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A Luxurious Stay at the De Witte Lelie, Antwerp.
Two words sum up Antwerp’s luxury hotel, De Witte Lelie: Absolutely Fabulous. I do believe that Patsy and Edina would have loved the Baroque gorgeousness of this boutique hotel and would have wasted no time in cracking open the Bolly in its bijou Bronze Bar.
The hotel is situated on Keizerstraat in the heart of the historic centre of the city. Three 17th century, white gabled buildings have been incorporated and the hotel boasts such an enviable, central location that the burgomaster (mayor) of Antwerp once lived a few doors down in the early 1600s. It is a short five-minute walk to the central Grote Markt square.
Guests ring a discreet bell alongside the large rose-pink door and are welcomed into an interior like none other I have seen in a hotel. Off the entrance hall are a series of spectacular rooms. The sitting room contains a sofa with leopard skin motif plus a range of designer furnishings and an oversized chandelier. Gold drapes, cherry blossom wallpaper and a dark blue shaggy rug complete the eclectic look alongside an original stone fireplace with traditional blue and white tiles. A newly arrived painting takes pride of place on the fireplace.
A second sitting room known as the Reading Room is another inviting space where guests are known to remove their shoes to enjoy the plush carpet and the warm fire which is lit in the winter. In this room, which has a large chandelier hanging from old wooden beams, there are two huge colour photographic portraits on the wall, sofas in dark green and pink velvet, designer lamps and a metal bookcase filled with art and design books.
The Bronze bar, as its name denotes, has furnishings covered with bronze fabric that tone in with bronze and gold wall covering and lighting. A most sophisticated and romantic space for a nightcap.
The hotel boasts a lovely internal courtyard which is planted with fig trees, pink hydrangeas and lots of greenery. Wooden tables and chairs are dotted about on which are brass objects including tortoise ashtrays. It was a peaceful place to sit after my hours of travelling from London and a quiet spot to read and relax. Many of the bedrooms look out onto the courtyard.
The interior designer has had a riot in this hotel and has worked her magic on every nook and cranny of these old buildings. It did not surprise me to discover that the designer, the partner of the owner, is a collector. She has brought some superb pieces to beguile and delight the eye, creating a uniquely sophisticated interior.
Guests repeatedly ask for the provenance of the furnishings. An inventory is being compiled so that those, like myself, can identify the designers of some of the exquisite items. I felt I was playing the interiors version of spot the celebrity. A Salvador Dali Bracelli lamp stands in the lobby next to the fire hydrant. Other lamps are clearly designer, but my knowledge is too limited to recognise all that I am seeing. A list would enhance my appreciation and educate me too.
The unusual interior was not the only standout feature of this hotel, part of the Small Luxury Hotel group. From the warmest welcome on arrival to the genuine concern for the guests, everyone was helpful and eased our stay. I ran out of batteries for my dictaphone – the manager sorted replacements in a minute. I needed to check on ticket bookings for a museum – resolved in a trice. Would I like to see the available rooms and make my own choice? Yes please.
The ten bedrooms and bathrooms are quite spectacular. From the Classic, Deluxe or Luxury rooms and suites to the Presidential Suite, each is decorated in an idiosyncratic manner. To talk of colour scheme would be underestimating the impact.
We spent two nights in Luxury Suite 7. A comfortably sized bedroom contained an enormous and wonderfully comfortable bed as well as a seating area with two armchairs, a marble-topped coffee table, Loewe flatscreen TV and an Arco floor lamp. There was a separate, mirrored walk-in closet with oodles of hanging space and lots of drawers, a separate loo (with mirrored ceiling) and the biggest bathroom I have seen.
It had larch wood Japanese style furnishings – The Bisazza Bagna Ofuro freestanding bath, and two Moku basin units (one containing the complimentary minibar with soft drinks and Belgian beers). In addition, there was a huge walk-in rain shower (with two entrances) and a to-die-for lovely vanity unit. The bathroom, marble tiled, looked over the street and the large wall of windows was furnished with white American shutters which were discreetly closed by the staff while we were out for dinner. The bathroom walls were covered with the same fabric as the bedroom curtains – huge, blooms voluptuously cascading from ceiling to floor. The taps were Bisazza Bagna, the toiletries Hermès. The vast shower was tiled in Bisazza Bagna’s Mosaico purple tiles that became iridescent when wet, which I found mesmerising.
The bedroom sported a jaunty wallpaper of cherry blossom on a silver background which continued the floral theme of the curtains. I loved the minute attention to detail such as the pink sweets on the water and fruit tray that matched the pink blossom on the paper.
Each room is individual, every surface covered with covetable items. For those more comfortable with the Classic or minimalist style, this may come as a surprise. One room sported bright pink furnishings and the bathroom wall was papered with a print of Mohammed Ali.
Another room has Marilyn Monroe wallpaper and has fish floating above the bath. Other rooms have similarly unique wall coverings and designer lighting, including fabric by Dries Van Noten, the King of fashion in Antwerp. Some bedrooms have old wooden spiral staircases into the eaves while below kaleidoscopic wallpaper juxtaposes the 17th century with the contemporary.
