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Monday, April 27, 2009

Cosy or grand at La Gaichel

by Daniel Drolet from The Windsor Star

We had booked the hotel over the Internet, sight unseen, so we were not really sure what to expect. To be honest, one of our main considerations when we made the reservation was that the hotel have free parking, as we were on a driving holiday in Europe.

Judging from its website, the Auberge-Brasserie La Gaichel seemed to fit the bill. Three stars, not TOO expensive (nothing in Europe is cheap), a restaurant and easy access to the rest of the country.

But as we sat on the inn's outdoor terrace one warm night last summer, slowly eating our way through a delicious table d'hote menu under a leafy canopy on the edge of a quiet forest, we knew we had found a gem. And we regretted that we had not booked a longer stay at what turned out to be a friendly, comfortable and very charming little inn.

We were in Luxembourg on a lark. My partner and I are fascinated by those tiny European countries, but we'd never been to any of them. So we decided that we would make an overnight stop in Luxembourg just for the fun of it as we made our way by car, along with two friends, from Paris to the Alsace.

We knew La Gaichel was in Luxembourg, but as it sits outside the town of Eischen, we were never sure precisely where the hotel was located. Actually, La Gaichel is two hotels, one right next to the other.

We were staying in the lower-priced Auberge, a 17-room inn with a brasserie-style restaurant where rooms are to be had for 75 to 125 euros a night, breakfast included. (That's about $110 to $190 Canadian.) A table d'hote meal at the brasserie, where the menu focuses on seasonal local foods, is 29 euros, or about $45.

Our rooms, done in a relaxed country style, were just right for our needs -- a bit compact, perhaps, but clean and comfortable. The only down note was the bathrooms, which had all the necessary amenities, but were so small as to be cramped. But the brasserie and common areas were spacious and welcoming and we spent very little time in the room as we were eager to explore the country, which is pretty and which you can cross in 30 minutes by car.

Right next door to the inn, and painted in the same smoky pink colour, is a more grand version of La Gaichel, a four-star Relais & Chateaux hotel and restaurant where room prices range from 165 to 250 euros ($250 to $375) and where the dining is much more refined (and much more expensive).

Michel and Claudine Gaul run the hotel and the inn. The hotel has been in Claudine Gaul's family since 1852, handed down from mother to daughter over the generations. The inn was, until recently, their next-door competitor. The GaMichel Gaul said most of their guests are people from nearby Belgium, with a good mix of Dutch, French and Germans thrown in. During the week, the hotel gets a lot of business people -- La Gaichel, despite its rural setting, is only 25 minutes from downtown Luxembourg City -- but the weekend clientele comes for golf, relaxation and food.

Actually that golf course, which is literally right next door, has an unusual aspect: it's one of only a handful of cross-border golf courses in the world.

"Seven of the holes are in Luxembourg," he explained, "and two are in Belgium. On two holes, you drive from one country and putt in the other!"

We knew we'd find unusual things in a tiny country.

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