If you are looking for ideas for an Easter getaway, there’s a place right here in Belgium that would tick lots of boxes. Manoir de Lebioles, a delightful hotel/spa/restaurant, based close to Spa, is known as the “Little Versailles of the Ardennes.”
It is great for a relaxing, get-away-from-it-all break any time of the year, not least right now as it’s just undergone a refurbishment designed to underpin its reputation as one of the top hotels in the country.
The “facelift” includes renovation of the restaurant, lobby, bar and even the toilets which are well worth a visit just to admire the wonderful (and unusual) new-look décor.
It is, arguably, the restoration in other areas that might be most appreciated, though. This includes new lighting and pleasant wall coverings in the two restaurants and bar, both of which overlook delightful gardens and beautiful surrounding countryside.
A very impressive lobby, accessed via a “castle-type” entrance doorway, also now boasts new furnishings, aimed at offering guests the warmest and friendliest of greetings. The upgrade, recently completed, is all designed to provide a touch of modernity to the hotel while preserving its undoubted elegance.
One thing that hasn’t changed – and will not – are the historic windows which date back to when the built between 1905-1910. They provide an invaluable, albeit relatively modest, link to the past – and what a past this place has. Don’t be fooled, though, as the building’s pristine appearance today belies its recent chequered history.
The building was built by the architect Georges Neyt, a diplomat who is said to have been a natural son of King Leopold I. It was a hotel for 20 years, albeit small with just 4 rooms. After being occupied by the same family Dresse for 60 years, it was then sold. A business venture failed to take off and, sadly, the building fell on seriously hard times with parts of the building being vandalised and windows broken.
Luckily, a “saviour” appeared in the shape of German-born Anne Lussem who had previously stayed as a guest. Like many guests today, Anne immediately fell in love with Manoir de Lebioles – and also its untapped potential – and it took her just 3 days to decide this was the place for her. What followed was a major refurb and the place has now been restored to its former glory, boasting 16 delightfully appointed guest accommodation, mostly double and twin rooms.
She displayed the type of vision that George Neyt would have approved of and the result is a wonderful hotel, which, since the addition of a spa/wellness centre in 2008, now makes for a perfect bolthole from the rat race. Little wonder it attracts guests from France, Germany and the Netherlands as well as Belgium.
They are also drawn to its terrific restaurant, seating up to 70 and serving fine gastronomic food, overseen by the highly decorated chef Laurent Leveille whose impressive CV includes stints at some of the best restaurants in London.
The menu is tweaked seasonally – a new Spring version will soon be available featuring traditional seasonal dishes such as lamb and asparagus – and, as well as the main card, there are two fixed menus, one of 4 courses, and a six-course option. The fixed menu currently includes mouth-watering offerings such as merlan (whiting), poached with lemon, locally-sourced duck with a lovely orange sauce, together with some splendid aperitifs.
Open for lunch and dinner (for non-residents too), you can sit back in the ultra-comfortable furnishings and enjoy genuinely top-notch cuisine which has been awarded 15 points by Gault & Millau. The wines are as impeccable as the food and it’s all topped off by the kind of service which you’d associate with such a fine establishment as Manoir de Lebioles.
A great way to work up an appetite for the lovely food is a spot in the spa,where you can pamper yourself to your heart’s content. It includes a sauna, steam bath and hydro massage, opens daily and has spa treatments. Special packages, including massage and full use of the spa, are also available.
One “fixture” in the constantly evolving story of this hotel is the charming Benoit Toussaint who joined the staff here straight from university and, 13 years later, is still there, the only “survivor.” He started just two months after it opened and, having started with a job on reception he’s now in charge of the hotel’s sales/PR.
The temptation is to stay put and just luxuriate in the splendour of the place but the area’s good for things to do, including local woodland walks, thermal baths at Spa, a particularly good golf club and, of course, the F1 race track, a few short kilometres away.With the season now underway, there’s never a shortage of things to do at Spa Francorchamps, including highly informative, 90-minute guided tours which take you behind the scenes of this famous track, including the podium, press room, commentators’ booths, race control room and paddocks. The track has a fine history and is a perennial favourite for F1 drivers.
Back at Manoir de Lebioles, there’s equally never a shortage of things going on as the hotel also hosts regular events throughout the year for guests and non-guests. An upcoming one is a violin concert on 8 May with a “champagne family evening” later in the year. The restaurant also hosts cookery courses on certain dates (for full details of all these see the hotel website).
Anyone staying here is in good company: Philippe, the King of Belgium, and his father Albert, the former king before him, are both former guests.
Aside from the impressive list of Royals, celebrities and assorted VIPs, probably its most important asset, though, is the sheer family atmosphere and warmth guests enjoy here.
The hotel motto says it all really: “sit back, relax and enjoy.”
Telephone: 087 79 19 00