In terms of sheer elegance and an abiding sense of history, there’s few hotels in Belgium can match that of the Steigenberger Wiltcher’s.
Set back from Avenue Louise, the busy, ‘golden-mile’ shopping thoroughfare of Brussels, its impressive facade reflects a sense of Old World dignity and style, one enhanced by a 6.6 million euro renovation that ended three years ago, with most of the money spent on room improvements.
Parking is no problem whatsoever at Wiltcher’s with the hotel having 600 spaces. Shopping is also convenient, with a range of boutique stores encircling an open interior courtyard selling a wide range of goods, from clothing to pharmacy items. Immediately above this, is La Terrasse where cocktails are served in pleasant weather.
Varnished wood, marble and gleaming brass furnishings and fittings are hallmarks of the hotel’s impressive Art Nouveau lobby, reached up a short flight of stairs from the street, past the concierge desk. Enlivened with fresh orchids, it entices guests to relax on soft sofas and armchairs under glittering chandeliers. Further encouragement to do so is provided by ‘The Library,’ a spacious open area adjacent to the lobby, which has its own small bar and where light lunches are served. Quiet corners there with book-lined shelves are perfect for private, informal meetings. Nearby is the D-Lounge, designed by Davidoff, a haven for cigar smokers.
Featuring 225 rooms and 42 suites, Steigenberger Wiltcher’s also boasts the city’s largest ballroom, seating up to 600 people, plus more than 10 other function rooms.
As to its history, this 5-star hotel was named after Sydney Charles Wiltcher, son of English immigrants who was engaged by owner, Baron Joseph de Crawez, to start work on this Beaux-Arts style building in the early 1900s. Opened in 1913, it has been under various ownerships, including being the Conrad Brussels until 2012. It is now operated by the German luxury chain Steigenberger Hotels and Resorts.
Our room, a two-tiered junior suite, featured a spacious bedroom with full-screen television and work desk, and a well-lighted bathroom with separate bath and shower and Aigner toiletries. A bannister-lined set of carpeted steps led down to a living area featuring a divan, an armchair and a coffee-table. Generous natural light poured in through floor-to-ceiling windows. Decorative room elements were minimalist, consisting of a couple of unframed black and white photographs, which added to the elegant setting.
Sumptuous buffet breakfasts and Sunday brunches are hosted in the airy Cafe Wiltcher’s at the end of a carpeted corridor on the ground floor, both with complimentary champagne. As one shouldn’t leave Brussels without tasting fine Belgium chocolate, a visit to Mary’s Chocolate Shop, off the lobby, should be on your schedule. Here lies a special treat for praline lovers as the company has been making this particular delicacy since 1919.
Dinners at Steigenberger Wiltcher’s are served in the Loui Bar and Restaurant. Two rooms side-by-side, they offer contrasting atmospheres. The lively, well-lit bar area with the buzz of conversation as a backdrop, or the more intimate ambience in an adjoining dimly-lit room with classic furnishings including dark-wood wall cladding, a large open fireplace and a fill-size bronze statue of a guitar-playing musician in one corner. We chose a cozy window table at this mid-century style restaurant and enjoyed full views across to the stylish canopied hotel entrance so could watch the comings and goings of guests.
For pre-dinner cocktails, we chose the ‘Etta,’ having been informed it had been winner of last year’s Union of Belgium’s Bartenders’ national competition. Created by Simona Tsacheva, it consists of a blend of vodka, peach, pear and mango plus Tarragon Essence Marie Brizard. Our second choice was ‘Masterpiece’ combining Botanist gin, Chartreuse, fresh cucumber, mint, lime, honey liqueur and orange flower.
The food menu featured fifteen snacks, salads and sandwiches and eight main dishes with enough variety of seafood and meats to satisfy most tastes including steak tartare, burger, pan-fried Irish tenderloin and seabass, not to mention several pastas such as ricotta and spinach ravioli and penne bolognaise. We started with vintage Brugge cheese fondue and sweet and sour salad. The Belgian version of fondue consists of squares of cheese in a crust of breadcrumbs deep-fried and served with shreds of pickled red cabbage. My companion’s beef tartare was of well-ground meat, soft and fibreless, with tiny bits of pickled cucumber throughout. A Belgian version of it entitled ‘American’ is served on a bread bun with mayo. My delicately cooked Dover sole came neatly deboned as requested and featured the perfect light crust. The flesh below was moist and sliced into bite-sized pieces. Being chocolate lovers, we chose as desserts black forest cake, which resembled a shepherd’s hat, with a traditional cream topping, and a chocolate sponge with a cherry base. Adding to our overall pleasure, friendly waiter, Maxime, regaled us with tales of Reunion Island, Polynesia, and his days in the Navy.
For the more sports’ oriented, a compact gym, equipped with modern cardio machines, is located on the hotel’s second floor and, for an additional fee, guests have direct access to the adjoining Aspria spa, which has an infinity-style swimming pool, sauna, steam bath and fitness facilities.
As some of the city’s attractions are within easy walking distance of the hotel including the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Musical Instruments Museum and Horta Museum, as well as brand stores along Avenue Louise, the Steigenberger Wiltcher’s makes for top-notch accommodation.