IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE BELGIAN TOURIST OFFICE
Five Best: Country hotels in Wallonia
Clare Thomson samples some of the finest rooms in rural Wallonia
Saturday 01 April 2006
Le Chateau d'Hassonville Marche-en-Famenne
In the heart of the Ardennes, this castle was built for Louis XIV and has been a luxury hotel since 1986. Set in parkland designed by a pupil of Le Nôtre, who did the grounds at Versailles, the hotel has old-fashioned romance aplenty, with frilly, flamboyant bedrooms and bathrooms that revel in their disdain for contemporary design principles. Pay the extra for a parkland view, and be sure to try the restaurant before retiring to the bar or the snooker room. Breakfast is served in bed or in the winter garden; work it all off by wandering around the lake.
Doubles from €130 (£93), or €180 (£130) for a park view; two-night gastro weekends from €265 (£190) per person; 00 32 84 311025, www.hassonville.be
Le Castel Fosses-la-Ville
Opposite the church in the country town of Fosses-la-Ville, this converted 19th-century manor house is an ideal resting point betwixt Brussels and the Ardennes. The rooms are light, sleekly styled and refreshing, with white covers, plain walls and bright bathrooms, and there's a pleasant outside terrace, with wooden deck chairs and an outdoor swimming pool (heated from May to September), artfully sheltered by foliage in the warmer months. But it's the kitchen that really counts here: the engaging owner-chef, Jean-Louis Mathy, whips up creative fusion-style dishes and local specialities, such as delicate "petit gris de Namur": snails in tempura, served in the lemon-walled salon or the conservatory, which overlooks a flourishing herb garden. Chef can batter through in English, so it's worth considering a culinary package, which combines cookery sessions and gourmet dining.
Doubles from €103 (£72), bridal suite €180 (£129); cooking workshops from €240 (£170) per person for two nights or €345 (£247) for three; 00 32 711812, www.lecastel.be
Hotel de Franc Bois Lompret
Lompret is as beautiful as it is obscure, and this modest, family-friendly establishment, in a rough-stone building is a local treasure. The newer rooms have parquet floors, the drawing room has a mosaic floor, and there's a breakfast room with a fireplace and stucco on the ceiling. There's no restaurant, so you'll be directed to the village's only eaterie for regional specialities and Chimay Blanc on tap. Enjoy an evening stroll along the l'Eau Blanche river or, in daylight, ask for the small iron gate at the other end of the village, which wends uphill for fine views.
Doubles from €75 (£53); 00 32 60 214475, www.hoteldefrancbois.be
Le Chateau du Pont d'Oye and Les Ardillieres du Pont d'Oye Habay-la-Neuve
There's a hint of class struggle about these neighbouring hotels, with one housed in the castle and the other in a building that was once home to forge workers. Les Ardillieres (pictured below) is the upwardly mobile one: thoroughly modern, with a well-equipped spa and a private decked terraces overlooking a lush green courtyard with a rockery and a waterfall. Its elegant, Michelin-starred restaurant, Les Forges du Pont d'Oye, has a glass panel in the floor, through which you can admire the wine cellar. The lawnside Chateau is a more rambling, affair, the kind of place where you'd expect to bump into an aristocrat with fraying shirt cuffs. Owned by a family of writers and diplomats, it has plush, if slightly faded salons, a guesthouse atmosphere and a welcome absence of televisions.
La Malle Poste Rochefort
Fashionable, flower-filled glass vases in the high-ceilinged dining areas, thick mattresses and crisp linen in the bedrooms: you can tell that the owners of this renovated 18th-century inn have an eye for details. The suites have beamed ceilings, flagstone floors and contemporary-style four-poster beds with diaphanous drapes. The simpler rooms are equally tasteful and sybarites can opt for a bathroom with Jacuzzi. Breakfast is a cut above the standard continental: delicious breads and jams, good-quality cold meats and eggs and bacon cooked to order. Downstairs, beyond the labyrinthine wine cellars, are an indoor pool, sauna and hammam. The Ardennes are on your doorstep, but you might prefer to soak up the sun on the terrace of the French-style garden.
Doubles from EUR120 (£86), suites from €140 (£100); 00 32 84 210986, www.malleposte.be
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