Established in 1954, Relais & Châteaux is an association of more than 550 landmark hotels and restaurants operated by independent innkeepers, chefs and owners who share a passion for their businesses and a desire for authenticity in their relationships with their clientele. One such hotel is La Butte Aux Bois, a country estate hidden in the Hoge Kempen National Park in Belgium not far from the Dutch boarder.
The property was originally built for the knight, Sir Lagasse de Locht and his family, the property is now a luxury family owend and run four-star hotel with one Michelin star and 3 Gault & Millau Toques restaurants and a brand new beautifully designed spa that will fulfill any spa junkies wildest dreams! The hotel underwent a huge refurbishment and only recently reopened earlier in 2017, a new wing was added called ‘La Forêt’ which houses the Spa retreat and 20 modern rooms with views of the Hoge Kempen National Park. The original hotel is classic northern European country style architecture, whereas the new ‘La Forêt’ with its simple dark charcoals and greys married with smooth clean wood creates a stunning juxtaposition to the orginal house. Driving up to La Butte Aux Bois you are immedtaiely struck with the sharp modern exterior of ‘La Forêt’ as its dark exterior looms in the sunshine. I am a big fan of modern design that can encapture its surroundsings and they have triumphed here taking elements from the wood and beyond to a create a modern luxurious building that stands out but also magically works well with the orginal architecture of the hotel.
Greeted with a glass of Pommery Brut Royal upon arrival I could tell I was going to like this place! After checking in we were taken to our ‘La Forêt’ Expérience Room, a warm and naturally-styled room located on the first floor of the ‘La Forêt’ wing of the hotel. The room is designed in an open plan manner with only the double shower (suitable for two people with two rain shower heads) and toilet behind doors. With a large comfy bed facing the view over the Hoge Kempen National Park, flat screen TV, Nespresso machine and bathrobe and slippers this room makes for the perfect cocoon from which to use the rest of the facilities of the hotel from. What makes for a great hotel is an abundance of quality facilities and La Butte Aux Bois has outdone itself, not only with the new ‘La Forêt’ but also the fantastic options available to both guests and day visitors.
The Spa retreat comprises of Le Spa, Le Spa Terrasse, Le Gym and La Forêt. In Le Spa one will find a whole plethora of amenities from the super warm indoor pool to the panoramic sauna, Hammam, infrared duo seats to heal those aches and pains or the ice water area to wake up the soul. Le Spa Terrasse is a large area comprising of a covered terrace and covered outdoor jacuzzi, there is also space for meditation and yoga sessions. La Forêt Lounge and Terrasse also serves a stunning spa lunch designed to look after the vitality and health of one’s mind and body. However, it is the spa menu of treatments that really makes La Butte aux Boix a hotel and spa stand out from the crowd!
Dr Yolande Bullens-Goessens, the owner of La Butte Aux Bois with her husband, is a renowned dermatologist with access to the latest methods and developments in the field of aesthetic cosmetics. Through her experience and knowledge she has developed the spa area and treatment menus as well as the ‘La Forêt by Dr. Bullens’ medical beauty line with high-dose active ingredients sourced directly from nature and is paraben and silicone-free, not tested on animals, dermatologically tested, perfume-free and is non-comedogenic. These products are utilised with the ‘La Forêt by Dr. Bullen’ Signature facials, Dr. Bullens also offers such services as dermatological consultations, skin improvement, treatments of skin conditions, hyaluronic acid injections, botulinum toxin injections, chemical peels and anti-ageing treatments. This lady and her spa team, along with their bag of lotions and potions can revive anyone, irrespective of age or skin type, now thats what I call impressive! While at La Forêt and looking for something more physical then head to Le Gym where personal coach and former professional Sportsman Ingmar Harthoorn will put you through your paces with various activities such as Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, running, Nordic walking mountain biking.
Having experienced quite a few facials in my time I decided to opt for a treatment I had never seen or heard of before, needless to say I was intrigued. The Jetpeel, billed as a natural high-tech boost for your skin, promised to deliver rejuvenated skin with a clearer complexion, fewer wrinkles (always a plus) and an instant rosy radiance – sign me up! Unlike other facials at La Forêt which are conducted in the spa rooms the Jetpeel is administered in a more medical looking room that is used for the cosmetic procedures. I was shown in to the room where I laid on a “dentist type chair” which was lowered to sort of 45 degree angle and then the therapist cleansed my skin. Then the magic started to happen, first hyaluronic acid was jetted at my skin using air and water deep into my skin, this was followed by a concoction of vitamins that were blasted on to my face. With the help of the glycol and AHA fruit acids the JetPeel lowers the alkaline pH value of the skin, the skin is thus all prepared to absorb highly active jejuventing active ingredients. Each serum that was jetted on to my face stimulate collagen and elastin production thus supplying the cells with energy improving pigmentation, complexion and smoothes away fine wrinkles. After I was jetted with nuemerous vials of potion a highly concentrated collagen face mask waas applied and I was left to doze for about 20 mins in the dark. The therapist then came back and removed the mask massaging in the product into my face and then showed me the results in a mirror. Holy molly . . . now I know faces look better after a facial, cleaner, more rosy, but my face looked incredible! The skin was tighter, the colouration more vibrant and even in tone and the fine wrinkles around my eyes were noicably reduced, I was VERY impressed. As this treatment is highly effectve for a whole range of skin complaints from blemishes to wrinkles, rosacea to liver spots and spider veins there is not much this treatment cannot help. I for one would highly recommend it and just wished Dr Yolande Bullens-Goessens and her team were closer to my home!
