company. This is a truly classic hotel, a ‘rock of ages’ rather than a disruptor – it is the kind of hotel loved by delegates, and their enormous entourages, which of course include masses of security, which benefits everyone. Stay here, and you are comfortable, and well looked after, says the gal.

Looking at its Mary chocolatier

Looking at its Mary chocolatier

Well, there is even an in-hotel chocolate shop called Mary (this replaces an art kiosk that, when I was here before, displayed a single book, Annie Leibowitz’s €2,000 Annie’s Big Book, on a Marc Newsom stand). Mary, the chocolatier, was founded in 1919 and it has held the Royal Warrant since 1942 – I am afraid I could not remember who the current ruler is, either, but it is King Philippe, and presumably he has been eating Mary’s chocolates since he was born 56 years ago, and now his Queen, Mathilde, and their children, the heir, Princess Elisabeth, who is nearly 15, and her siblings Gabriel, Emmanuel and Eléonore, must enjoy them too. Belgians do seem to be addicted to chocolate. Head out of the hotel on to Avenue Louise, turn left, walk 20 yards and you will have passed several other maisons de chocolat.

Jürgen von Massow, left, and Han Oldenburger

Jürgen von Massow, left, and Han Oldenburger

Back in the hotel’s complex there is also a Pierre Marcolini boutique (this is one of the Sybaritic Single’s favourite chocolate brands). I am amazed I did not have chocolate shampoo, conditioner and shower gel in suite 239, a spacious and comfortable room looking out on a rear courtyard – in fact it was Aigner, Black and White). During the summer, it is really enjoyable dining outside, under trees on the Café’s terrace, but tonight it was so windy we moved inside, to Loui bar. This has a really clubby feel, with lots of leather, and a menu that mostly come with frites – as ubiquitous here as in neighbouring Netherlands. My friends Han Oldenburger, who is Dutch, and Jürgen von Massow, a Bavarian-Hanseatic German, both had steak and fries, but I went for cod.

Looking up at the morning sky

Looking up at the morning sky

In the morning there was a slot for sightseeing, or at least to pass some of those other chocolate shops. Once again I admire the Belgian talent for sectioning roads: what had been the very-wide Avenue Louise still has a grassy central area for tramlines but road traffic is now confined to one lane, either side, with the rest of that space divided off into carparking or for U-turns and the like. I looked up at the morning sky and hoped that my forthcoming trip back to the airport would be quick – it was, we missed the rush-hour but, a warning, security is so tight that you now go through a holding tent, where you might be diverted for hand-searching, even before you reach the terminal. Leave the comfort of the luxury Wiltcher’s Steigenberger hotel in plenty of time (if you had no time for city sight-seeing, watch the video below)

 

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Travel

What one needs in a luxury airport hotel

Looking into the club lounge

Looking into the club lounge

The more one travels, the more essential airport hotels, those actually connected to a terminal, become. As long as there is efficient inter-terminal connection, that terminal does not have to be the one that you are flying in or out of. At both London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports, for instance, the gal’s second homes are Hiltons. At Heathrow, the thoughtful-luxury Hilton Terminal Four is connected to the relevant terminal (Five) by bus, subway tube, or Heathrow Express. At Gatwick, the massive (821-room) Hilton is a five-minute interior walk to South Terminal, which then requires a further ten minutes for the EasyJet-sponsored shuttle to North Terminal. But, good news, British Airways moves its entire Gatwick operation, come January 2017, to the South Terminal, which will make life even easier.

One section of the breakfast buffet...

One section of Garden Café’s breakfast buffet…

At any airport hotel a good club lounge is essential. Gatwick Hilton’s lounge is admittedly not perhaps as easily accessed as some – it is up on the top, fourth, floor, at the far end of the massive building, but it is well worth the hike. The space is light and bright, and the staff are absolutely charming – one girl has been here for eight years, which shows how happy she is. The knowledgeable do try to avoid the lounge during the later part of the daily cocktail hour as happy holiday-makers tend, not surprisingly, to take it over (business travellers who want a quick beer or glass of wine do better to pop in the moment the complimentary bar starts, at 6.30 p.m.).

