Abdijmolenweg 1, Kortrijk, Belgium; (32) 56 212100; www.d-hotel.be . 45 rooms from $141.
A dreamy hub for day trippers in the western part of Belgium, D-hotel brings together Flemish tradition with cutting-edge contemporary design. In the small West Flanders town of Kortrijk - home to a stunning 17th-century beguinage (a compound for women in a Catholic lay order, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and a contemporary design show - the blurring of boundaries between old and new is a way of life. So it's no wonder this is where you'll find a futuristic-looking boutique hotel and spa architecturally united with a farmhouse and protected windmill from 1841.
A bit off the tourist path but minutes from the train station in Kortrijk's historic city centre (a couple of hours from Brussels), the dramatic property was built to accommodate business types and design junkies visiting the nearby conference centre. But with charming and vibrant Belgian cities Bruges and Ghent, as well as the fashionable Lille, France, all within a half-hour's drive, it is also a superb base for travellers in search of stunning examples of Belgian creativity.
DESIGN The heart and soul of D-hotel, the magnificent Vannestes Mill (which houses a bakery museum open from April to September) looms over the property, lending an air of tradition and warmth - a stark contrast to the lobby's massive sliding glass door, which leads guests to an austere reception area.
Playing with the contrast between old and new, the soaring white-painted ceiling and rustic wood beams of the original old farmhouse tower over a sleek bar. The lounge, all black and right angles with high-tech light fixtures that change shape and colour as the night goes on, looks out upon the windmill.
This is true of guest rooms as well: The architects ensured that even rooms that don't face the windmill itself will see its reflection in the glass of the opposing squat rectangular building.
THE AMENITIES The room key (touted as a "personal assistant" for hotel guests) is an iPod Touch. In addition to providing Internet access, radio and video clips about the hotel and city, it communicates with the hotel's glam vending machines, which are stocked with everything from full-sized bottles of fine champagne and recordable CDs to more usual bar-fridge fare such as candy and juice. No coins necessary and no annoying humming appliance in your room.
Guests can pop their iPods into plush white bathrobes and head into the cave-like spa. Hours are limited, but appointments are available for manicure, pedicure, facial or massage. Otherwise, there's an eclectic assortment of tools for relaxation and renewal on offer including an infrared light room, a hot/cold foot bath, a hammam and two relaxation areas. A very small fitness room offers a handful of cardio machines and a pair of yoga balls.
THE ROOMS Standard rooms soothe the eye with minimal modern design. Warm grey walls contrast with pure white cozy duvets (which are a notch below luxurious and a bit skimpy in size). Oddly, all beds are singles that can be pushed together or pulled apart.
Contemporary orange chairs add a pop of colour and provide guests with a spot from which to examine the windmill from the window or a large photographic image (such as a woman's navel or a flower) transferred onto a floor-to-ceiling glass wall between the beds and bathroom. Although this glass wall visually expands the otherwise compact space, such transparency can be unnerving for those who prefer a little more privacy. And the soothing overhead rain showers are an example of form over function: There is no place to put soap or shampoo.
The single touch-screen control panel for all lights and room temperature works well.
The hotel's suites have each been designed by a different local artist. Quirky elements range from the placement of the soaker tub directly in front of the bed to a candy-floss blue wall of virtual bubbles in a suite, popular with honeymooners, dubbed the "Barbie room."
SERVICE Ranges from cool to indifferent. When the front desk was alerted that there was no hot water in the room, a key was provided for the room next door. Apparently the hotel made no attempt to rectify the problem for the second night, and staff made no acknowledgment of the inconvenience of having to shower in another room.
FOOD The buffet breakfast included for all guests (fruit, cereal, yogurt, cold pastries, meats and cheeses), while not terrible, is an insult to Belgium's epicurean reputation. The breakfast attendant will make you a fine buttery omelette if you ask, but don't expect a smile. There are future plans to add a restaurant, but for now free taxi service is provided for guests to enjoy the restaurants in town.
THE VERDICT Stunning design and reasonable prices make this a great option for day trippers. The iPod-as-personal-assistant is cool, but must the staff also be robotic?
Special to The Globe and Mail
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