Luxury Hotels

ANTWERP – 1

Take the train to Antwerp for its cathedral of a rail station. Trainlovers come from all over the world to visit. Come to Antwerp primarily, however, for Botanic Sanctuary, the new-old hotel still in its final opening stage.

On the station platform, right by the right carriage, a hotel hero awaits, ready to help. It’s five minutes’ escorted walk to the hotel car, a white hybrid Porsche Cayenne, with flat-cap driver in a green and beige suit. The hero’s in leaf-green with golden corsage (all the team’s clad by royal designer Edouard Vermeulen). It’s now ten minutes to the hotel, actually in Antwerp’s justly-famous Botanic Gardens. Which to see first? Check-in is essential.  Reception – see above – is actually a large glass conservatory copiously hosting giant banana and similar plants.

Outside greenery comes inside, here, just as old (ecclesiastical buildings dating back many centuries) pairs seamlessly with the newness of an hotel that only ‘got’ its final rooms a couple of weeks ago. A public right of way still runs through the estate and locals walk, scoot and cycle, immersion between hotel and locale. The road passes the hotel’s Apothecary store, where 200 years ago nuns used to dispense. Today fashionistas and others drive from far afield to stock up on natural potions and lotions including the eighth-generation St Charles, which also has dedicated boutiques in Berlin and Vienna.

One part of this mammoth Antwerp operation flows into another. The German MD, Christian Hirt – that’s him, below – knows wedding parties often want to check out the well-labelled plants in the garden. Hotel guests, corporate, weekenders or whomever, are fascinated by the history of the whole.

At some point the holies of history moved out, leaving their superb buildings, and the botanic garden that is to all intents and purposes integral with the hotel. Local developer Eric De Vocht moved in, and with his designer wife Maryse Odeurs spent eight years minutely converting six former monastic buildings to what is now a 108-room Leading Hotel of the World. The pair already have the city’s Hilton and the eyesore of the beautiful railway station’s Radisson in their portfolio. Now they wanted luxury.

Girlahead was in Suite 119, up one flight of stairs or along from the elevator, and then down seven stairs. It was old – centuries-old wood ceilings – but deliciously new. Satin-smooth wood floors complemented taupe walls and the natural linen of drapes and upholstery. An electric-fired flickering fire paired with copious books. Matisse through to modern seaside cottage design. Look out, down at any inner lawn being set up for an evening cocktail…..