WHAT’S IT LIKE? Bruges’s only five-star hotel opened in May last year in the former palatial residence of the dukes of Burgundy. Originally built in the 15th century, the five-floor property has been reborn as a modern luxury hotel that has held on to many of its historical features.
You might expect the iron entrance gates and turrets to create an imposing feel, but the atmosphere is welcoming from the moment you walk in. There are comfortable seats at the front desk for you to sit at while checking in, from where you get a great view of the original staircase behind reception, which winds all the way up to the top floor. A pretty chandelier hangs down through the middle of the staircase from the top floor to the bottom.
The hotel is divided into two parts – the Castle, which is the original building, and the new Abbey section. To the left is the elegant lobby lounge, which leads to the chic bar and outdoor terrace. Sit here and take in the well-groomed gardens in the centre of the property, home to a selection of modern art pieces that are dotted around the lawns. The centrepiece at the moment is a huge red plastic poodle by Belgian artist William Sweetlove. Elsewhere the art is more traditional, with paintings of former residents of the palace and Dutch painters lining the walls of the corridors. If you have time, take a look at the old chapel, with its beautiful stained glass windows.
WHERE IS IT? The hotel is in an ideal location on a quiet side street in the old town, a few minutes’ walk from the main square, shopping areas and main attractions. It’s 2km from the train station and a taxi costs about €6. Trains runs between Brussels and Bruges every half an hour, with the journey taking about an hour. The Bruges connection is included in the price of any Eurostar ticket to Brussels (eurostar.com; tel 0870 518 6186).
HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 93 rooms, including 22 suites, six of which are historically listed. Rooms come in Superior and Deluxe categories.
ROOM FACILITIES I stayed in a Deluxe room on the fourth floor. The big, comfortable bed consisted of two mattresses pushed together, with separate duvets, though the same sheet. The décor was a mixture of traditional and contemporary, with dark-wood furniture, red and gold-striped wallpaper and armchairs, a portrait of Marie of Burgundy on the wall and a large flatscreen TV attached to the wall opposite the bed. The TV had a good range of channels, including UK ones. There was a connecting door to the adjacent room, which would be useful if you were staying with family, and there was a lovely view from the window of the gardens below.
The spacious black-and-white bathroom was separated from the main room by frosted opaque walls. It had modern fittings, a marble heated floor, a bath, a walk-in shower and Kempinski-branded toiletries (the suites have Molton Brown). There was a speaker system and a window with a blind next to the bath, allowing you to watch the TV while having a soak.
Other facilities in the room included a robe and slippers, a laptop safe, an umbrella, a minibar (water and soft drinks €3, beer €4.50, snacks €3.50), a workdesk with European plug sockets (get an adaptor from reception), wifi priced at €7 per hour or €20 per day, a pillow menu, turn-down service, air conditioning, a free copy of the Financial Times, free mineral water and 24-hour room service. An iron and ironing board is available on request. The lack of tea and coffee-making facilities was disappointing – only suites have these.
ROOM HIGHLIGHTS The comfortable bed, well-equipped bathroom and garden view.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS Manuscript, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, is on the ground floor and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a bright, elegant room with ornate chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling windows looking on to the hotel entrance. The bountiful breakfast consists of a cooked buffet, cold meats and cheeses, pastries, cereals, yogurt, fresh fruit, tea and coffee and fruit juices, plus fresh smoothies on the weekend.
The dinner menu includes Belgian and international dishes – I had the steak tartare with salted young vegetables and herb shoots, which was very tasty. Open 7am-10.30am; 12 noon-2pm; 7pm-10pm. The lobby lounge is a relaxed space decorated in warm shades of burgundy and brown, with comfy sofas and wooden floors; afternoon tea is served here from 3.30pm to 5pm. The adjoining Atelier bar has an arty vibe, with music-themed pictures on the walls and a large paintbrush feature in the centre, and large windows looking on to the summer terrace. Open 10am-1am.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES These are on the ground floor. The 260 sqm ballroom divides into two and can seat up to 200 people. It has a seating area outside and floor-to-ceiling windows looking on to the gardens. Two meeting rooms measure 38 sqm and seat up to 15 delegates, while a boardroom has a capacity of ten. There’s also a 24-hour business centre with two PCs, and a private dining room attached to the restaurant.
LEISURE FACILITIES Also on the ground floor is the airy spa, which has a peaceful 20-metre swimming pool, an outdoor area with sun loungers, a sauna, a hammam, a gym with Technogym equipment and three treatment rooms. A range of massages and facials are available – I had a hot and cold stone massage, which was relaxing and invigorating.
VERDICT An excellent property that lifts Bruges’s hotel offering to a new level. It’s ideally located with good business, dining and leisure facilities.
PRICE Rates for a midweek stay in June started from €199 for a Superior room.
CONTACT Kempinski Hotel Dukes’ Palace, Prinsenhof 8; tel +32 50 447 888; kempinski-bruges.com