CHANGE UNIVERSE: Magazine Jewels
Brussels | HotelDecember 5, 2009

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Sir Rocco Forte is an elegant, charming and handsome man. He was born in Bournemouth on 18 January 1945, educated at Downside School in England and read modern languages at Pembroke College, Oxford. He qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1969, and became a Fellow in 1979. Sir Rocco chaired and led Forte Plc, a company founded by his father, Lord (Charles) Forte, in 1934.

During his time at Forte, Sir Rocco had responsibility for more than 800 hotels, 1,000 restaurants and almost 100,000 employees in 50 countries around the world. As Chairman, Sir Rocco transformed Forte from a UK operation to an international hotel player based on the Meridien chain and a collection of luxury hotels including the George V in Paris, the Sandy Lane in Barbados, the Ritz in Madrid and the Plaza Athénée in New York. Forte Plc was sold in 1996 following a hostile take-over bid and has since been broken up.

His latest venue is creating a collection of hotels; each with its own personality, reflecting location and nationality and as members of the The Rocco Forte Collection brand, they share a high priority for stylish design and attention to detail, exemplary levels of service delivery as well as the latest technology. All have exercise facilities and several of them have sizable spas and health clubs. The restaurants within the hotels have their own identities and serve food of the highest standards to both guests and local residents.

The Rocco Forte Collection includes the Hotel de Russie in Rome, The Balmoral in Edinburgh, Hotel Astoria in St Petersburg, Hotel Amigo in Brussels, Hotel Savoy in Florence, The Lowry Hotel in Manchester, Le Richemond in Geneva, Brown's Hotel in London, Villa Kennedy in Frankfurt, Hotel De Rome in Berlin, The Charles Hotel in Munich, The Augustine in Prague and Verdura Golf & Spa Resort in Sicily.

Among those, the one I would like to feature today is the Hotel Amigo, located next to The Grand Place in Brussels,  one of the Europe's most beautiful squares, close to the famous Sablon antique district and a myriad restaurants and bars. The original building predates 1522 when it was bought by the city council from a wealthy merchant family and turned into a prison.

The Spanish rulers at the time mistook the Flemish for prison to mean "friend" and translated this into their own language as "Amigo". The irony of this misunderstanding seems to have pleased the people of Brussels and the name has been retained.  The building was re-built as a hotel by the Blaton family in 1957 for the Universal Exhibition in 1958.

On January 11th 2000, the hotel was acquired by Sir Rocco Forte as part of his exclusive chain of luxury hotels in various parts of Europe. Following the purchase, the hotel has undergone a complete refurbishment restoring it to its former glory. It features fresh modern interiors whilst retaining its character and charm, making it the best luxury hotel in the city.  The redesign was overseen by the stylish eye of the renowned Olga Polizzi, Rocco Forte's sister and the Collection’s Director of Design.

Historic artifacts displayed on the premises include canvases from famous artists such as Courtens, Dansaert and Wagemans together with paintings by the Dutch and Italian schools. Flemish wall tapestries from the 18th century and the authentic paving stones in the lobby, which were originally used in the surrounding streets, help create the special charm and character of this place.

"As with all properties in my Collection," Rocco says, "you will find the services at the Hotel Amigo courteous, warm, friendly and efficient, with our staff ready to respond to your every need." Having said that I decide to meet some friends who came to visit me in the city at the Amigo's Italian restaurant Bocconi to check it out personally.

The traffic is intense, it's the holiday season and there is no place to park. After dinner we intend to have a walk at the illuminated Grand Place. I leave my car with the superbly elegant hotel doorman.

The hallway is charming.  There is an old flair atmosphere reflected by the old tapestries, the oak furniture at the reception desk  and the aligned red velvet armchairs all resting on polished dark grey ardoise floor. I feel welcomed back into an indulgent atmosphere of a few centuries in history. The restaurant is at our left.  I am waiting for my friends who are also staying at the hotel.

The contemporary atmosphere of the main room is lively, the walls are a bright yellow, and enhanced with several black and white Fornasetti plates. Dedicated to the delights of Italian cuisine, Ristorante Bocconi has received a number of awards and rates as one of the best places to eat in Brussels.

As per suggestion of the chef Vincenzo Regina, we choose a special treat.  The new menu has been compiled in association with  Fulvio Pierangelini, the best known chef in Italy, who preaches “simplicity is the most important thing in the kitchen."

Like so many of today’s leading chefs, Fulvio is happy to pass on his knowledge and expertise to others and acts as an art culinary advisor to the hotels of the Rocco Forte Collection. Today’s menu combines the best products from Italy and Belgium to please all lovers of fine cuisine.

After dinner I ask my friends to join me by the bar for a digestive tea and some Belgian Speculose .

A selection of tarts, waffles and miniardises (savouries) are displayed on a tray. The waiters suggests a range of fine teas from the legendary french tea house “Mariage Frères”, we ask for mulled wine, a digestif and a glass of champagne.

