ruges or Brugge, depends on what language you are speaking, prides itself in being a well-preserved medieval town and one of the many Unesco’s World Heritage site in Belgium. Stripped off tourists that floods Brugge everyday, it can actually be just a ghost town, as if time stood still in there and you can expect to meet a man in cloak and a woman in kirtle while taking a midnight walk in one of its dark alleyways. Probably that’s why director Martin McDonagh chose it as the setting of his dark comedy film In Bruges.
Good morning from my courtyard room at Chateau D’ Hassonville. Today is a beautiful day, sunny but maybe cold, perfect for a morning walk in the big park of the castle. I am taking it slow today, partly because of the amount of alcohol I’ve ingested last night and partly because I am hesitant to leave. It is such a relaxing place, so far the best that I have ever been to.
Yesterday was a mixture of exploring the Ardennes and it’s little towns and a gastronomic/alcohol journey from town to town.
We were originally planning to visit only two towns, Redu, the first official book village in Europe and go back to Durbuy to take photos and for a bit more sight seeing. But while I was browsing through a pile of post cards in Redu to send to my good friend Carlo, I saw this photo of colorful houses and a church beside a river. We then decided to take the 45-minute journey to Dinant.
When it comes to history, Dinant have seen a good part of the past. It has been a settlement since the Stone Age and was an important city to the kings because of its location beside the River Meuse. Dinant has its castles, a citadel and a beautiful bridge now adorned with saxophones. I was wondering if it was an exhibit, an event or something else that made them put all those saxophones on the bridge but I’ve learned that Dinant is the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone. A fitting tribute to their famous resident.
Anyway, our day started with a delicious breakfast at Chateau D’ Hassonville. For the price of 20euros per person, I had high expectations with the quality of the food. And I was not disappointed.
Everything that was served was fresh, organic and were really tasty. I loved that you can boil or fry your eggs in the mini stove on the breakfast counter. The orange juice was freshly squeezed and they even have caramelized apricot among the choices. There was a variety of bread and fresh butter as well as salmon and liver pate. They serve their coffee on a pot with big cups decorated with flowers and you will feel like having high tea while having breakfast. The best part was the location, on the greenhouse adjusted to the restaurant. So you have a idyllic view of the garden while eating your first meal of the day.
After breakfast, we drove straight to Redu. It was raining in the morning and was very cold so I decided its better to be inside the bookstores and libraries than getting wet walking around Durbuy. After getting lost and wasting an extra 30 minutes on the Ardenne’s highway, we finally arrived in Redu at half past 10.
R was craving for coffee so we decided to get warm first at hotel/restaurant Le Fournil. He ordered coffee and I, chocolate milk, but later saw on the menu their specialty, peach liquor with cognac. Naturally I have to have a “taste”. That was the start of my alcohol consumption yesterday, at 10:30am in Europe’s first book village.
They say that you have gone to heaven and back when you come to Redu. And there’s a lot of truth to that, especially when you can find precious English books. The libraries and bookstores in that small village are numbered and there were certain areas where you can find the English books. Although each bookstore carries some English and Spanish titles, most of them are in French, Dutch and German.The whole time in Redu, I think of only one person, an acquittance of mine and a certified book worm, Ron. Surely, Redu is his heaven.
After Redu, we went to Dinant to have lunch. Because of lack of parking spaces, we have to park at the Citadel then ride the cable car down to the city centre where we ended up at Le Citadel restaurant. We were starving and didn’t want to look further. Luckily the lasagna was cooked in my preferred way, a bit burned, lots of cheese and meat and a bit soggy in the inside. I couldn’t help but enjoy such a fulfilling meal with two glasses of champagne.
As predicted by the
receptionist owner of Chateau D’ Hassonville, the sun came out in the afternoon, at about 3pm. I was not very hopeful with Friday’s weather but fortunately it improved. We were back on the rode 30 minutes after to catch the sunset at the hotel so we can take photos of the sun-lit castle.
