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Manoir du Dragon
History, review and photos of the luxury hotel in Knokke - Heist in Belgium

Article added on February 4, 2008

The city of Knokke - Heist
The city of Knokke is Belgium's most exclusive coastal resort. From the 1880s onwards, it quickly developed into a fashionable place, starting from a polder village, the suburb Het Zoute with its elegant villas and a newer part of town called Albertstrand. Until the 1930s, Knokke was one of the most glamorous seaside resort in Europe and firmly in the hands of the British (aristocracy).

I only heard about Knokke-Heist - as the wider area at present also including Heist and Duinbergen is known - when I stayed in Bruges at the end of 2007. Several people described it to me as Belgium's Deauville.

In fact, the villas in Het Zoute and around the Royal Zoute Golf Club are the most stylish parts of the city when it comes to the architecture, whereas the beach area has few impressive buildings.

Another attraction of Knokke is the nearby natural reserve Het Zwin. Located on the Belgium-Dutch border, in an area of 159 hectares, it is the refuge for over a large variety of wildlife and plants, including over 100 species of bird. You can explore the natural reserve alone or together with competent guides.

Visit the beachside casino, where the collector Roger Nellens has organized many exhibitions ranging from Man Ray to Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalì, Max Ernst, Marc Chagall and César. In Nellens' house once lived the American artist Keith Haring. In his garden, you can admire a dragon by Niki de Saint Phalle. The Casino, built in 1930 by the architect René Stynen, was decorated by René Magritte, Paul Delvaux and Keith Haring. You can also admire the sculpture “Le poète” by Ossip Zadkine and, in the foyer, a Murano luster made of 22,000 parts and weighing seven tonnes, considered to be Europe's largest chandelier.

The most surprising attraction of Knokke are the vast number of the city's luxury boutiques, mostly located on and around the Kustlaan street. I cannot remember another city of this size with such an impressive number and variety of boutiques. Among the familiar brand names such as Louis Vuitton and Brioni, I was most impressed by the Hackett boutique. The shopkeeper confirmed my impression that, indeed, it was their largest boutique, bigger than their flagship store in London.

The Royal Zoute Golf Club dates back to 1899. Originally an off-shoot of the Bruges Golf and Sports Club, the two clubs agreed to separate in 1909, and the it became the Knokke Golf Club. Play was suspended during the First World War. A new course was built and the club renamed Zoute Golf Club. Among its members is His Majesty Kind Albert I. Therefore, the club was assumed the title of Royal. After the Second World War, the course was redesigned by Lieutenant Colonel Allen, who modified the original plan elaborated by Harry Colt, one of the legendary golf course designers. He drew up plans for two links courses which became the present par 72 Championship Course and the par 64 Competition Course.

In Knokke you will meet beach and sun seekers, surfers, admirers of nature and wildliefe, people looking for a healthy climate, fashion victims and golfers. The best place to stay in town is Le Manoir du Dragon.

The hotel Manoir du Dragon

Named after the “Dragoons” regiment in which one of his sons served, the Villa du Dragon, later named Manoir du Dragon, is an elegant manor house built in 1929 by the wealthy Belgian banker Josse Allard. The architecture shows an English and Italian influence and as unique for its black roof, the only one in the entire Knokke - Zoute area.

The twist of the story is that Antoine (check the article below), was far from a dragoon, but an artist, peace activist and founder of Oxfam Belgium. Mainly on weekends and in the summer, he welcomed and entertained his friends here, mostly artists, peace activists and aristocrats from Belgium, England Spain and Italy.

In 1975, Mr and Ms Vanhollebeke took up residence in the manor and soon afterwards redeveloped four apartments in the villa and let them out on an annual basis with the service of a hotel. Today, the hotel offers sixteen rooms and suites on two floors and is still run by the Vanhollebeke family. The landlady herself designed and furnished the rooms, which are decorated with works by the Belgian painter Delporte.

In late 2007, I stayed in the suite 220 with a perfect view of the golf course; some 20% of the hotel guests are golfers. With the exception of two regular rooms, all fourteen deluxe rooms and suites enjoy the luxury of a balcony or a terrace.

Le Manoir du Dragon is situated on the par-five, handicap-eight hole number twelve of the Royal Zoute Golf Club course. Today, the luxurious hotel Manoir du Dragon offers sixteen rooms and suites. The calm, elegant and comfortable manor is the perfect retreat to relax.

The little details make the difference. The fresh and ripe kiwis of the breakfast buffet came from the manor's own garden. In the morning, I saw Mr. Vanhollebeke himself pluck them. All rooms are equipped with Jacuzzis, air conditioning, wifi, flat screen TVs, DVD players, a kitchenette. All beds are electric and can be adjusted to the individual guests needs, a feature I can only remember from one other hotel, the excellent Storchen in Zurich. The Manoir du Dragon also offers bikes to have a ride around town and to the beach, an offer which I gladly accepted.

In the guest book of the Manoir du Dragon, I found the names of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (1983) and the late Dutch show master Rudi Carell (1990), who was extremely popular in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

The Manoir du Dragon has no restaurant, but offers exciting and very popular packages in collaboration with gourmet restaurants in the Knokke - Bruges area, including the Jardin Tropical, De Oosthoek and the Esmeralda (all 1* Michelin), the Molentje (2* Michelin), the Oud Sluis (3* Michelin) and the Karmelit in Bruges (3* Michelin).

Overall, the Manoir du Dragon is one of my favorite hotels in Belgium. It is discrete, but offers all the luxury you can expect.

