On arrival on a cold day in Bruges, our bags were spirited away and we were offered seats in the sitting room which occupies most of the lobby space. Our armchairs wrapped around us, Mozart played softly nearby, a fire crackled and the ice in our bones began to melt.
This small medieval town in northern Belgium is remarkably well preserved, having escaped the bombing that destroyed so much of northern Europe during the two world wars. Cobbled streets, lazy canals, 16th century merchants' houses and tall, 300-year-old church towers still stand. This is a town of brick houses and cosy bistros. A town with a proud and significant history, and an unashamed fetish for chocolate.
The standout staff members were the husband-and-wife team that runs the dining room: Sandra and Ignace. Breakfast was a delight - scrambled eggs cooked on the Aga, sourdough toast and buttery croissants to kick-start the motors for the long day of walking and sightseeing ahead.
Small, but up at the top of the building, which meant spectacular views over the terracotta-tiled rooftops. Cute French-inspired tiled bathroom and a huge bath. On my next stay I am going to go for one of the Ralph Lauren suites, which are larger rooms featuring original Lauren fabrics and the latest designs. One even has an original Lauren mahogany bed.
No dedicated concierge, but the front desk staff know lots. The hotel uses Annick Goutal fragrances and cosmetics in the suites and has a good selection for sale. Prices are cheaper than Paris and they have fragrances for boys and girls. The receptionist was most helpful in walking us through the different ones and letting us try a few.
Europeans love the Pand. French and German accents abound. The staff are multilingual, which helps. Excellent for families too, especially the suites, some of which can accommodate several kids. A few businessmen were in the lobby one afternoon, slightly perturbed because the place did not have the five-star services of a Sheraton or Hilton. I could not stop myself from telling them: "It's Bruges, it's a family-run hotel designed for romantic couples and families enjoying leisure time. Of course there isn't a state-of-the-art business centre."
The lobby lounge and library. The collection of original Louis Vuitton suitcases that the owners, the Vanhaecke family, have amassed over the years. Also, scrambled eggs on toast, croissant and coffee each morning at breakfast tables covered with starched white tablecloths.
Smoke from someone else's room making its unstoppable way into our designated non-smoking room. On further investigation I think our neighbours (also in a non-smoking room) each finished off a packet of Gitanes that evening - probably in bed. It is very hard for hotels to order guests not to smoke, but with more and more smoking bans now coming in across Europe, it is time to get tough and charge disobedient guests a hefty cleaning fee if they break the rules.
Authentic Bruges crash pad which makes a wonderful and cosy escape. Try to get one of the Ralph Lauren suites, ideally the one overlooking the street. Also has the huge advantage of being family-owned and run. The Vanhaeckes have done a terrific job renovating this former house into a multi-award winning small hotel.
Pand Hotel, Pandreitje 16, Bruges, Belgium, +32 50 340 666. Standard double rooms start from Dh965. firstname.lastname@example.org @email:www.pandhotel.com