But not before stopping first at Durbuy. It didn’t take much time to go around the village because it was so tiny. I was once again drawn to the specialty store and came out with a bottle of that apricot liquer with cognac and little jars of Advocaat. By the time we were finished, the sun was shining warmly on the small centre of Durbuy, a very good place to enjoy a bottle of beer. I went for the sweet framboise and R for the local brew. All the while I was thinking of Brand’s Oud Bruin.
Before the sun sets, we hurried back to the hotel for the photos and eventually for more binge drinking. It was in a way, my R’s little birthday party, the main reason why we are here.
Happy birthday schatje!
I’m writing this while enjoying a glass of champagne at the saloon of Chateau D’ Hassonville, a castle hotel in Aye, Belgium. I’m surrounded with old hunting paintings , sitting beside an antique cabinet full of the best varities of whiskey, from Johnny Walker Red Label to Macallan 18 years old. Whenever I move to get something from the other side of the room, the floor creeks and the heels of my boots make loud tapping sounds on the wooden floor. The stillness of the saloon adds to the rather mystical yet eerie ambiance of the castle. We are the only two persons enjoying a drink in this chandelier-lit saloon and all the guests we saw earlier seemed to have disappeared in their own suites. Even the restaurant is empty.
According to historical records, Chateau D’ Hassonville used to be the hunting lodge of King Louis XIV. The Rodriques family renovated this old estate in 1986 and retained the original structure of the castle. It has 17 rooms and three suites, all have views of either the courtyard, the golf course of the garden. The estate is 55-hectare big and perfect for a morning run or walk. This is my first weekend stay in a castle hotel and the moment the car entered the automatic steel gates, I knew that castles will always be on top of the list whenever I’m booking an accomodation during my weekend travels.
R just finished ordering our dinner, after struggling with his French for 15 minutes. The menu was only in French and the waiter/butler speaks only French. So now what I know of my dinner is that I am getting fish but have no idea what kind and how it was cooked. I saw that it comes with truffles and that is fine because I like cooking with truffles. And since R’s French is rusty and I couldn’t understand a thing about his conversation with the waiter/butler I just let them choose a wine to go with my meal.
Late lunch in Durbuy, tiniest village in Europe
The drive from the Netherlands to Aye had been smooth and uneventful. I slept most of the time until we get to Ayen. The almost 3-hour journey made us hungry and we didn’t want to eat at highway restaurants so we waited until we have checked in and then drove to Durbuy.
Durbuy is Europe’s smallest village. It has a pretty center but since we went there to eat and it started raining when we were done, we decided to explore it tomorrow.
We had lunch at a restaurant called Vieux Pont located at the centre. It is a lovely place to stare at the outside panorama of old buildings, a bridge and children doing their tours of the village. And the heater was a delight because it suddenly became very cold in the afternoon.
Of course the menu was in French but at least the waitress spoke a bit of Dutch so she was able to explain the menu. I decided to go light and order a turkey with mushroom sauce while R opted for steak. His steak also came with mushroom sauce so that’s a minus point for the restaurant. They also served us the same kind of salad from the appetizer of cheese kroket and ham to the main course. The meat dishes weren’t very special, neither was the chocolate mouse dessert. We ordered the set menu so we didn’t really have much choice. The muscat and the wines were at least decent.
Durbuy looks very interesting. Too bad I felt sleepy and we had to go back to the castle.
A bath and a glass of red port
We found a half-full bottle of alchol on the table when we arrived at our room. It was only when we get back that we decided to check what it was. A bottle of red port!
I initially sunk in the very soft bed to take my afternoon but later on decided to enjoy the bath tub instead, with Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot as my companion . It has been sitting in my bag and my book shelf since August 2010 and I couldn’t find time to read it. The book demands so much concentration and time.
