Brussels, Belgium's cosmopolitan capital, and the charming Belgian cities in the country's Dutch-speaking region of Flanders — Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent — have enhanced and expanded their offerings for meeting and incentive groups in the past 18 months. (Note: the Tourist Office for Flanders has launched its own website, visitflanders.us, and has named Liliane Opsomer acting director of its U.S. office in New York City.)
Venerable venue: Antwerp's Town Hall
now hosts private events.
The city will get a renewed conference and exhibition venue when Square debuts next September. The facility, formerly called Le Palais des Congrès, is being completely renovated. Upon opening, it will have three auditoriums, 22 meeting rooms, a top-floor event space and a hall with 43,000 square feet of exhibit space.
Brussels has a number of recent additions on the hotel front. Among properties that debuted in 2007 or later, the largest is the minimalist-style 305-room Hotel Bloom, near the botanical gardens. The hotel has 12 meeting rooms, all offering natural light.
The Dominican Brussels, part of the Carlton Hotel Collection and a member of Design Hotels, has opened near the La Monnaie Theatre. The stylish property has 150 guest rooms and three meeting rooms.
The sleek Be Manos, with 60 guest rooms and two meeting rooms, and Hotel Progress, with 57 guest rooms and three meeting rooms, are among the boutique properties that recently debuted in the capital.
Nine miles from the city center is Dolce La Hulpe Brussels, a resort and conference facility. The property, which opened last year, has 264 guest rooms and 25 meeting rooms (including two auditoriums seating 150 and 500, respectively), along with an 8,000-square-foot multipurpose event space.
Looking ahead to 2010, Starwood will launch its first European Aloft hotel entry here; the 150-room property will be near the European Parliament.
The historic Town Hall in the city's picturesque Grote Markt (market square) recently opened its doors to meetings and events; the venue accommodates up to 150. Built in the 16th century, Town Hall features slightly more modern (e.g., 19th century) interior décor.
On the hotel front, the 264-room Crowne Plaza Antwerp underwent a refurbishment last year. The property has 14 meeting rooms and a new eatery, Restaurant Toots, named after Jean Toots Thielemans, the famous Belgian jazz musician.
The city of Bruges got a big publicity boost by having a starring role, along with Colin Farrell, in the film In Bruges, released earlier this year.
This year also marked the debut of the 93-room Kempinski Hotel Dukes' Palace. The property, housed in a 15th-century palace, has many original features, including frescoes and stained glass. Modern additions include a fitness center, a spa and a sauna.
The Ghent Marriott, with 138 guest rooms and seven meeting rooms, opened last year on the Korenlei, one of the city's most quaint, picturesque streets. The property has a fitness center, a restaurant and a bar.
The 174-room Sofitel Ghent Belford has been reflagged as the NH Gent Belfort. The property has eight meeting rooms.
The Monasterium, a neogothic hotel that once was a cloister, has completed a renovation of its 47 guest rooms and 10 meeting rooms.
De Griffioen, a historical building in the center of Ghent, has been renovated and now is available for group meetings and events. The venue offers a lounge (accommodating up to 30 people), a wine cellar (for up to 10) and two other rooms, able to host up to 90 and 30, respectively.