.. where eggs are all ready

.. where eggs are all ready

I, at least, need a gym that is accessible 24/7, and Gatwick Hilton’s, with Precor equipment and a Pilates ball, suffices just fine, especially since I use the prominent fire stairs rather than elevators to get down to the first floor, where it is set just off the main lobby. My favourite rooms, by the way, are in the ’74—’ numbers, seven for the wing, near the club lounge, and four because fourth floor is where the lounge is. The rooms are well thought out, with everything, including US as well as UK sockets and a space in the otherwise-automatic minibar for your own things, say medicines. I do remember, however, to take body lotion, to complement the other Peter Thomas Roth toiletries provided.

.. in a spacious restaurant

.. in a spacious restaurant

Few club lounges actually open early enough for first flights of the day – on this occasion I had  a 6.50 am departure, and this luxury hotel’s lounge opens at six. No problem, the hotel has thought of every eventuality. The Garden Restaurant was fully open and ready to go at 5.30 am, with smiling servers, good strong coffee, splendidly healthy buffet counters (Müller Vitality yoghurts, lots of fruit), and I quickly made flavourful wholewheat toast on the rotary grill, to go with stylish Croxton Manor butters, Bonne Maman. Cleverly, they had individual fried eggs already. I has settled my bill last night, before going to bed, and now I was in and out in 12 minutes total, and I easily made my plane.  SEE MORE OF THE BUFFET, BELOW

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Luxury Hotels

Marseille’s top luxury hotel

Looking up to Notre-Dame from room 333

Looking up to Notre-Dame from room 333

InterContinental Marseille – Hotel Dieu is one of the most magnificent luxury hotels not only in France but in the whole of Europe (if not the entire world). It sits, says the gal, in a commanding position on Panier Hill looking across the city’s Vieux-Port and up to Notre-Dame de la Garde, in the St-Victor area. Panier Hill hosted buildings that gave comfort to the city’s sufferers way back to the 12th century: the building you see now was designed by Louis XV’s architect, Jacques Hardoui-Mansart de Sagonne, in 1753, and later extended to become the seven-floor, C-shaped stone masterpiece that dominates the hillside today.

Borgatta omelette

Bottarga omelette

To turn it into a hotel, owners AXA brought in Anthony Bechu as architect, and Jean-Philippe Nuel for the interiors. Front-facing rooms on the third- and fifth-floors have sizeable balconies, and I sat out on the balcony of 333, watching the sun set and the colours change on Notre-Dame. I ordered typical local fare, a black-tomato gazpacho with a big dollop of mozzarella, and then, joy of joys, an omelette topped with strips of bottarga, smoked grey mullet roe. It went marvellously with a glass of D2 by Vignerons Famille Double, in St-Cannat, and with thick country bread, and four tubs of Beurre d’Isigny (I am reminded these days that Ruben Tabares, a wellness guru whom I really admire, eats butter, by itself, when he feels his body needs it).

Lionel Levy

Lionel Levy

My body certainly needed, and appreciated, all the exercise I had here in Marseille. As well as the total 119 steps up from the Vieux-Port, the hotel has two glorious 18th century external staircases, one in each wide wing. There are more steps up from the ground floor to the first (English-style) floor gym, 24/7, and its adjacent indoor pool, which opens at seven, as does the spa. Up on that floor, too, is the football-sized open terrace, which is basically above reception. Apart from about four months of winter, you can sit out at any time, at the bar-lounge end, with real olive trees, or at Les Fenêtres restaurant, which flows out here. All the hotel’s food, by the way, is overseen by the absolutely charming, and talented, Lionel Levy.

Tuna tartare, once its black seaweed lid had been removed

Tuna tartare, once its black seaweed lid had been removed

He was, as always, there when I dined with the GM, Madelijn Vervoord, and her husband Régis Lecendreux, at the hotel’s other restaurant, the Michelin-starred Alcyone, named for the Greek goddess who bore many of Poseidon’s children. Let me briefly describe our meal, which started with drinking pinkie-finger-sized phials of olive oil and pesto hanging from a miniature olive tree, and, starter number two, went on to egg, cream, olive and verbena in broken-shell egg cups. My meal-proper began with a black urn covered with black lace (=edible black seaweed) – underneath was red Mediterranean tuna with Manakara peppercorn vinaigrette. Main course? Just simple, home-made vegetarian ravioli over which carrot and saffron broth was poured at table. Dessert? Yes, raspberries, in a tiny tart, with an accompanying crescent shape of red bell pepper and 15 year-old Balsamic. No wonder Asian guests at the next table were taking so many photographs. Last time I was at this luxury hotel I tried Lionel Levy’s brilliant deconstructed bouillabaise: this visit he excelled, once more. NOW SEE A VIDEO ON THE HOTEL

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