As is with many adventures in life, the most memorable experiences are often the ones we don’t plan. On a recent trip to Paris, I decided to add an excursion to my new favorite city, Antwerp. I left Paris via the Thalys on the 8 A.M. train and was in Antwerp just shy of two hours later. My arrival to the city felt like that of a dream — a snowy seaport with the most storied architecture.
While I had no hotel reservation, I did have several recommendations from practiced travelers, and decided upon Hotel Julien- idyllic in its location between two 16th century mansions. The intimate hotel welcomes guests with a stately entrance: authentic features effortlessly combined with contemporary furnishings leave an impression of grandeur that is solidified in the details of its guest accommodations. My room was draped floor to ceiling in navy linen, unlined and puddled, as only the Belgian’s can do.
After check-in and coming down from my design high, I headed to Axel Vervoordt’s incomparable Kanaal-a cultural and residential complex housed in a converted malting distillery in Wijnegem, a small town a few miles east of Antwerp.
Vervoordt’s Kanaal resides in a blurred intersection of architecture and nature; it is an inspiring mecca that words cannot describe. While there, I met designer Catherine Rochtus, who was kind enough to open her doors and host me for a studio tour. Her jewelry designs were exquisite and unlike anything I’d ever seen. The level of detail that wrapped each unique stone was par none — her designs simple, but not simplistic. The open room studio and gallery space (think neutral walls and concrete floors) created a perfect setting. The steel cased doors to Catherine’s workroom were designed by her husband, and while reminiscent of the steel doors we’re accustomed to seeing, it was the added level of detail on the door handle that truly made them a work of art. When you visit, make sure to have your taxi wait for you,as you’d be hard-pressed to find one for your return home.
When I arrived back in Antwerp, the heavy snow had blanketed the city in quiet, giving me unfettered access to the town’s restaurants and cafes. At the recommendation of Kay and Dixie from South of Market, I opted for Fiskebar. I dined as if I’d rented the place out just for myself. As with most places in Antwerp, the walls were a clean slate of plaster, almost completely absent of art. The service was warm, the food delicious, and the wine list extensive. I opted for the Schelpen & Schaaldieren (shells & shellfish, for those like me who had to ask) and highly recommend.
I was awakened the next morning by bright sunlight reflecting off of the crisp, white snow (peeking through the aforementioned drapery!). I began the day antiquing at Kloosterstraat Street. After sifting through beautiful found objects, I made my way to Graanmarkt 13 for lunch and a bit of shopping. Founded by Ilse Cornelissens and Tim Van Geloven, Graanmarkt 13 is a store, a restaurant and an apartment seamlessly woven together into a cohesive experience. I’d been following this creative endeavor for quite some time, but like so many things, their Instagram simply didn’t do it justice. Physically tired from two weeks of nonstop travel, I decided to schedule an afternoon at The Hotel Julien spa. The converted cellar, dim lighting, dripping water, plastered walls, and Belgian blue stone created an experience that was relaxing, harmonious and restorative, fueling me for the rest of my journey. I may be ruined after this spa experience, as I’m not sure many others compare.
Note: If visiting Antwerp in the winter, visit from Thursday until Sunday as many places are closed on Wednesday. On my list for my next trip back? The beloved, The Jane and the highly-anticipated August Hotel (a sister property to Hotel Julien).