Spa and away in Belgium: A detox retreat to dream of

  • Spa Retreat La Foret is a de-stressing hideaway set an hour outside Brussels
  • It lies inside the Hoge Kempen National Park, so is a great base for cycling
  • Jane Alexander checks in for a long weekend, and comes out feeling revived 

How do you persuade a man to go on a spa break? A Belgian hotel may have the answer. Domaine La Butte Aux Bois has opened Spa Retreat La Forêt, with gym, spa and 20 new rooms. The only thing that’s fluffy is the towels.

The new extension, a low-rise monolith in grey, black, white and stone, shouts stern machismo. The moment I arrive at my room, I realise I should have brought a chap. The dull gold door is so heavy I can barely open it.

Inside, I’m ensconced in the penumbra of a forest glade — with swathes of wall and even the voile curtains in black tones. It’s a muscular palette.

Masculine tones: Spa Retreat La Foret has a manly feel, with lots of shades of brown and black

The Spartan-luxe aesthetic works perfectly for the spa. The large sauna and hammam are ‘dress code free’ (be prepared for naked bodies) and you can give each other the shivers with matching ice bucket showers. The pool is built for lengths, not lounging.

La Butte aux Bois is set in the Hoge Kempen National Park (Belgium’s only national park) so you can walk or cycle through well-marked paths.

If you fancy flexing your muscles personal coach Ingmar Harthoorn will take you out for a woodland bootcamp. Yoga might seem a more laidback option, but I stagger away from my early morning class aching all over.

Detox menus and calorie-counting are anathema here — La Butte is so foodie that even its spa menu (lunch only) comes with champagne. Its casual dining restaurant, Le Bistrot, majors in local produce with fancy flourishes.

A leafy delight: Spa Retreat La Foret sits inside Belgium's Hoge Kempen National Park

A leafy delight: Spa Retreat La Foret sits inside Belgium’s Hoge Kempen National Park

Meanwhile La Source is a Michelin-starred gastronomic explosion. 

The spa treatments are perfectly pleasant but the real draw is dermatologist Dr Yolande Bullens-Goessens. Warm, friendly and deeply reassuring, she uses injectables (a touch of hyaluronic acid here, a little Botulinum there) lightly — ‘So you look natural, as if you’ve just had a really great weekend.’

And, even without a man, I have.


Domaine La Butte aux Bois (, 0032 89 739 770) offers a three-day/two-night package from £664 pp, full-board, based on two sharing. Includes access to spa and eight set treatments each. Brussels airport is a one-hour drive away.