I can't avoid noticing the elegant tones of greys of the pillows and their marvelous embroidery, scrupulously matched with silk upholstered sofas, the lighting fixtures, the furniture ensuring an overall  "modern-traditional"  accent.

The 194o's look of the low chairs in black wood and cherry leather seats, the drink menu on impeccable, thick cream handmade Verge paper, cozy round  mirrored low tables, the authentic 1950's bar built of superbly polished steel pass firmly Rocco's family great tradition of stylish five-star comfort and excellence in the “hotel industry”.

I ask the waiter if he could introduce me the general manager of the hotel as I was interested in checking out the new 90 meter apartment for some friends. In less that 10 minutes, a young and charismatic lady comes my way with a folder in her hand and a courteous smile. Her name is Delphine de Kinder. I explain that I would like to visit the rooms and she offers personally to take my friends and me for a tour of the hotel  including the spectacular Magritte suite. The ones not presently available I could visit during the daytime tomorrow.

Delphine tells me that the Rocco Forte Hotel Amigo has been offering one of the most beautiful suite in Brussels, The Blaton Suite since its “rebirth” in 2002.  Following the success received during these years, the Hotel Amigo has desired to offer to its clients a new Suite, the sister of the Blaton Suite -- more intimate, personalized with a soul. The atmosphere is truly authentic as a tiny private apartment.

The Suite pays homage to the leader of surrealism but also to one of the major artists of the XX century, René Magritte. Also focusing on an important collection of local artworks and rooms named after Belgian celebrities such as Hergé or Brel, the Hotel Amigo wants to stay close to the identity of the country.

In the meantime, my camera is wild taking close macro views on so many delicate and thoughtful details. Heart-shaped cherry flavored chocolates from  Marcolini, celebre Belgian maison of luxury goods in leather Delvaux, Belgian artists' drawings and lithographs, beautiful artistically embroidery details on curtains, pillows, carpets and upholstered comfortable armchairs.

Delphine confides to me proudly that famous antique district Le Sablon has inspired family designer Olga Polizzi to make her selection from among the best warm colored cottons and Brussels linens

The 90 square meter Magritte Suite is situated on the third floor, offering a beautiful view over the typical Brussels’ streets and the Grand-Place.

Its large windows also ensure the suite natural light all designed and decorated with elegance. After a refurbishment, which has taken 3 months and cost 150,000 Euros, the Magritte Suite is ready to invite guests in love with refinement and coziness.

Special attention has been given to small details that make “The” difference: a selection of Magritte’s paintings, books from major writers and a bathroom with Tintin characters. The Magritte Suite’s guests can also enjoy high-speed Internet access, large flat-screen LCD televisions and DVD players in both the living room and the bedroom.

The architecture and welcoming atmosphere of the Amigo, together with its privileged position right in the heart of Brussels, the red brick façade of the hotel built in Spanish Renaissance style, fits perfectly into the architectural past and present of its surroundings.

With Christmas just around the corner, it is the moment to start planning a cozy family get together or a wonderful New Year’s Eve Dinner. I thank the sweet Delhine for her kindness and head to  Riccardo Fusari, the Head Concierge at the hotel who assures to me with elegant posture that he and his team will be able to assist -- personally and with pleasure -- any of my friends or guests should they make Brussels their choice for this year's holiday season.

I am told by his attentive assistant that on 24 December, guests of the Bocconi restaurant will enjoy a sumptuous five-course dinner created by new Executive Chef, Vincenzo Regine.  For Christmas Day, leave the hard work of the festive period at home and enjoy a delicious lunch and dinner Christmas menu. (see photos in the gallery)

The New Year’s Eve will also be exclusive this year with a stunning musical programme. In the Bocconi restaurant and the prestigious “Salon Ambassadeur” guests will try the ultimate culinary experience prepared by passionate Executive Chef Vincenzo Regine while listening to Aldo Granato and his friends.

From the 21st of December to the 6th of January, Rocco Forte’s Hotel Amigo proposes to enjoy the luxury and contemporary stylish rooms at special prices, from 185 euros per room.  Or discover Brussels with its “White Chocolate Christmas Magic”, a great weekend full of surprises at only 236 euros per room, per night, all subject to availability of course. White chocolate surprises for the new year, Magritte, Delvaux shopping and relaxing views from a spacious terrace over a magnificent Market Square, protected by the world patrimony of UNESCO.

How friendly that is?  Make your plans!

Joelle's Tips:

The hotel: Hotel Amigo Rue de l'Amigo 1 - 3, Brussels 1000, Belgium / Tel Tel: +32 2 547 4747 Fax: +32 2 513 5277 E-mail: reservations.amigo@roccofortecollection.com

The Hospitality Group: The Rocco Forte Collection

Some photos courtesy of : The Rocco Forte Collection and Philippe Derouet

Toll Free Numbers for Reservations : France 00 800 7666 6667  Germany 00 800 7666 6667   Italy 00 800 7666 6667 Russia* +7 812 494 5759   Switzerland 00 800 7666 6667  UK 00800 7666 6667 United States 1 888 61 888 667 9477

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