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Pack your bags: an insider’s guide to Antwerp

When assessing the qualities of Belgium’s biggest cities, a fixed formula is widely accepted: Brussels is synonymous with Europe, Ghent is a medieval masterpiece and Antwerp has always fallen back on its design-nous. It may be both the diamond capital of the world and the largest city in Flanders, but Antwerp’s notoriety for producing some of the most renowned names in fashion has been its primary lure to outsiders for a while. This is, after all, the birthplace of the respected collective the Antwerp Six, not to mention the city in which the talent of a young Martin Margiela was cultivated. Beyond it’s compact, yet concentrated fashion district lies a city brimming with rich culture. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts may be closed for renovations until 2017, but in the meantime there’s the Museum Vleeshuis, Rubenshuis and a thriving contemporary art scene to keep visitors entertained. Bordered to the west by the river Scheldt, the city’s skyline is a medley of gothic spires and more modern landmarks by the likes of Richard Rogers, Robbrecht en Daem and Le Corbusier. Take a step inside this much under-hyped city via our four part series; you might like what you see. This week, we take a look at hotels.

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Hotel Julian
Spanning two 16th century townhouses in the heart of the city, Hotel Julien effortlessly combines contemporary interiors with original architectural details. The hotel’s 21 rooms are vast and feature the soaring ceilings that characterize this part of town, as well as mammoth beds (lined in custom Egyptian percale linens, no less) and bathrooms boasting freestanding tubs. Indulgent breakfasts and a basement spa make this luxe bolthole unmissable.
Korte Nieuwstraat 24, T 32 3 229 06 00, www.hotel-julien.com

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The Apartment
The latest addition to Graanmarkt 13 — which encompasses a restaurant, a concept store and a gallery space — The Apartment occupies a traditional townhouse, which has been reworked by Vincent Van Duysen. Divided over two floors, the stylish dwelling includes four bedrooms, two bathrooms, one living room, a kitchen and a rooftop garden with beehives that provides the herbs and honey that chef Seppe Nobels uses in his dishes in the restaurant. If it feels like home, that’s because it once was: to the owners of Graanmarkt 13 Tim Van Geloven and Ilse Cornelissens, who literally packed up just their clothes when they left. The duplex apartment is available to rent as a whole.
Graanmarkt 13, www.graanmarkt13.be

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Hotel De Witte Lille
Comprising just 10 rooms and suites, De Witte Lelie (The White Lily) is one of Antwerp’s many gems. Floral courtyards, roaring fires, beamed ceilings and bathroom amenities by Hermes all neatly mingle to amount to thoroughly luxurious accommodation, spread across three 17th century buildings. The Bronze Bar draws in guests and locals alike, while personal guides and shoppers are on-hand to complete the luxe experience.
Keizerstraat 16, T 00 32 3 226 19 66; www.dewittelelie.be

Tomorrow: Where to eat in Antwerp

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