Hotel Amigo does proper luxury, not the showy sort that relies on diamonds and brand names and staff who confuse snootiness for exclusivity.
Hotel Amigo, Brussels
Getting in the door of the extensively rebuilt 16th-century building was a little trickier than expected due to the crush of cabs in front of the hotel when I arrived (old cities and their narrow cobbled streets weren't built with cars in mind) but once inside all was well: reception staff were friendly, charming and efficient, with just the right degree of twinkle in their eyes and the lobby itself is a warm mixture of stone, textiles, paintings and sculpture.
Hotel Amigo is about as central as a hotel could be. It's located directly behind Brussels' (mostly) 17th-century town hall and is barely 30 seconds' walk from the spectacular Grand Place that's the city's biggest attraction. It's ideal for anyone who wants to focus on the city's pretty, traditional attractions - cobbled streets, 300-year-old buildings and enough lace shops for a thousand trousseaus - but is also still within comfortable walking distance of the shiny new EU quarter.
There are two slight downsides to this convenience, however. The first is that many of the restaurants and shops in the immediate area are aimed at tourists (chocolates, novelty beer and statuettes of the Mannekin Pis feature heavily) and are priced accordingly; the second is that late night revellers such as the city's ubiquitous hen and stag parties can sometimes be heard singing their way between bars. Fortunately the rooms are well soundproofed so this is more a trifling annoyance than anything that will stop you from sleeping.
Friendly and professional throughout; there was not even the tiniest hint of irritation from the person who rang to check that I was all right after I managed to pull the bathroom alarm cord in a dozy early-morning attempt to start the fan over the shower. I was given a tour of several of the hotel's 173 rooms and its spectacular Royal Suite by a manager who was clearly proud of the charming quirky touches that give the hotel a much more individual air than most luxury hotels. The designer Olga Polizi has mixed one-off items such as a 16th-century tapestries, heavy local linen and antiques from the city's Sablon district with African art that reflects Belgium's history as a colonial power. Furniture and other objects sourced from flea markets prevent the rich feeling of the hotel from tipping into ostentatiousness.
Elegant and luxurious without looking identikit thanks to the deco-influenced dresser that housed our flatscreen television and an unusual pale green chair. Most of the room was in neutral shades of cream and stone but both the bedroom and bathroom were accented with peaceful greyish-green tones; other rooms have warm red-toned highlights. Hat tips to Tintin (framed figurines in the bathroom) and Magritte (lovely wooden apples and pears that just beg to be stroked) added a nice touch. I wasn't so keen on the scales in the bathroom, though, given that Belgium is famous for fries, waffles and dishes cooked with cream.
Amigo's restaurant, Bocconi, is not Belgian at all, but Italian, complete with an award-winning Italian chef and a number of Italian waiters. In a city with more Michelin stars per head than any other, all restaurants have to work hard to earn their keep and Bocconi is certainly doing this. Try the artichoke and mozzarella salad for US$26 (Dh95) to see just how good simply-prepared top-quality ingredients can taste. There's also a bar that offers light lunches and afternoon tea.
While staff are admirably discreet about the names of guests, they are prepared to admit that a number of well-known politicians, musicians and actors have stayed at the hotel (the top floor is laid out so that the Royal Suite has a separate room next door for bodyguards); it certainly has a new-Establishment vibe. On the other hand, as I left a generous coachload of American senior citizens traipsed en masse through the lobby on their way to the ballroom, which had been set up for lunch, but the majority of people I saw appeared to be couples or families with older, well-behaved children.
The story behind the hotel's name: the building was being used as a jail when the Spanish rulers mistook the Flemish word for prison to mean "friend"; once translated into Spanish - as Amigo - it stuck. The spectacular, if slightly scary, spiral staircase - try looking all the way up from the ground floor or, if you're feeling brave, gazing down from the top.
The weeny fitness room and its two cramped rows of cardio equipment. I guess it would be enough for business travellers who were desperate to work off the effects of a hard day of pastry-enhanced meetings but that's about the best that could be said. Fortunately the hotel provides handy laminated jogging maps, complete with lanyard, for people who'd rather stretch their legs in the outside world.
Hotel Amigo does proper luxury. Not the showy sort that relies on diamonds and brand names and staff who confuse snootiness for exclusivity but the type that means guests can trust Amigo never to cut any corners, even invisible ones; it will never substitute margarine for butter and hope that people won't notice.
Double rooms cost from $896 (Dh3,290) including taxes but not including breakfast, which costs around $42 (Dh154). Hotel Amigo, Rue de l'Amigo 1-3, Brussels (www.roccofortecollection.com; 0032 2 547 4747).