The Presidential Suite has a mosaic-tiled outdoor space with two hanging chairs. Indoors it feels like a modern-day Versailles, with its Louis XIV influences – crystal chandelier, open fireplace, animal skins, gold paint and drapes.
Walking around the hotel, I found the common areas as exciting as the bedrooms. The extraordinary wallpapering continued – here gold, there silver, best of all a stairwell of irises with streaks of chrome. I asked about these astonishing wallpapers and discovered many of them come from the Flavour Paper range. This was just the backdrop for huge pieces of furniture – a silver sofa on one landing, a striped bench on another. Large art books lay open on stands in corners of the stairwell. Everywhere I turned there was something beautiful and unique to look at.
In the morning we discovered a contrasting calmness in the décor of the breakfast room with its French doors overlooking the peaceful internal courtyard. The tables – The Tulip in alternating white and marble tops – were laid with lit candles in a silver candlestick, matching the sugar bowls (one for cubed and the other for granulated sugar) and milk jug. The cutlery was Christofle and the crockery Rosenthal.
Lest the eye misses the exuberance of the rest of the hotel, the wallpaper is white with a gold motif and the drapes match the gold theme. Alongside is an open kitchen with an old dresser on three walls, filled with crockery. Old wooden beams – presumably the originals – line the ceiling. The walls are papered with huge, halved oranges on a white background. It is fun and quirky. An Alessi clock hangs on one wall.
Fresh orange juice was served, tea and coffee followed along with a basket of breads, rolls and croissants. Orders for eggs – whichever way you like them – were taken and cooked in the kitchen with no noise whatsoever. In the meantime, there was a buffet of cereals, fruit salad, yoghurt and nuts, charcuterie, cold cuts, a range of good quality cheese, smoked salmon, sliced avocado and pastries. My poached eggs were served on toast along with a sauté of mushrooms, courgette, red onion, tomato and asparagus. The scrambled eggs were perfectly creamy. I went into the kitchen to chat to the staff as if hanging out in a friend’s home. It was informal and welcoming.
Stepping out of the hotel we explored Antwerp, a gem of a city that boasts excellent museums like the Rubenshuis and the Snijders&Rockox House where visitors can acquaint themselves with the work of Rubens, Van Dyk, Snijders, Jordaens and other Flemish Masters. Followers of Contemporary Art have plenty of choice too with the M KHA (Contemporary Art Museum) and FOMU (Photographic Museum). The Plantin-Moretus is an extraordinary printing museum which relates the story of a family business and reveals the commercial heart of the city in the 16th century. The Red Star Line Museum movingly tells the story of immigration from Antwerp to America between 1873 and 1934. Architecture buffs will enjoy the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) – a striking glass and brick structure that houses a museum relating the history of Antwerp through the centuries, as well as the Zaha Hadid building at the Port Authority.
There are walking tours aplenty through the historic quarter or the hip neighbourhoods of Zuid or the developing Eilandje. The choice of restaurants varies from Michelin starred to the best gourmet frites, waffles and croquettes. There is a lot of chocolate, wonderful chocolate. There is music, theatre and a great café life. And then there is fashion. Antwerp is known as the Capital of Cool. The Antwerp Six – Dries van Noten and others who graduated from the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the early 80s – have transformed the city into a hub of contemporary design.
A weekend is not enough to even scratch the surface so fortunately Antwerp is easily accessible from London. I travelled via Brussels on the Eurostar and 15 minutes after arriving I was on a local train to Antwerp where I alighted under an hour later. A few stops on the tram brought me to De Witte Lelie.
My stay at De Witte Lelie was relaxing, quiet, luxurious, and discreet. The service was personal and of a very high standard as one might expect from a hotel belonging to the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group. There is underground parking and the reception is open 24 hours a day. The new manager, Sam de Mol, was an excellent host. I felt as if I had been invited to a friend’s house for the weekend – the most stylish friend you could possibly have. It was more like a home than a hotel; I am now spoilt for life.
Antwerp is home to the Baroque style epitomised by the artist Rubens and is visible throughout many museums and the city’s historic churches. The Baroque is still alive in the city and celebrated in contemporary times, creating an over the top sense of fun in many bars, shops and restaurants. That same spirit is present at De Witte Lelie. The décor is a bold statement for a hotel. No interior could more bravely defy its name – The White Lily – which I suspect may hark back to its previous owners who decorated it in white, Classic style. Now there is barely a white surface to be found. For those who enjoy colour and huge dollops of fun, De Witte Lelie is an environment that will be hard to beat in future. In fact, I feel certain, that all my hotel stays in years to come will all be compared to my weekend in Antwerp.
Would I recommend De Witte Lelie or return myself? Unreservedly and without hesitation. I have already started compiling the guestlist for my next significant birthday. I will book out all ten rooms and what a house party that will be!
De Witte Lelie
T: 0032 3 2261966
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The De Witte Lelie Hotel is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
If you are looking for a similar level of comfort in Bruges, we also recommend The Pand Hotel, another member of the Small Luxury Hotels group.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the De Witte Lelie Hotel – all content is editorially given