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Monday, 24 January 2011 00:00
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Waterloo"> Flight-free European holidays

Monday, 24, Jan 2011 04:19

It is the site of a major historic event and has been immortalised in song. But have you ever thought of basing your flight-free Eurobreak in Waterloo?

About eight miles from Brussels (less than half an hour on the train from the Gare du Midi), Waterloo has long been in a strategic location on the Chaussée de Bruxelles.

In 1815 the Anglo-Allied coalition were trying to stop Napoleon from reaching the city and Waterloo was the last place to block him before he entered the Sonian forest and Brussels.

Trundling around the battlefield in a little open-sided touring vehicle, the fields move in a faint breeze: tall green corn and yellow wheat speckled with wildflowers.

La Haye Sainte farm has changed little since it was fortified by the Duke of Wellington's forces and was the focus of heavy fighting over the entire course of June 18th, changing hands several times.

It is strange to think of an ordinary family living here where such violent conflict took place. A combine harvester grumbles away a few field's distant.

I visited on a hot July day, climbing the 226 steps to view the surrounding farmland from the top of the Butte du Lion. Helpful orientation maps explaining the battle geography and telescopes are provided. The massive lion rests one front paw delicately on a sphere, signifying global victory.

The 43-metre-high (141ft) mound actually marks the spot where the Prince of Orange (William II of the Netherlands) was knocked from his horse by a musket ball in the shoulder.

It was completed in 1826 by the King of the Netherlands and according to Victor Hugo the Duke of Wellington was not impressed by the alteration to 'his' battlefield by the building of the mound when he visited a few years later. I'm not sure what he would make of the Waterloo Panorama, housed near the visitor's centre, a vast canvas painted by Louis Dumoulin 100 years after the battle. It all aids in understanding of this famous conflict.

Napoleon may have finally met his defeat here but these days Waterloo is a very prosperous, multi-cultural place, with many ex-pats drawn here by the international schools. It has also become a bit of a shopping drawcard, with free parking, attractive arcades and more shops every year.

And it is a great base from which to explore both the delights of Brussels and the local attractions, not least of which is the old coaching inn on the main street that Wellington commandeered as his headquarters and is now a fascinating little museum.

The best hotel in Waterloo is Martin's Grand Hotel, which is particularly well-known for its restaurant (and that's saying something in Belgium) with Lyonnaise chef Christophe Cornuez ruling the kitchen. The flickering candlelight under the brick arches of La Sucrerie is very atmospheric at night.

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Soft and stylish neutral shades with cheerful bright accents and decadently plump pillows and duvets make the very spacious bedrooms a pleasure at any time of day. Some rooms have a kitchenette, making them perfect for family breaks away.

Next door you will find a sister hotel - The Lodge - a three-star in the affordable range but with large rooms and still very chic in its décor; it shares the reception with The Grand Hotel.

The origins of the building go back to the 19th century, when attempts were made to establish a sugar refining operation. Construction started in 1836 but the business failed and since then a condensed milk factory, a farm and an astrakhan breeding house have all been operated on the site until at last it was rescued from obscurity by John Martin's hotel group in 1992. The hotel retains the traditional, elegant style of the original construction and the pillared and arched underground restaurant is something special.

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There is plenty of free parking and peaceful surroundings if you need a change from all that history, eating, drinking and shopping. Golfers can play at 11 golf clubs and fourteen 18-hole courses designed by different architects in the Brabant region and the hotel even offers a special golf package. Playing golf beside the battlefield of Waterloo - times have certainly chanaged.

By Natasha von Geldern

The 4* Grand Hotel Waterloo is run by Martin's Hotels, a family-owned group of 11 hotels in Belgium. See the website to book online at the best available rate and for Special Promotional Martin's Offers.

Read more travel features from Natasha about Belgium

Authors: The Latest From www.travelbite.co.uk

 

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