Fine gastronomic houses in Belgium and the Netherlands

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    Hostellerie La Butte aux Bois, Lanaken
    You reach La Butte aux Bois through a quiet avenue of fine houses, past the pond that gives you the first view of the beautiful garden, whose lawn is adorned with dancing nymph statuettes. Surrounded by trees, the property was originally built for the knight, Sir Lagasse de Locht and, though thoroughly modern, it retains much of that bygone charm.

    Its terrace is exceptional, hugging the exterior walls of the hotel, restaurant and bar and always in sight of the garden, beyond which lies the Hoge Kempen National Park, where extensive pine forests alternate with purple flowering heather, offering breath-taking views over the region.

    I decided to eat ’local’ in the hotel’s Binnenhof restaurant, where the chef uses Limburg produce, such as local veal and chicken, and ‘Ommersteyn’ goat’s cheese. For dessert I had the five Belgians cheeses since I don’t have a sweet tooth but the cheesecake made with Limbourg cherries, pistachio and white chocolate is very popular. The waiter was very helpful when it came to explaining the wines, especially the local Belgian Wijnkasteel Genoels-Elderen Haspengouw wines.

    The Aquamarijn Wellness Centre is tucked within the Hostellerie – it was recently voted ‘Best Wellness Centre in Flanders’.

    This rural estate may feel like the heart of the country but it is a short distance from Maastricht, Aachen and Liège. And if shopping’s your thing, Maasmechelen Village Chic Outlet Shopping is very close by.

    Château St. Gerlach
    My next stop was across the border, and in the shape of the wonderful Château St. Gerlach I found two common elements with my previous hotel. First, the countryside, since St. Gerlach Estate is tucked away in the unspoiled natural environment of the Geul Valley and the Ingendael nature reserve (popular with hikers). And second, local produce, except the chefs’ produce here is only a short walk away – it does help if you run your own farm.

    I didn’t realize I was a trendsetter but I stayed in the Chateau before the greatest rocking roll band in the World. Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ron stayed in the hotel apartment suites when The Rolling Stones performed at the Pinkpop Festival.

    The entrance is dramatic – as you drive down the narrow lane the huge expanse of lawn and the elegant, deep-red buildings come in to view. The former monastery dates back to the year 1200, built to accommodate pilgrims who had come to pay homage to hermit Gerlach of Houthem. It boasts its own vineyard, herb garden, orchard, rose garden and, best of all, its own church with stunning 18th-century frescoes.

    Such is the composition of the buildings it’s a surprise to come across the modern spa and the Roman indoor swimming pool. There are two choices gastronomy-wise: the restaurant with its dramatic, aristocratic decor, serving fine French cuisine; and the more informal Bistrot de Liège, whose menu is made up of dishes from the region.

    Manoir Inter Scaldes
    The moment you enter the manor you know you’re looking at a labour of love. Claudia Brevet has designed the interior to perfectly match the beautiful walled garden beyond. And she has a keen eye for interior design and art, too, with new works from their collection adorning the walls on a regular basis.

    And this artistic bias is matched by her husband Jannis Brevet in the kitchen. He was born in Zeeland and his inspiration comes from the nearby delta, allowing him to make quiet remarkable seafood dishes. They don’t just taste great, they are works of art in their own right. Have a look at the special cookbook they produced with photographs of dishes designed to echo famous works of art. It’s not all about fish though – the suckling lamb is delicious and he uses cheese and fruit from the reclaimed land in Beveland.

    It’s hard to believe that fire destroyed the main building in 2004. The renovation perfectly matches the older buildings. To properly enjoy the feast it’s a good idea to stay over and leave the car in the parking lot. There are 12 very comfortable rooms and each one has a balcony or patio looking out onto the garden, which in season is alive with flowers. Located in Kruiningen, the hotel is perfectly placed for the spacious Zeeland beaches and nearby Yrseke, famous for its mussel production.

    Relais & Châteaux is an association of the world’s finest hoteliers, chefs and restaurateurs.

    www.relaischateaux.com