Published on September 2nd, 2018 | by James Drew0
Manoir de Lebioles
Did you know that in Wallonia you can visit a laundry museum, go cross country skiing towed by a draught horse and go up a lift in a boat, writes Martin Banks?
These, and much more besides, are some of the more off-the-wall attractions being promoted in a campaign (Amazing Wallon!a2018/Geheimtipps Wallon!a2018) designed to boost tourism in the region.
If you’re looking for an end-of-summer short getaway or chance to recharge the batteries before the dark nights set in, you’d do well to consider the country’s francophone region. With the changing autumnal colours, the Ardennes provides a particularly colourful backdrop for a refreshing short break. You may be unaware of the unusual laundry museum which evokes the evolution of washing techniques from Antiquity to present times. It’s based at Spa and, close by, comes another possible pleasant surprise -Belgium’s version of a iconic French landmark.
Manoir de Lebioles, a delightful hotel/spa/restaurant, situated just a few kilometres from Spa, is known as the “Little Versailles of the Ardennes.” If you pay a visit you will see why this architectural gem has earned such an accolade.
Located in a fairytale-type setting and surrounded by thick forest, it is notable for its large rooms, warm colours and sweeping staircases. But it’s current appearance belies its recent history. A hotel for 20 years, the building fell on seriously hard times between 1999 and 2005 after a “new concept” for it failed. Parts of the building were vandalised and windows broken. It was frequented squatted and even used for illegal parties. Luckily, a “saviour” was on the horizon in the shape of German-born Ann Lussem who, having fallen in love with the place and location during a previous stay, decided to buy the hotel when it came up for purchase.
Ann, backed by her dedicated team, has supervised its remarkable recent transformation which has seen its size increase markedly from just four rooms to 16. Under her ownership, a swish spa/wellness centre has also been added to the complex (in an area once used to stable horses). The chimneys and 120-year-old windows were restored, old staircases expanded, historic floors exposed and the gardens returned to their former beauty. After a major restoration lasting 14 months, the new-look hotel opened to guests – and the place has not looked back since.
After being at the helm for some 12 years Anne now looks back with pride on returning the building to what Georges Neyt, the original builder, may have envisaged. Built between 1905 and 1910, Neyt, a diplomat and said to have been a natural son of King Leopold I, sadly only enjoyed his “small Versailles of the Ardennes” only for a short time.
Heiress and only daughter of the builder, Mary Neyt, sold Le Manoir to Edmond Dresse, a Liege businessman, in 1912. His family lived in the building for the next 69 years and, during this time, it acquired a new fame and glamour, hosting national theatre, concerts and balls. Fast forward to the present and Manoir de Lebioles is again the place to be seen, for example, accommodating Formula 1 racing teams like Red Bull and their sponsors during the famous annual F1 race at nearby Spa-Francorchamps.
The hotel,whose 16 rooms, including ten in the main building, are individually named, is open almost year-round. It’s ideal for couples but also has a large suite suitable for families. During the summer, three-night stays are the average but, for the rest of the year, this usually falls to 1 or 2 nights. Although it has facilities for conferences, this is mostly a place that targets the leisure, rather than business, market. It attracts visitors from a wide geographical area, including many from Germany which, given that the hotel’s nearer Cologne than Brussels, is perhaps not surprising.
The hotel, a Trip Advisor “Traveller’s Choice” winner, also boasts a fine, gastronomic, Michelin-rated restaurant, overseen by the renowned and highly decorated chef Laurent Leveille whose impressive CV includes stints at some of the best restaurants in London. The restaurant used to close at the start of the week but, largely to ensure that residents could sample its fine cuisine, now also opens on Monday and Tuesday. On these two nights,a “bistronomique” menu is offered (a choice from two starters, two mains and desert).
This is a very reasonable 65 euros per person and there’s also an excellent wine selection to accompany what is a delightful meal. The rest of the week sees Laurent’s wonderfully creative talents (awarded 15 points by Gault & Millau) come really to the fore in the shape of three gastronomic choices (a 4-course “discovery” menu and a 6-course “prestige” option, the two most popular, plus a la carte). A great way to work up an appetite for such terrific food is a spell in the excellent and state-of-the-art spa/wellness centre where you can pamper yourself to your heart’s content.
The spa, including sauna, steam bath and hydro massage, opens from 8am to 8pm daily and spa treatments are available on six days. The Ardennes, of course, is fertile territory for the upcoming game season so expect a few locally-sourced products to appear on the menu soon. You’re never short of something to keep you busy in the Ardennes and,nearby at La Reid, is Forestia which offers three main activities, including a 40-hectare animal park containing 300 animals, including about 30 species. The adventure park, meanwhile, offers a walk-through the trees over no less than 11 courses and 100 obstacles.
The climbing park, reserved for larger groups, is another attraction at the fabulous Forestia. Its various activities offer a nice alternative to the blissful peace and serenity of Manoir de Lebioles and its gorgeous location. After a lengthy refurbishment project, it is now ranked as one of the best luxury hotels in Belgium and the best luxury hotel in Wallonia on the Trip Advisor website. If you’re looking for a spot of real R & R give this beautiful place a try – you won’t be disappointed.