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escapes

One of the listed Dukes Palace suites

FIVE-STAR

splendour Just a few hours from St Pancras by train, it makes sense to try Bruges for a mini-break. Keya Modessa checks into the new Kempinski Hotel Dukes’ Palace

Sip champagne in the modern hotel bar

3 more new places to take a mini-break

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Kemp Townhouse, Brighton

As the train eased to a halt, I checked my watch in amazement. Surely we couldn’t be in Bruges already? Just four hours earlier, I’d been sipping espresso at St Pancras. No motorway traffic jams, no route-finding headaches – just a quick, hassle-free train connection at Brussels. A weekend trip to Bruges suddenly seemed far less stressful than a mini-break closer to home. My reason for heading to the canals and cobbles of this ‘Venice of the North’? The chance to laze in luxury at the newly converted Kempinski Hotel Dukes’ Palace – a five-star hotel that was once the resident of the Dukes of Burgundy and dates back to the 15th century. The Kempinski team has worked hard

As welcoming as it is chic, this new nine-room boutique hotel (pictured, right) elegantly teams Regency grandeur with five-star luxury. Double rooms from £100 per night; www.kemptownhouse. com, 01273 681400.

night; www. fourseasons.com/ florence, 00800 6488 6488.

Save up for the plush stay of a lifetime at this new hotel – a converted Renaissance palazzo that’s a treasure trove of Italian art and restored frescoes. Double rooms from £280 per

Be the first to book into this newly refurbished Knightsbridge hotel, which reopens this month. Double rooms from £245 per night; www.designhotels.com, 00800 3746 8357.

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Four Seasons, Florence

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The Franklin, London

to complement the heritage of the palace with the modern comforts you’d expect from a luxury hotel. Most of the rooms are kitted out with modern fittings; original features are reserved for the six historically listed suites, which feature stained-glass windows, imposing fireplaces and lavishly draped four-poster beds. If you’re staying for two nights, it’s definitely worth sampling the traditional Belgian menu at the hotel restaurant – think moules frites and melt-in-the-mouth steak (or so I’m told). As a vegetarian, there was enough on the menu to keep me happy. In fact, the mushroom risotto I had on the first night was so delicious, I risked a cheeky request for a re-run at a later meal and the kitchen rustled it up especially. This is typical of the service you’ll get here – the staff are professional but down-to-earth and you feel that nothing is too much trouble. As for dessert, Dame Blanche is now in my all-time top 10: the creamiest Belgian ice cream blanketed in hot chocolate sauce. Scrumptious! Bruges is definitely one of Europe’s most picturesque cities – but in some ways, its chocolate-box looks have been its downfall with the younger crowd. Its other perceived weakness is that you can ‘do’ Bruges in a day. But both are actually strengths if you’re there for a weekend. No pressure to get around the sites – you can take a walking tour and be back in time to pamper yourself at the hotel’s hammam before dinner. And in just 48 hours you’re unlikely to tire of the quaint cobbles, meandering waterways and medieval towers. Return fares from St Pancras to Bruges start at £59; www.eurostar.com, 08705 186186. Rooms at Kempinski Hotel Dukes’ Palace start at £230 B&B per night; www. kempinski-bruges.com, 00 32 50 447 888.

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