New Luxury in Antwerp

From its fashion prowess to its exciting restaurant scene, there’s a lot to love about Antwerp. The return of cultural landmarks—The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp and MoMu fashion museum are showing off major makeovers—means there’s never been a better time to visit. It’s said that more than 80 percent of the world’s rough diamonds pass through Antwerp. And now a trio of glittering new hotels are raising the luxe factor in the world’s diamond capital. Here’s a look.

Years in the making, the highly anticipated Botanic Sanctuary Antwerp was officially launched in summer 2022 after a soft opening phase. A member of The Leading Hotels of the World, Botanic Sanctuary occupies an important heritage site: A medieval monastery complex adjacent to the city’s botanical gardens. 

The first property in Antwerp to be awarded the “5 star superior classification” by Tourism Flanders, the Botanic Sanctuary is all about the superlatives. Take, for example, the dining concepts: There isn’t just one Michelin-starred restaurant. There’s a total of three starred establishments—Hertog Jan (two stars), Fine Fleur (one), Het Gebaar (one)—alongside two fine dining venues: 1238 and Bar Bulot. Named for the botanist Henri-Ferdinand van Heurck, Henry’s Bar is a scene even in the middle of the afternoon.

Botanic Sanctuary Antwerp
Botanic Sanctuary Antwerp is set in a medieval monastery complex adjacent to the city’s botanical gardens.  (Botanic Sanctuary Antwerp)

Then there’s the whiskey experience housed in the centuries-old vaulted cellar. Only open to guests of the Botanic Sanctuary and members of the Scotch whisky investors’ club, The Unprecedented provides access to the world’s rarest single malt Scotch whiskies.

And the Botanic Health Spa—spanning three floors—combines comprehensive wellness programs (detox or immunity boosters, anyone?) with a top-notch gym overseen by Ingmar Harthoorn ([email protected]), a former professional athlete who’s now the Botanic Sanctuary’s director of sports. Take part in training sessions and group classes to boost your fitness levels. For assistance with the extensive spa menu, contact Xavier Le Clef ([email protected]), who’s been practicing acupuncture, Chinese energetic medicine, osteopathy, kinesiology and physiotherapy for 25 years. If booking a treatment, allow extra time to enjoy the expansive wet facilities: swimming pool, Finnish sauna with herbal infusions, Kneipp walk, ice fountain, Himalayan salt stone sauna, steam bath, foot reflexology baths, and more.

The 108 guestrooms are spread across five buildings with a large variety of room categories—from Comfort and Deluxe to the Junior Suite and Grand Suite. Some rooms are equipped with terraces. A special shout out to the Spa & Healthness Suite and Diamond Spa Suite, which come with private spa treatment spaces with Finnish sauna, whirlpool, massage table, and Technogym exercise bike. For VIP booking requests, reach out to Sandrine Versavel ([email protected]), director of sales.

Botanic Sanctuary Antwerp
The Henry’s Bar at Botanic Sanctuary Antwerp offers a selection of wines, spirits and liqueurs, and a menu of classic cocktails and signature drinks that changes every month.  (Botanic Sanctuary Antwerp)

Interested in diving into Antwerp’s fashion scene? The head concierge, Philippe Thomas ([email protected]), can arrange for personal shoppers to take you for private shopping in luxury stores (like Delvaux, Louis Vuitton, Oger, Breitling). Or culture’s more your thing? The team can arrange private, behind-the-scenes tours in the city’s top museums. And if you’re looking to plan or host a wedding or private event, there’s ample conference space and even a 15th-century chapel on site.

Another buzzworthy new property can be found in this historic city center. Behind a discreet green door on Korte Nieuwstraat, the Hotel Flora offers an exclusive hospitality experience that’s an immersion in art and design. This luxury boutique hotel was the result of a two-year renovation project of a 15th-century merchant’s house, orchestrated by famed interior architect Gert Voorjans, whose career has spanned interior design projects (such as the Dries Van Noten flagship stores) and home furnishings (such as the 2018 collection of fabrics for Jim Thompson). Voorjans decorated with elegance and panache, imbuing the Hotel Flora with the feel of a private connoisseur’s home. The entrance via vegetation-lined pathway enhances the feeling of exclusivity, as does the secret courtyard garden. What we love: Artist Nils Verkaeren painted vibrant works directly on the walls.

Hotel Flora
Hotel Flora has the feel of aprivate connoisseur’s home.  (Hotel Flora)

Hotel Flora has seven guestrooms, each individually decorated with unique color palettes and named for precious gemstones. A standout in the Agate room is the historical Chinese pagoda, one of only two in the country, built during the 17th century when maritime merchants were inspired by styles they discovered on overseas expeditions. Bath products are made by a perfumer exclusively for the hotel, and an artisan also crafts the divine passionfruit chocolates served at turndown. Two rooms—the Amethyst and Aquamarine—are equipped with both bath tubs and showers. Note that some rooms, like the spacious Terra, sprawling across the entire second floor, are accessed by narrow stairs. Also note that Hotel Flora is for adults only. The property can be completely privatized, in which case there is no restriction on guest age. Reach out to Pieter Robert ([email protected]), the affable manager, for assistance with VIP bookings. 

