With weekday hotel prices in the Belgian capital soaring, canny business travellers are turning to a new generation of designer B&Bs. John Brunton beds down in five of the best.
Brussels has long been one of the most expensive destinations for businessmen to stay, with hotels having a captive market from Monday to Friday. But now there is an original and inexpensive alternative, as a host of enterprising locals have started opening up chic designer bed-and-breakfasts, which are just as attractive for business travellers during the week as for tourists coming for a weekend.
This is not just the chance to stay in some amazingly well-designed houses and apartments, but also a great way to meet the friendly owners and get all their insider tips – a very different take on the city from the run-of-the-mill recommendations of a hotel concierge.
Room space is often much larger than in a hotel, and other pluses are that wifi is usually free, the owners invariably go out of their way to put on a delicious spread at breakfast (included in the price), and room rates tend to decrease by around e10 if you stay two or three nights.
On the downside, don’t expect frills like room service (although guests usually have access to a kitchen), there is no receptionist to take messages, and most rooms don’t have a telephone – but everyone uses mobile phones these days so that shouldn’t be a problem. It is also important to remember that these bed-and-breakfasts never have more than four rooms, so reserving well in advance is advisable.
You have to arrange a time with the owner to check in, but from there on you have your own key to what is virtually a private apartment. A comprehensive list of bed-and-breakfast addresses in the city can be found at bnb-brussels.be, but here are five of the best…
L’ART DE LA FUGUE
Rue de Suède 38; tel +32 (0)478 695 944; lartdelafugue.com.
Just two minutes’ walk from the Eurostar station, this is an unbeatable address to stay at in Brussels. Walking through the door of “The Art of Running Away” is like entering a luxury oasis. The owners live on the ground floor of this huge, rambling townhouse, and have created five spacious guest rooms, each decorated in a different style. “Farinelli” is a riot of baroque antiques and “Indochine” is filled with red lacquer furniture, while “Absolutely Fabulous” is a treasure trove of kitsch Seventies décor. Guests have the use of a comfortable lounge with leather armchairs, a grand fireplace and a computer, while freshly baked croissants are served at breakfast in a billowing tent-like salon.
CHAMBRES EN VILLE
Rue de Londres 19; tel +32 (0)25 129 290; chambresenville.be.
This bed-and-breakfast is perfectly located for those working in the European Union neighbourhood, and is a hidden paradise for anyone interested in contemporary design. Owner Philippe Guilmin is a well-known artist and interiors stylist, which has resulted in Chambres en Ville being part work of art – decorated with his own paintings and trompe-l’oeil frescoes – and part design-set straight from the pages of The World of Interiors. The best room to book is “La Vie d’Artiste”, quite simply for its to-die-for bathroom. Guilmin lives and paints at the back of the house and spoils guests in the morning with his homemade jam at breakfast and fascinating insider tips for restaurants, shopping and events.
HOOY KAYE LODGE
Quai aux Pierres de Taille 22; tel +32 (0)22 184 440; hooykayelodgecom.
The Sainte-Catherine quarter is the fashion capital of Brussels, and the Hooy Kaye is definitely the chicest place to stay in it. Originally from South Korea, Corinne de Coninck works in a nearby Asian art museum, and has converted an imposing 17th-century merchant house into a three-room bed-and-breakfast. The rooms are enormous, with dark wooden beams and tall windows looking out over a pretty tree-lined canal. The interior design is minimalist, but done with exquisite taste, especially the framed pieces of ancient Asian textiles. There is a quiet walled garden at the back, which guests can use too.
Rue des Commerçants 55; tel +32 (0)48 668 1655; brussels-at-heart.be.
Carmelo Miraglia decided to christen his bed and breakfast after Belgium’s most famous product. And the chocolate theme is not just at breakfast, where you can feast off pains au chocolat and steaming cups of chocolat chaud, but in the décor of the rooms too. Each level of this red-brick Victorian house has been converted into a guest apartment – bedroom, bathroom and kitchen/lounge – and the colour scheme is a rich brown which gets darker each floor you go up. Carmelo is a professional masseur, so at the end of a busy day, you can book a hot-stone massage or reflexology session, and this year he plans to build in a spa in the basement.
LA CASA BXL
Rue du Marché au Charbon 116; tel +32 (0)47 529 0721; lacasabxl.com.
La Casa Bxl, and the adjoining Downtown Bxl (owned by the same people), ranks as the ideal Brussels bed and breakfast. The location is perfect, just a couple of minutes walk from central market square the Grand Place, the price could not be more reasonable, and the exotic design of the rooms – zebra-striped chairs and graphic African textiles draped over the furniture – make a welcome change from the standard style of international chain hotels. It is a cosy yet private place to stay, but it is worth noting that this is a typical Brussels town house, which means there are a lot of extremely steep and narrow stairs that never seem to end if you happen to be staying on the top floor.