But after a while, the three glasses of alcohol took a toll on my conciousness. I began to drift off until the water began to get cold. Then I moved to the bed, very easily sent off to dreamland by the soft pillows and the rain softly falling on the roof.
After an hour I found myself in this saloon, too early for dinner but too late for high tea, staring at huge paintings and enjoying the classical music being played by invisible speakers. It is very tranquil and exactly the way to start a weekend in a castle. So now excuse me while I go back to my champagne.
It seems like these days, the hottest trend in travelling is budget travel – budget airlines, cheap hotels, free entrances, affordable dining etc. Everybody wants to travel cheap and it doesn’t take much effort for anyone to find the best bargain in the Internet as it is usually the subject of most travel blogs. There is really nothing wrong with cheap travel but it got me thinking, is travelling cheap really the best way to travel?
There was a banging on the door next to my room and a drunk-sounding guy was begging to be let in. The guy inside the room was laughing at his companion. I thought there would be gun fire and bloodshed afterwards but thank heavens, it stopped after an hour. Meanwhile I was hiding under my blanket, sweating and scared to death. I wasn’t able to sleep until the sun came out.
That was my second night at Unique Hotel Mihkli (now Kreutzwald Hotel) in Tallinn, Estonia. The third night was no different but unlike the first, I was able to calm myself after half an hour and go back to sleep. For $118 for three nights, I can’t really complain especially that the room has free internet though the wifi doesn’t work in the third floor and I had to use a cable.
Earlier that day, after a brief conversation with a cab driver, he wished me good luck for being a small girl alone in Tallinn but I don’t think that episode was what he meant. It might not even happen every night in Kreutzwald Hotel, probably just my bad luck.
The hotel is actually quite decent and the price reasonable. I stayed in a very basic double room but for a small girl, it was pretty spacious, even for two people. I had a flat screen TV, a table and clean toilet and bathroom, no mini bar. But that is not necessary because it would be so much cheaper to drink vodka in one of the Balkan restaurants. But for those who want to spend a little money, the hotel also have Zen rooms and Zen suites which has jacuzzi and most amenities in a 3-star hotel. They have 81 rooms in total, most of it newly-renovated.
It is very much accessible by public transport from known landmarks like the Freedom Square and Estonian National Library. If only I had learned how to use public transport, I could have saved some euros. But taking a cab is very cheap in Tallin that you wouldn’t mind paying extra for the comfort of not having to hop from one tram or bus to the other.
What made me decide to stay at Kreutzwald Hotel was their Day Spa which I wasn’t able to experience anyway because they were so busy that weekend. They have different treatments and massages, just what I need after a day in the port, working on two ships. They also have a sauna and tanning beds which are very handy during a winter stay in Tallinn. It also has an adjacent Brazilian restaurant. I had a few drinks and a couple of dinners there but I wouldn’t really recommend it for dining out. The breakfast buffet is located here and it was a generous servings of cold cuts and warm dishes, bread, juices, milk, tea and coffee. But the Germans went for seconds because there wasn’t enough sausages and heavy servings on the buffet.
Aside from the nightly drama, staying in Kreutzwald Hotel, Tallinn has been pretty relaxing. The staff were very friendly and helpful. When I found our that the wi-fi is not working upstairs, they immediately brought cables to my room. They were also very keen on helping me get a cab whenever I leave the hotel. The girl who was on duty when I checked out at 4AM even prepared a take-out breakfast for me.
A disadvantage though is the very limited supply of bathroom toiletries. There was no toothpaste, toothbrush and there was only a small bar of soap and a bottle of all-in-one shampoo and conditioner on the wall. I had to buy a bathroom package for 27euros in the hotel’s store spa before I can enjoy taking a shower.
So if you are visiting Tallinn soon, you might want to consider staying in this hotel. You might be luckier than me and escape those nightly dramas I had.
The Kreutzwald Hotel Tallinn
Endla 23, Tallinn 10122 Estonia
Tel: +372 66 64 800
Fax: +372 66 64 888