Meet Jan Nielsen, Managing Director of Hotel Amigo, Brussels

Around the corner from the Grand Place, Hotel Amigo has always been a place of history. For a start, the building itself is over 500 years old, and the cobblestones in the lobby date back to 620. And in the pursuit of this blend of art, culture, heritage and creativity, the hotel partnered up with Moulinsart, the foundation that manages Hergé’s work and the Hergé Museum to create the Tintin Suite…a journey through the stories of Tintin and the colorful characters imagined by the famous author. In an exclusive interview, Managing Director of Hotel Amigo Jan Nielsen talks to us about this new venture.

Meet Jan Nielsen

GLH: Hello Jan. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few of our questions. For the people who may not be familiar with your story, could you quickly introduce yourself?

Jan Nielsen: Hello. My name is Jan Nielsen. I am of Danish origin, but I consider myself more European now, having lived around Europe for most of my life, and today calling Belgium my second home. I came into the hospitality industry “by accident”, while working in a hotel during my time at the Copenhagen Business School where I was studying Economics. This was so many years ago that I would possibly qualify to be in the community of seasoned hoteliers. Before being associated with the Rocco Forte group, I have had a long career primarily with what was originally ITT Sheraton, then Starwood Hotels and eventually Marriott, working both at the individual hotel level as well as in more corporate roles.

GLH: Rocco Forte is an international group but every hotel in the portfolio feels very much inspired by their location. For Hotel Amigo, how would you say this was achieved? How was the location emphasized?

Jan Nielsen: The location and history of the building is very important for the Rocco Forte group. All of our hotels have a history and a background, and they each tell their own story and are always situated in the best location a city can offer.

Hotel Amigo is ideally located for anyone who wants to discover the European capital, just a stone’s throw away from the Grand Place, at the crossroads of the historic Ilot Sacré district, the Sablon (antiquaries), the shopping area of Rue Dansaert and The European Parliament.

But did you know that Hotel Amigo was once a prison? In 1522, the building on the site was sold to the city and turned into a prison. It’s thought that this may have given the current hotel its name; 16th-century Spanish soldiers are said to have mistaken the word “vrunt”, meaning prison, for “vriend” (friend). Thus, the shift to “Amigo”, the Spanish for friend.

Amigo was built in the 1950s by the Blaton family to host the world’s royalty and visiting nobility, who came flocking to the city for the Brussels World’s Fair of 1958. The legacy of the Blaton family endures. Much of their impressive collection of fine art and antiques, from original Magritte works to 18th-century Flemish tapestries, are still on display today.

GLH: The hotel sits in the heart of Brussels and it prides itself on being a meeting place of art, culture, heritage and creativity. Can you tell us more about that? How do you make sure you are always evolving with the city?

Jan Nielsen: We work with the best partners in Brussels to keep abreast with developments in the city. But above all, we are lucky to have 5 Golden Key Concierges specialized in various fields such as gastronomy, art, fashion, culture etc., which allows us to always be aware of the latest news. Hotel Amigo is the place to stay for all VIPs and dignitaries.

GLH: Hotel Amigo recently opened a suite dedicated to the world of Tintin. How did you come up with this idea and what’s the curious link between the hotel and the creations of Hergé?

Jan Nielsen: Since 2011, we have been collaborating with Moulinsart. 10 years later, we wanted to emphasize the relationship. We have gone further with the Tintin Suite, an immersive room, to create something unique… The one and only Tintin Suite in the world.

GLH: We hear Olga Polizzi and Moulinsart joined forces to create this exceptional suite. How did that go?

Jan Nielsen: There is a huge respect between Moulinsart’s art and the identity and design of Hotel Amigo. Moulinsart has naturally adapted to the world of Olga Polizzi, our Director of Design at Rocco Forte. Moulinsart very quickly proposed ideas that were completely in keeping with the spirit and decoration of the hotel.

GLH: Were you involved in the creative process too? What were the guidelines with respect to Rocco Forte as a brand and, at the same time, still create something unique?