Antoine Allard, the colorful previous owner of the Manoir du Dragon

In 1931, after the death of Josse Allard, the first owner of the Manoir du Dragon, his son Antoine took over the villa as his summer house. The left-leaning “red Baron” Antoine Allard (1907-1981) was the son of the wealthy banker, Josse Allard, and a Franco-Russian mother, Antoinette Saint-Paul de Sinçay. Thanks to his family background, he was financially independent.

Already as a child, he was a passionate drawer and painter. At 14, Antoine got lessons from the painter Oswald Porreau. Subsequently, he refused to become an economist. He fled from the University of Louvain in France and traveled to Scotland. In 1929, he decided to study painting in Munich with Professor Heyman, to which his father finally agreed. Two years earlier, in Namur, France, Allard had met his spiritual guide, father Léopold Willaert.

During his adult life, Antoine Allard suffered from many health problems. In Paris in 1930, he was operated for sinusitis. In Francfort in 1935, he underwent a serious head operation. The following year, his only daughter, Astrid, was born.

One year after his father's death, in 1932, Antoine Allard exposed his works of art for the first time in a collective exhibition in the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. The same year, he wrote his first book, Nous n'avons que 12 ans, and he made his first big journey abroad, to Ceylon, Colombo and Singapore. In 1933, he copied the works of Velasquez in Spain and, in the company of father Willaert, he discovered Morocco. The following year, he went to Mexico, Japan, China and the Soviet Union. Between 1934 and 1978, he traveled six times to China. He claimed to be an idealist, not a Communist.

In 1935, Antoine Allard married Elena Schott (1911-2001), an Italian citizen who, in 1932, 1933 and 1934 had participated in the Alpine Skiing World Championships. In 1935, Elena and Antoine spent their honeymoon in Palestine.

In 1935, Antoine Allard began to work for the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne. In the United States in 1937, he was mostly preoccupied with the condition of the African Americans. After the suicide of professor Heyman in Nazi German, Antoine Allard wrote Demander pardon aux morts in 1938. He intervened without success in favor of the left-wing intellectuals imprisoned in Franco's Spain.

In 1940, because of his many operations, Antoine Allard became an ambulance driver in Paris. The experience inspired him to dedicate his life to peace, working for several international organizations. For instance, after the war, he fought for the creation of several demilitarized zone on the Belgian coast, helped to accommodate American deserters from the war in Vietnam, and fought against the nuclear arms race.

In the Belgian Congo in 1940, he took care of the many businesses established by his father; he tried to improve the conditions of the locals. In 1941, he enlisted in the French Force Publique to fight Nazi Germany. The following year, together with other Belgians, Antoine Allard was involved in a coup to overthrow the Belgian government and, therefore, he was placed under house arrest in his home in the Belgian Congo. Finally, the governor allowed him to travel to South Africa to enroll in the British Army.

In 1944, appointed “war artist” by his colonel, Antoine Allard was a soldier on the Gothic Line. Still in Italy in 1945, as a pacifist, he created the Stop War sign. Subsequently, he became the secretary of the Fédéralistes Mondiaux and dedicated himself to spreading the Stop War movement in Belgium and the world. He organized an important Stop War congress in Heist in 1949 and participated in the first Congrès mondial des partisans de la paix in Paris in 1949, popularized by Picasso's peace dove. In 1952, he was opposed to Germany's rearmament.

Antoine Allard was a friend and, according to some source, the private secretary of the left-leaning Queen Elisabeth (1876-1965) of Belgium. In 1960, he painted her portrait and, the following year, they traveled to the Soviet Union and Communist China.

At the Congrès de la Paix in Paris in 1963, Antoine Allard defended the Chinese cause. Two years later, he left the Congrès de la Paix. He continued to travel around the world and to fight for peace. For instance in 1967, he participated in the congress Pacem in Terris in Geneva.

In 1964, Antoine Allard was a co-founder of Oxfam Belgium and became its first president (a position he held until his death in 1981). Inspired by Oxfam UK, the Belgian sister organization dedicates itself to fighting against poverty and hunger around the world and for the development of the Third World.

For some detractors, Antoine Allard and his circle were part of the “caviar left” (gauche caviar) and either naive or active fellow travelers of the Communist cause, whereas Antoine Allard considered himself an artist and pacifist, but not a communist.

Sources, further reading:
- Antoine Allard. Correspondant de paix. Croquis de voyage. Texte de Hamadi. Préface de Jacques de Grote, Administrateur du Fonds Monétaire et de la Banque Mondiale. Ed. de La Longue Vue, 1990, 127p. ISBN: 2871210292.
J. Adant: Un baron rouge? Les activités pacifistes d'Antoine Allard de 1945 à 1965, Brood & Rozen, 2004 - 2, pages 7-28.
- Selection of the books written by Antoine Allard:
Nous n'avons que 12 ans (1932), Demander pardon aux morts (1938), Révolution par amour (1948), Ferveur (1960), Tolstoï avait prévu Oradour et Mylaï (1971), Rebelle par amour (1974), Désobéir pour vivre (1975), Tue ou aide (1981).

Photo © Le Manoir du Dragon, Knokke, Belgium.

Photo © Le Manoir du Dragon, Knokke, Belgium.

Photo © Le Manoir du Dragon, Knokke, Belgium.

Photo © Le Manoir du Dragon, Knokke, Belgium.

Photo © Le Manoir du Dragon, Knokke, Belgium.

Photo © Le Manoir du Dragon, Knokke, Belgium.

Photo © Le Manoir du Dragon, Knokke, Belgium.

View from the golf course. Photo © Le Manoir du Dragon, Knokke, Belgium.

Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
English Politics History Art Film Music Lifestyle Travel
Français Politique Histoire Arts Film Musique Artdevivre Voyages

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© Copyright  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.