It’s not particularly hard to find a sustainable hotel in Brussels, Belgium.
The seat of the European Union (which has a special place in my heart for stringently regulating the use of toxic chemicals within its borders) has a unique melange of history and forward-thinking environmentalism. Combine that with an abundance of visiting diplomats and high-powered business people, and you’ll find some of the most luxurious and authentically eco-friendly businesses around.
For example, Brussels has its own business certification, called Ecodynamique. While it is cooperative with the popular international hospitality certification program Green Key, it is much more stringent: Ecodynamique has certified half as many hotels as Green Key. That’s a great place to start looking for a truly eco-friendly hotel.
One of those is the Stanhope Hotel Brussels by Thon Hotels, which I had the pleasure of staying at during my weekend visit to this beautiful city.
The Eco-Friendly Hotel Fairy
Because the Thon Hotel group is based in Norway, all of their hotels, including their five in Brussels, naturally have some basic sustainability elements. For example, all Thon Hotels have a nifty kickback: If you place a special hang tag on your door to indicate you don’t need to have your room made up, you’ll find a €5 voucher there, like a visit from the eco fairy. You can use it toward a drink at the bar, some food in the restaurant, toward a gift from the shops, or you can choose to donate your voucher to Good Planet, which teaches local kids about environmental responsibility and sustainability issues. Last year they distributed 1,500 vegetable garden kits from Thon Hotels in Brussels to local schools.
And since I’ve gotten into the habit of putting the “do not disturb” hanger on my door at all hotels (because, honestly, every day you need your room cleaned?) this was a lovely extra perk for something eco I already do!
The Stanhope is Brussel’s first five-star hotel, carved out of two antique residences, with an understated but luxurious interior that whispers comfort and elegance.
When I arrived (by train, though they do offer free parking and a charging station for your electric car) they were setting up for a small conference in the main area, filling multilevel stands with delectable pastries. I have never felt tempted to attend an unknown conference before, but this one looked incredibly swanky. (By the way, they provide reusable glass bottles of filtered still and sparkling tap water in all conference rooms, if you’re looking for a sustainable place to book your next upscale conference.)
I was shown to the President’s House wing where my suit was, a large, light-filled two-room oasis that made me seriously regret not bringing my husband along with me. It was incredibly romantic and pampering, with stuffed seating in the living area, a cloud-like bed, thick drapes to facilitate sleeping in, and a large desk where I set up my laptop to get some work done.
They’ve just refurbished all the rooms within the past six months. My room felt romantic and traditional, but there are different style rooms (such as the more masculine style) that repeat guests prefer and request.
So this is was it’s like to live like a rich European aristocrat, I thought to myself as I took stock of the little luxuries: both a coffee maker and electric kettle for tea, a mini bar of Belgian snacks (including organic juice from Pajottenlander), a full-sized ironing board and iron in the large closet, and a large umbrella for borrowing.
The closest I’ve come to this feeling of traditional luxury was the time I stayed in the iconic Carlyle Hotel in New York. The difference is that The Stanhope takes its sustainability seriously, albeit with an elegant flair. But it wasn’t until I was perusing the green tourism tips listed on a helpful card on the desk that I realized that a box under the desk that matched the rest of my room’s decor opened to be a two-chamber recycling bin!
The bathroom was well appointed, with large refillable bottles of Molton Brown hand soap and two types of shampoo in the shower/bathtub. I wish I had time to take a bath with the Morton brown bath salts! But never fear, they donate the unused toiletries to charity.
The Stanhope doesn’t just have one environmental manager – they have an entire Green Team composed of staff that regularly meets to share their progress, projects and ideas with each other.
They use eco-friendly cleaning products, offer free bike rental, and a rainwater harvesting system provides for the interior plants. They’ve recently installed a mini Insect Hotel outside for beneficial insects like lacewings, bees, ladybirds, and butterflies. Throughout the year, they commemorate various earth-focused holidays, serving candlelight cocktails during Earth Hour, providing free taxi bike rides to guests during Mobility Week, providing a zero-waste lunch and recycling workshop for staff during European Week for Waste Reduction, focusing more on organic food (rather than just local food) during Bio Week, and sending out their Green Team to clean the neighborhood during Let’s Clean up Europe. (Side note: How about all these EU eco holidays?)
I commented that the neighborhood looks super clean to the untrained eye – what could they possibly pick up? Cigarette butts, it turns out. And they found so many that they got in touch with several neighboring cafes and convinced them to put cigarette receptacles out for patrons to help combat the problem.
With both a breakfast table and a coffee table in my huge suite, I decided it would be a shame to not have my breakfast, which was included, delivered to my room for an extra €5: poached eggs on toast, plain yogurt, grape fruit wedges, plus green tea with a saucer of milk and a cup of sugar cubes, brown and white. They also threw in a basket of breads, including a croissant and a pain au chocolat, a jar of honey, chocolate hazelnut spread, and two types of jam. I was so mad that they ruined my diet. (Not really.) You know what didn’t come with my breakfast? Plastic wrap, which many hotels use to cover the food. They used traditional meal covers instead. It’s clear The Stanhope is aiming to be as close to zero waste as possible.
The Stanhope is centrally located, a short and charming walk to the European quarter with its museums, or the central area, or south to Ixelles. One evening before sunset, I set out to meet friends, and immediately found myself in a park that reminded me of Paris’s Tuileries. If you’re staying in a Thon Hotel in the European Quarter, you can take advantage of a free Sunday tour they’ve partnered with other neighborhood hotels to provide.
This is all lovely, of course, but the Thon Hotel EU is the sustainable shining jewel of the city, a bit more modern and more affordable to the regular business traveler who hasn’t yet made it to the top of their field. It offers everything The Stanhope does in terms of sustainability, but also free Villo-bike rental passes for guests, solar panels on the roof, plus two beehives on their roof garden, which produce honey for use in their restaurant dishes. It even has its own organic beer, Thonner’ke. Starting in December, you’ll be able to order this beer at all Thon Brussels hotels.
The Most Eco-Friendly Hotels in Brussels
If you’re looking for a sustainable hotel in Brussels, you could start with the Ecodynamique label, or you could go straight to the Thon EU or Stanhope Hotel, depending on the level of luxury you require. Having stayed at The Stanhope and met the staff, I can speak to their devotion to both the environment and guest comfort – a extremely rare find indeed.