From the warm madeleines served straight from the oven to the luxurious Belgian mattresses, there’s a real attention to detail here. There’s also a high level of service. Pieter and his team can arrange a number of exclusive experiences for guests: a ride in a vintage airplane over Antwerp, private boat trip through the port, an underground adventure into the city’s medieval pipes and canals. Note that Hotel Flora does not have a restaurant, but private chefs can be arranged.

Hotel Flora
Hotel Flora is the result of a two-year renovation project of a 15th-century merchant’s house,orchestrated by famed interior architect Gert Voorjans. (Hotel Flora)

Newly opened in May, Sapphire House—operated by the Odyssey Hotel Group—is the first Belgian member of the Marriott Autograph Collection. The setting, connected by a hidden passage to the historical Handelsbeurs Stock Exchange, is a standout. The hotel comprises three buildings, including what was known in the 16th century as the “Great Ruby”—a reference to Antwerp’s central role in the gem trade. Beautifully renovated by craftsmen and designers over five years, the hotel is rich in décor conjuring the Golden Age of Antwerp: timber beams, 18th-century fireplaces, gold Rococo ornamentation, grand staircases. (The Stock Exchange was also recently renovated and serves as a one-of-a-kind events venue.)

Sapphire House Antwerp
Sapphire House Antwerp has 139 guestrooms. Shown here is a Diamond Suite. (Sapphire House Antwerp)

The architecture isn’t the only way Sapphire House connects to its setting. From fashion to art, the hotel channels Antwerp’s spirit. The reception staff wear uniforms by Essential, the Antwerp-based fashion house; KAAI handbags are showcased throughout the hotel; and in a collaboration with the MoMu fashion museum, there’s a dress display by Dries Van Noten in one of the salons. There are also jewelry displays by Antwerp brand Wouters & Hendrix.

Noteworthy: Sapphire House is the first Marriott hotel in the world with a plant-based culinary approach. These vegetarian restaurants, WILDn and the more casual PLANTn, are managed by Michelin two-star chef Bart De Pooter. Seasonal menus feature ingredients sourced from the chef’s garden and local farmers. The hotel also prioritizes sustainability through eco-friendly packaging and cleaning practices.

The 139 guestrooms, each individually configured, exude local touches. On the wall: an original work by late Antwerp photographer Marc Lagrange from his last shoot in the Stock Exchange. At check in, you’ll find a black velours pouch on the bed, stuffed with Swarovski gemstones. Channeling the heritage of the stock exchange, you can trade these in at the bar for a surprise welcome drink. Complimentary minibars are stocked with local, plant-based items. The top room category is the Brilliant Diamond Suite (there are four) and the Diamond Junior Suites (five) are also highly requested. Note that there are seven connecting rooms for families traveling together. For VIP bookings, reach out to Margo Peeters ([email protected]), sales and marketing manager. The general manger is Anne Ludmann, whose 20 years experience in luxury hospitality includes managing a host of boutique hotels in Paris.

Sapphire House Antwerp
Sapphire House Antwerp is situated in a 16th-century building and its décor pays tribute to Golden Age of Antwerp. (Sapphire House Antwerp)

For guests interested in learning about the Stock Exchange, the Sapphire House offers daily morning tours. For deeper insights, the hotel works with acclaimed local guide and author Tanguy Ottomer, whose expert knowledge brings history to life. In fact, the hotel even pays homage to the guide with the Ottomer Library, situated on the ground floor.

Cool Creativity

From art to fashion, Antwerp, Belgium’s biggest port city is a hotbed of creativity. It was the Antwerp Six who first put the city on the global fashion map. Comprising Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee and Dirk Van Saene, this avant-garde group of designers graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1980-81. Indeed the fashion department is recognized as one of the world’s most prestigious programs, evoking originality while also instilling a respect for technical skill, craftsmanship and exceptional materials. Today the Royal Academy’s graduates continue to make waves, and a new generation of young, talented designers has cemented the city’s fashion-forward reputation. 

The Royal Museum of Fine Arts         aNtwerp
The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (here and below) reopened in September. (Karin Borghouts)

A trip to Antwerp isn’t complete without a trip to the MoMu fashion museum, which reopened in autumn 2022 after a major renovation. (The museum completed an initial makeover in September 2021, but was forced to close again at the end of January 2022 for extra work.) On the ground floor, an exhibition from the museum’s permanent collection of more than 38,000 items sheds light on trendsetting Belgian and international fashion. Expect an exciting program of temporary exhibitions, such as the current “Mirror Mirror: Fashion and the Psyche,” an intriguing look at the interconnections between fashion, psychology, self-image and identity. 

Antwerp is also a mecca for art, and The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA) is not to be missed. Reopened in September after an ambitious renovation that spanned more than a decade, the museum showcases an impressive collection of Old Masters and modern art alongside contemporary works commissioned by the museum and created in situ. 

Antwerp is known as a mecca for art. (Sanne De Block)

Note that the Rubenshuis (Rubens House), a popular museum in the great artist’s former home, will close for renovations in January 2023, to reopen in 2027 for the 450th anniversary of Rubens’ birth. Top Tip: The Antwerp City Card, which you can purchase online, is an efficient and cost-effective way to see the city’s major attractions and museums. (You present the QR code to get a ticket at a given venue’s entrance; sometimes it’s best to book a free time slot online in advance.) Keep in mind that KMSKA tickets must be booked separately.

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