John Goodall visits Ghent, a city full of unexpected delights.
Last year, after a long period standing empty, the upper floors of the landmark post and telegraph office in Ghent reopened as a 38-room luxury hotel. The 1898 The Post hotel, named after the date of its design, stands in the heart of the city, overlooking St Nicholas’s Church and the main quay, Graslei. It’s one of several buildings designed by the architect Louis Cloquet. For its idiom, flamboyance and confidence, it’s reminiscent of St Pancras Station.
Two elegant stairways lead to the principal floor of the hotel with its comfortable bar (above). This doubles as a breakfast room and is lit with huge windows. As the general manager, Eline Janssens ,explains: ‘The aim was to create a homely interior, so there’s a fire and a kitchen opens onto one end of the room as it might in a large house.’
Many of the rooms have split-level interiors, with the en-suite bathroom on a mezzanine. There is a tower room with spectacular views and an honesty bar in another upper room, reached by a striking double-helix staircase. The rooms are decorated with selected curios and books that you can purchase. Each has an impressive mini-bar, including a locally made gin called God Save the Queen.
From €170 (£150) per night, excluding breakfast (00 32 9 391 53 79; www.zannierhotels.com/1898thepost/en)
Stuck in the middle with you
Ghent stands almost equidistant between the two tourist honeypots of Bruges and Brussels, but is far less visited than either. Its compact centre is magnificent to walk through and offers some unexpected delights, from the carillon of the town belfry to the graffiti of Werregarenstraat. A great deal of money has been spent in recent years on illuminating the city at night. The results, in a city laced with canals and punctuated by huge churches and historic buildings, are quite spectacular.
Meat you there
The city is a gourmand’s delight, crammed with restaurants for every taste and pocket. It’s particularly celebrated for its vegetarian cooking, but the fine medieval meat market has a selection of local produce for sale.
Painting a picture
Ghent’s main museums are known by acronym: STAM for the history of the city, SMAK for modern art and MSK for fine art. The latter is notable for its late-19th-century painting, a second golden age of Belgian art. Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Lamb (1432) rightly enjoys celebrity. It’s currently undergoing conservation – due to be completed in 2020, to great celebration – but all the panels can be seen divided between its home, the cathedral and MSK.
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