A quartet of distinct properties in Belgium

BRUSSELS -- If you are considering hotels for clients visiting Belgium, let me suggest four worthy of consideration -- one each in Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent and Marche en Famenne.

If you've never heard of the last town, don't worry; neither had I until it was recommended to me.

Needless to say, the properties all passed my own "CCC test"-for cleanliness, comfort and convenience -- with flying colors.

In addition, each offered distinct pleasures that make it attractive to discerning travelers.

Le Dixseptieme

Originally the 17th century residence of the Spanish ambassador to Belgium, this unique property in Brussels retains the elegance and class that is its birthright.

And talk about a boutique hotel. The 23-room property, which was restored in 1990, features exposed beams as thick as tree trunks, working fireplaces, white-washed walls and French Renaissance antiques.

Our room contained a skylight with a roll-up wooden shutter, and many of the rooms overlook a neatly configured interior garden.

For clients who wish to remain grounded in the 21st century, the hotel's 13 suite units come equipped with faxes, while all rooms feature cable television, minibars, direct-dial telephones and kitchens.

Facilities for banquets and seminars also are available.

Nightly rates range from $150 for a studio to $300 for an executive suite, and prices include breakfast and VAT.

Le Dixseptieme, which offers agents net rates, is located in the heart of Brussels' old city at rue de la Madeleine 25, about a five-minute walk from the central rail station and the same from the Grand Place, another focal point in the city.

Hotel Erasmus

Another old-timer, this historic Ghent property dates to 1593, although its vaulted cellars go back even further than that.

The Hotel Erasmus is set in the historic medieval quarter, above, of the Belgian town of Ghent. The Erasmus seems to take its Old World credentials for granted, and its idiosyncrasies are such that its shabby chic ambience and lack of pretension might not suit everyone.

For example, there is no elevator and the staircase to the rooms -- all 11 of them -- is steep and narrow.

This means that a guest either drags that 29-inch, hardsided Pullman up or gets help (which, by the way, was eagerly offered by the one and only desk clerk on hand).

Nevertheless, there is a lot to savor here, such as large, airy spaces; high ceilings; old-fashioned leaded-glass windows; antique armoires, tables and chairs, and linen-covered settees. All units include a telephone and cable TV.

The property, which closes for the winter and reopens in July, is a short walk from the Gravensteen Castle and other stops along a tourist's path.

Net rates, which include breakfast, run from $60 for a modest single room to $110 for a circa-16th century suite.

Alfa Theater Hotel

Fixed more squarely in contemporary times than either Le Dixseptieme or the Hotel Erasmus, the Alfa Theater Hotel in Antwerp is a high-rise of 127 rooms through which an antique collector could search from now until next year without unearthing an artifact older than last year's TV model.

If a blast from the past is what clients are seeking, they'd be better off walking to the nearby Plantin-Moretus Museum, which celebrates the history of printing -- the 16th century Officina Plantiniana, the most famous printing press in Europe, is maintained here in virtually mint condition.

For its part, the Alfa Theater is more about USA Today than moveable type.

The hotel holds few surprises, especially if one has been tipped off to its excellent Carousel restaurant, which can hold its own with the best in the city.

Room rates range from $180, single, to $210, double, and include a generous breakfast buffet.

Standard commission at the Alfa Theater, located adjacent to the Opera House, is 10%.

Chateau d'Hassonville

This magnificent Renaissance castle in Marche en Famenne, complete with storybook turrets and spires, was constructed in 1687 as a hunting lodge for King Louis XIV.

The Chateau d'Hassonville, set amid 20,000 acres of forest, was built in the 17th century as a hunting lodge for King Louis XIV. Its grounds -- 20,000 acres of Belgian Ardennes forest -- were designed by a student of Andre le Notre, who himself was responsible for an attractive little French getaway known as Versailles.

The rooms are large and comfortable, with 15-foot-high ceilings. Our less-than-humble abode, called La Tienne, also featured lace coverlets, a deep soaking tub and a dining alcove in which a fine bottle of sherry and a couple of glasses awaited us.

There are no televisions here, so look out at nature through the large windows (ask for a parkside room -- it's a little extra, but worth it) and spot mother and son donkeys named Jessie and James, a resident mastiff that dwarfs the Hound of the Baskervilles, a flock of peacocks and a lake.

Take it from me, you can't see the forest for the trees.

The property is great for long, leisurely walks -- a portion of the grounds is illuminated at night.

More active types can arrange for bike rides, tennis, golf, swimming and horseback riding, all the better to build up an appetite for Chateau d'Hassonville's award-winning cuisine.

Before or after dinner, ask to see the Scotch cabinet in the bar, which offers a choice of more than 100 different single malts and blends from a Tobermory from the Isle of Mull to a 25-year-old Hillside single malt from the Glenesk distillery.

Located about 50 miles south of Brussels, the Chateau d'Hassonville is a handy place from which to visit Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge war memorial and museum there.

Rates range from $100 for an inner courtview room to $130 for a view of the park (not including breakfast).

Special packages that include aperitif, wines and two dinners range from $430 to $475 for two people. Chateau d'Hassonville offers net rates to agents.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI