The words ‘eco’ and ‘spa’ in the same sentence tend to conjure up images of smug yogis sipping green juices. But not so at eco-chic Spa Retreat La Forêt in Lanaken, Belgium. Here, guests are just as likely to be seen sampling the wide range of fine wines, or tucking into a Michelin-starred feast at the on-site La Source restaurant.
Set on the grounds of an 11-hectare country estate at the edge of the Hoge Kempen National Park, La Forêt is the latest feather in the cap of family-run hotel Domaine La Butte aux Bois. The spa’s eco credentials come from the building itself, with sustainable materials used where possible and numerous measures in place to maximise energy efficiency. All of which makes it sound terribly worthy, but none of it comes at the detriment of design. In fact, the ultra-modern and stylish architecture was the first thing I noticed when we arrived. My partner whispered that it looked like the swish lair of a James Bond villain – he wasn’t exaggerating.
As for the newly opened 1,350sqm spa, La Forêt (meaning ‘the forest’) draws inspiration from the surrounding scenery. The indoor pool is particularly striking, looking out as it does onto views of the National Park through huge, inviting windows. Despite a forecast for storms, we were treated to a weekend of Belgian sunshine. We sunned ourselves on the terrace, before taking long soaks in the outdoor Jacuzzi (it’s covered, in case the weather doesn’t hold).
Signature treatments include reflexology, JetPeel facials and even some aesthetic cosmetic procedures in the form of Botulinum toxin injections, chemical peels, or Hyaluronic acid injections. I wasn’t ready to give injectables a go just yet, but I was intrigued by the JetPeel option with its promise of a clear complexion.
My therapist was quick to assure that it wouldn’t hurt, but neither was it going to be your typical facial experience – no dimly lit room with the scent of ylang ylang wafting about here. Instead, I was shown into a pristine white room with a chair that reminded me vaguely of the dentist. A very nice dentist, granted. The boxy machine next to me was equally clinical, adorned with brown glass vials of liquid vitamins lined up neatly on top. Once the treatment started, the noise of the medical grade oxygen and water blasting at my face (speed: 200m per second) meant that small talk was not an option. 60 minutes later, I emerged a new woman – well, not quite – but my partner did say that I looked “radiant”.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the stay for both of us was the evening meal at La Source. A seven-course extravaganza paired with out-of-this-world wines, it was an experience that played to all of Domaine La Butte aux Bois’ strengths: unpretentiousness, quality, and Instagram appeal. It goes without saying that presentation is key at Michelin-starred restaurants, but how many are playful enough to serve you an amuse-bouche camouflaged amongst shiny black stones? Or in a test tube for that matter. Or on a polished piece of sliced rock. By the time Chef Ralf Berendsen came out with the coffees, we were enamoured. The dining room broke out into applause, and I wish, how I wish, I could have shouted “Encore!”
Domaine La Butte aux Bois, Paalsteenlaan 90, 3620 Lanaken, Belgium
Tel: +32 89 73 97 70
The hotel is easily accessible by car from Belgium via the E314 and from the Netherlands via the A2/E25. The closest airports are Masstricht via the E314, 20km away and approx. a 15-minute drive and Liège via the E313/N78, 46km away and approx. 30 mins by car. Brussels is about an hour’s drive via the E314 and 107km away.
Type of Hotel: 4-Star Hotel
Number Rooms: 59 rooms spread across three buildings with complimentary Wi-Fi
If you’d like a bathtub, opt for one of the 10 ground floor ‘Ambiance’ rooms. The first floor ‘Expérience’ rooms have a double shower instead.
Price Band: Medium
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10
Theresa Harold is Editor at PretAirpoter.com and Founder of CoolSideOfThePillow.net. She writes about travel, hospitality, fashion, food and drink — all the good things in life.
Photographs by Theresa Harold