Advertisement

Hotel Metropole: the grande dame of Brussels

Chris Carter escapes the Brexit drama at the Hotel Metropole, Brussels.

941_MW_P35_travel_main3
The Hotel Metropole's opulent cocktail bar

Brussels is a busy place these days, but away from the high political drama of Brexit, a grand old lady sits quietly on the Place de Brouckre the Hotel Metropole. The square is unlike the Grand-Place a few minutes walk away, where the tourist crowds gather to gawk at the grand old buildings.

Advertisement - Article continues below

It's quieter here. From the tables and chairs outside the hotel's opulent cocktail bar you can sit and watch the people scurry past on their way to somewhere else. It was in this bar, they say, that in 1949 Gustave Tops invented the Black Russian in honour of the visiting US ambassador to Luxembourg a Belgian barman with a dry sense of humour, given the chill in the air from the then-commencing Cold War.

941_MW_P35_travel_main
A charming place to stay, full of eccentricities

In fact, the Metropole is really more a bar with a hotel than the other way around. In 1890, the beer-brewing Wielemans brothers opened Le Caf Metropole to sell their beers. Business was so brisk that they decided to buy the bank next door and turn it into a hotel. You can see the trappings of a proud 19th-century bank in the dimly lit reception hall dressed up in the Empire style of warm wood, bronze and stained-glass windows. Far from being somewhere to rest your aching head after an afternoon spent in the cafe, the Metropole became a byword for modern luxury electricity, lifts and central heating.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

In the decades that followed, the greatest minds of the 20th century checked in at the polished teak counter. Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and Henri Poincar attended the first Solvay Physics Board here in 1911, when the pink marble was still new and shining.

After that the two world wars made their rude intrusion.Yet time enough was still found to build an Art Nouveau cinema in 1932. One mustn't let beastliness get in the way of culture, you know.

Then, in 1957, more cocktails were raised to toast the Brussels World's Fair, set for the following year. And still the men of power arrived in the marble lobby Charles de Gaulle, American presidents Herbert Hoover and Dwight D Eisenhower, and the West German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer. Since then, the hotel, bar and restaurant have all undergone renovations and new openings.

But despite the reapplication of make-up on this grande dame, the cracks inevitably show. That's not necessarily a bad thing. And that's not to say the great and good no longer flock here, they do mostly stars of the French screen,as a wall of framed comment cards left by celebritiesproudly attests.

Advertisement - Article continues below

But it was one card written by a famous British actorthat, for me, summed it upbest: "I have very muchenjoyed again livingat the Metropole, even though the walls are made of paperand I can hear my neighbours snore at night. The M is a charming hotel full of eccentricities breakfast delicious thank you".Rupert Everett, I could nothave put it better myself.

From €111 a night, metropolehotel.com

A Roman alternative

941_MW_P35_travel_bottom_st-regis-grand-hotel2
St Regis has retained its grandeur and illustrious heritage30

"St Regis has redefined old-fashioned notions of grande-dame hotels by bringing light, modernism, and artful details to its recently renovated European flagship property," says Laurie Kahle for Forbes. Le Grand Hotel opened in Rome in 1894 and it has retained its "opulence and illustrious heritage".

Interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon has "conceived an au courant vision for a second golden age", "taking inspiration from the Eternal City's captivating light play". Public spaces, guest rooms and suites are decorated with "palettes of cream paired with either powder blue or shades of terracotta evoking the city's ancient structures".

The Empire, Regency and Louis XV styles are all influences, "enhanced with Rubelli fabrics, collectible curios, and hand-engraved mirrors".

Advertisement
Advertisement

Recommended

The charms of a trip on a canal
Travel and holidays

The charms of a trip on a canal

You have no choice but to slow down and enjoy yourself on Britain’s waterways. Chris Carter reports
7 Aug 2020
The best places to take a swim on the wild side
Travel and holidays

The best places to take a swim on the wild side

With indoor pools closed until recently, people have been taking to wild swimming. Chris Carter reports.
28 Jul 2020
Five of the best alternative camping sites
Travel and holidays

Five of the best alternative camping sites

From an open-air bed in Devon to a peaceful retreat by the coast in Wales.
24 Jul 2020
Six hidden spots around Britain and Ireland
Travel and holidays

Six hidden spots around Britain and Ireland

Find some peace and quiet in some of the UK's most secluded spots. Chris Carter reports.
17 Jul 2020

Most Popular

Eagle Lightweight GT: the reincarnation of the E-type Jag
Toys and gadgets

Eagle Lightweight GT: the reincarnation of the E-type Jag

Jaguar’s classic E-type sports car has been reinvented for the modern age. The result – the Eagle Lightweight GT – is a thing of beauty.
7 Aug 2020
Platinum: the precious metal that looks set to play catch-up with silver and gold
Silver and other precious metals

Platinum: the precious metal that looks set to play catch-up with silver and gold

Gold and silver continue to soar, but there's still time to get in. And there's another precious metal that looks set to go on a bull run too, says Jo…
7 Aug 2020
UK house prices hit a new record high – can it last?
House prices

UK house prices hit a new record high – can it last?

Despite the pandemic, UK house prices have hit a new high. John Stepek looks at what’s driving the surge in prices, and what it means for house prices…
7 Aug 2020