So now looking like a 20 something version of me there is only on thing to do . . . flaunt it. So after a quick turnaround in the room we found ourselves at La Source, the hotel’s one Michelin star restaurant. Headed up by chef Chef Ralf Berendsen, who trained in award-winning restaurants both in Belgium and abroad, and who has ten years of experience running the kitchen in a Relais & Châteaux establishment. Gastronomy and great culinary aspirations go hand in hand with Ralf and the work he produces is both passionate and contemporary, using his classical background as the foundations for creating amazing dishes. The ambitious team at Restaurant ‘La Source’ operates under Kevin Vondenhoff as Maître. So with Chef Ralf behind the scenes and Kevin out front entertaining us this winning team presented a truly memorable meal. We started with “fingerfood”, there was nothing 70’s buffet about the food that was presented, from thai lobster bisque to octopus with a rice tuile, oyster with apple sorbet to a shot of mango with pistachio foam this food was boarding on science! My favourite by far was the foie gras with hazelnut and yuzu foam, a real contrast of flavours but melt in the mouth tasty. Up next was the hamachi and north sea crab with tomato, jalapeño and burrata, the turbot followed with a vin juane, cream of salty vegetables and chives and then for mains lamb (which I usually avoid) with green spices, ricotta and green peas had the texture of sous vide beef, a very pleasant surprise. To finish the chocolate Jivara lactee with raspberry, Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar and kalamansi then the vintage soy with sesame and caramel, and if that was not enough out came the petit fours. The food was truly gastronomic, the flavours and combinations were unique, well thought out and pleasing to the palate, the presentation was equally as wonderful, with each dish busting with colour and flair. What a wonderful way to cap off the day.
The area surrounding La Butte aux Bois is quite spectacular, from the relaxing gardens perfect for wandering or just sitting in and letting time pass by to the surrounding forest where one can hike, run or ride its 380km of trails in 5000 hectares of forest, there is something for everybody. The historic cities of Maastricht, Aachen, Liège are only a short car journey or for some therapy in the shape of retail, then the Maasmechelen Village Chic Outlet Shopping is not far away at all.
So if you want to escape from the humdrum of everyday life to detox the mind, body, soul and stomach then La Butte aux Boix is the complete package. From the setting in the forest to the architecture and interiors, the fine dining to extensive sports activities plus the vast array of treatments that one can experience at La Foret; you will not leave disappointed. Looking 10 years younger than when I stepped in my body was certainly thanking me! Leaving La Butte Aux Bois after only a short 48 hour trip I left feeling reenergised, reharmonized, refreshed, regenerated and recovered. With such a re(treat) so close to home whats not to love?
La Butte Aux Bois
Twenty new La Forêt Rooms offering two styles – Ambience or Experience –are located in the new Spa Retreat La Forêt building. Prices are from €325 per night based on two sharing on a room only basis. Double rooms are also available in the Manoir and the Villa buildings with prices from €218 to €495 including an extensive buffet breakfast. The Spa Retreat La Forêt offers an extensive selection of facial, body and beauty treatments and is set to become the leading specialist in dermatology for the treatment all skin types and age.
- 2-day short-stay package : €499 per person (2 sharing 1 night dbb in an Ambiance or Experience room) includes full access to all spa facilities, refreshments in the Spa Lounge, La Foret cocktail and, on Day One, a 15-minute neck, shoulder and back massage, a hydrating paraffin wrap for the hands or feet, an Ergoline tanning session and day make-up. On Day Two, enjoy a culinary lunch with one glass of wine, a hydrating body wrap and a basic facial treatment. 3-day/two night and 5-day/4-night packages are also available priced from €725 and €1349 respectively)
- Signature treatments are inspired by the power of nature drawn from its lovely situation enveloped by luxuriant woodland and the nature of Hoge Kempen, Belgium’s only National Park. Prices start from €99 for a La Forêt Honey Body Treatment or a La Forêt Herbal Compress (both 55 minutes). The La Forêt – A Dance of Healing and Harmony is €149 for 85 minutes and Signature Facials are start from €69 for a 45-minute anti-acne treatment. Minor beauty treatments start from €15.
- Dermatological Consultations are €50 per session (advance booking is essential) and cover advice on skin improvement and treatment procedures including hyaluronic acid and botulinum toxin injections, chemical peel and anti-aging practice.