Wander across the courtyard from the spa into Botanic Sanctuary’s elegantly restored 19th century pharmacy, Saint Charles, and you may well find yourself spending rather more time there than planned. Established in Vienna in 1886, the Saint Charles brand is now run by a sixth-generation pharmacist, Alexander Ehrmann, and his obsession with the power of plants ensures irresistible natural and organic skincare – along with other niche-brand products – fill the pharmacy’s shelves.
So be warned. You may leave the Botanic Sanctuary with an unplanned bagful of irresistible aromatherapy oils, natural cosmetics, nutritional supplements, and exquisite room sprays. As well as with a resolve to come back to this star among second cities soon, before Antwerp emerges from under the radar.
It is therefore time, perhaps, for anyone planning their next weekend away to forget about the capitals – Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, all now perpetually rammed with tourists – and think instead about a second tier, under the radar city. Antwerp, for instance. So close, yet relatively unknown. And a joy to discover. For centuries quietly at the centre of the world’s diamond trade, Antwerp has cobbled streets and old cafes, some spectacular Renaissance buildings, and world-class museums, shops, and restaurants. From London, it’s barely three hours by train. Getting around its historic streets is easy, on foot or by rental bike or bus. Best of all? For those who like to sink on to a massage bed while away, the sparkling new spa in the heart of lovely Antwerp.