That special time of the year – Valentine’s Day – is fast approaching and you may be thinking of treating your loved one to an equally special treat.
If so, then you’d do well do consider a trip to the seaside to demonstrate your affection.
There’s one place that’s less than an hour’s drive from Brussels and undoubtedly ticks all the boxes. Hotel De Blanke Top has just recently reopened after a major facelift that’s designed to keep it at the cutting edge of the tourist trade.
Brilliantly located directly overlooking the North Sea at Cadzand-Bad, just over the Belgian-Dutch border, the hotel partly reopened last May after a six-month closure during which it underwent a major refurbishment.
No less than 50 per cent of its guests come from Belgium and Germans also make up a sizeable proportion of visitors. Perhaps surprisingly, only a relatively small number are from The Netherlands itself but one challenge for the owners is to try and attract more Brits.
It seems word is yet to spread to Blighty about the wonderful charms of this place but, if word tends to travel fast, then that may soon change.
After May’s reopening, the latest additions are a fantastic wellness/spa centre – said to be the biggest in a hotel in the whole of the country – and a brasserie.
In a nod to the past, this is named after Henriette who, with husband Nico, took over the ‘hotel-café restaurant’ in 1964 from the previous decade. Daughter Monique, her son René, and his wife Brigitte transformed the place into an elegant hotel. Today, it is run by the third generation of the same de Milliano family. They are 35-year-old Anne-Laure (very ably assisted by her Antwerp-born husband Olivier) and sister Kimm, aged 38.
Anne-Laure and Olivier met while studying in Antwerp and, with Kim, they have set about taking this well-established hotel, surrounded by the golden dunes of the Zealand coast and just 3km from the Belgian border, to the next level.
The number of well-appointed and spacious guest rooms, with panoramic windows, has also been vastly increased, from 51 last May to 93 (a good number with sea views). The superb 1,400 square metre wellness boasts an enviable selection of fine facilities, including family pool, several saunas with lovely views of the adjacent beach, treatment rooms and a small gym.
There are also a couple of restaurants, the aforementioned brasserie named after Henriette, and also gourmet restaurant Le Sommet which offers fine dining.
Here, there is a choice of either a set menu (the price depends in the number of courses) and also an a la carte option featuring some great dishes and specialities from the nearby North Sea such as shrimps and sole.
The mouth-watering rib eye steak, dry aged for eight weeks, is another recommendation and customer favourite. There’s also an excellent selection of great wines to accompany the lovely cuisine.
Everything is overseen in the kitchen by head chef Martin Philipse, aged 40, who is local and has been a mainstay at the hotel for some years.
Dishes are inspired from traditional French modern cuisine and Martin says the aim is to “be as creative as possible”.
A number of staff have worked here for several years – always a good sign in the fast-changing horeca trade – and they include the head waiter who’s worked at De Blanke Top for nearly three decades. His locally-born colleague Patrick Corijn cannot claim such longevity (in his case, it’s four years) but, like everyone else working here, he’s very friendly and, in his case, particularly knowledgeable about the locale (always useful if you’re after tips on what to do).
Patrick, for instance, informs you of one little-known fact about the hotel: part of the construction was used as a bunker in the 2nd World War. He is also sommelier for the hotel’s “Wine House” that has a selection of wines from the world’s finest vineyards.
Another new feature is the underground car park, a particularly useful addition (which was also legally required by a regional Dutch law). The very spacious parking space is environmentally-friendly and whisks you from your vehicle to the reception (where all guests are offered a welcoming drink) in no time at all.
This is situated in the “new” part of the hotel which has, in effect, been built from scratch. The older part did not escape the upgrade though with big improvements to about 26 rooms taking place there too.
If you’ve visited this charming establishment in the past chances are that, such is the fantastic job done during the refurbishment, you may not recognise it.
But, while there have been multiple changes (first started back in 2016) one thing that has not altered since Henriette’s day is the warm welcome offered to guests.
Kim says that, bearing in mind that she and Ann-Laure are still relatively young, they decided to throw themselves into the hotel improvement work despite realising that it was a “huge undertaking.”
Visitors will, surely, not fail to be impressed by the contemporary and elegant new look.
The go-ahead young owners are not ones to rest on their laurels though and are currently hoping to finalise plans for construction work on a fifth floor housing a cocktail bar. It is hoped this may open later this year.
The hotel is close to the 10,000 hectares Zwin Nature Reserve and Sluis, a gastronomic fortified city, with some great cycling to be had also.
The owners and their hard working team are currently taking a well-earned winter break and the hotel is closed for six weeks.
But it re-opens, yes, you guessed it, on 14 February just in time for Valentine’s Day.
The good news is that, for those thinking of treating a loved one this year, the reception remains open (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri).
Actually, with so much to offer and all at a very reasonable cost, you really need no particular reason to visit this grand old dame of the Dutch coast.
It’s less than a couple hours’ drive from Brussels and makes for a real treat – whatever time of the year.