Jan Nielsen: We worked together to make this suite unique. From the decoration like the wallpaper on the wall, which was tailor-made, to the decorative elements which come from the Moulinsart collection. We are very proud of the results and the feeling that we created when you enter the suite.

GLH: What was the ultimate idea behind creating this suite? What new experience did you want to offer to guests?

Jan Nielsen: The idea is to offer a unique experience to our guests but also tailor-made for families. A total immersion in the incredible world of Tintin. From arrival to departure, everything has been thought out so that our clients experience an extraordinary moment. From the unique decoration in the room (with the immersive and connecting room) to breakfast in the restaurant, every detail of their stay will allow them to immerse themselves in the world of the most famous explorer. But wait, the experience extends outside the hotel where we have created a tailor-made route to find Snowy! Reward for the best investigators.

GLH: According to you, why should travelers come to the Hotel Amigo? And why should they book the Tintin Suite ?

Jan Nielsen: Because it is the one and only Tintin Suite in the world. We have unique pieces straight out of the Moulinsart house, especially custom-made for Hotel Amigo. Guests can admire the drawing signed by Steven Spielberg during his stay at Hotel Amigo, at the release of the Tintin film 10 years ago.

GLH: If you had to describe a perfect day at the hotel, what would it be?

Jan Nielsen: A perfect day at Hotel Amigo starts with a delicious breakfast like a Brussels waffle topped with red fruits in the room.

This can be followed by a stroll around the hotel area (only 56 steps away from Hotel Amigo is the famous Grand Place). With the best service in town, our 5 Golden Key concierges will give you the best advice to discover the city and live a unique Brussels experience.

For lunch, the BoCConi Terrazza invites you to travel. At the bend of a typical Brussels pedestrian street, the air is filled with the scent of Italy. The chef only chooses fresh and tasty local products with Italian accents for the culinary experience he aims to deliver.

Afterwards, we recommend an afternoon treat at the BoCConi Café…a new space where vines grow, Italian jasmine blooms and where a magnificent olive tree takes pride of place.

To end the day on a high note, we invite you to enjoy our delicious cocktails at Bar A and its jazz atmosphere. Hotel Amigo was one of Serge Gainsbourg’s favourite places to stay and we still carry many of his favourite cocktails on our menu.

GLH: And finally, if you had to plan a perfect itinerary in Brussels, where would you go and what would you do? Any secret address you’d like to share ?

Jan Nielsen: Tiffany’s & Co: Let’s start the day with an authentic “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” allowing you to slip into the shoes of Audrey Hepburn, who was born in Brussels, playing Holly Golightly in the 1962 film. A unique and exclusive experience that we offer to our clients.

Laurent Gerbaud: As you know, Belgium is famous for chocolate and you can’t leave the capital without getting your fill of Belgian chocolate. We take you to our secret place: Laurent Gerbaud’s workshop where you can create your own pralines.

Hergé Museum: Then, you can’t come to Brussels without visiting the Hergé Museum. It invites you on a journey through the life of one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. Discover a comprehensive perspective via thousands of sources from and related to the work of Hergé.

La Bellone: You will have to take a covered passage in Rue de Flandre to discover this magnificent baroque building. Sculpted by Brussels architect Jean Cosyn in 1697, La Bellone is today a multi-purpose centre dedicated to entertainment and the performing arts.

And finally, The Royal Library of Belgium and it’s panoramic view of Brussels comes with my highest recommendation. Built in 1935 in memory of King Albert 1er, the Royal Library of Belgium is also known as the “Albertine” or “La Royale”. The highlight of the show is on the 5th floor of the library, so take the lift and discover one of the most beautiful panoramic views of Brussels.

For more exclusive interviews, stay tuned! To book a stay at Hotel Amigo, head to this link.

About Nimah Koussa

The best part about being a travel writer is bringing cities and destinations to life: their stories, secret addresses, luxurious gems and unique holiday moments. And I have been one for a little more than 10 years. From the best bars and restaurants in different cities of the world to hotels where you can check-in to get away from it all, this Magazine is all about making every trip just a bit more meaningful.

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