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History Hostellerie Mont Kemmel ****

This page tells one thing and another about the history of our hotel / restaurant Hostellerie Mont Kemmel ****: its owners, managers, cooks and courtmasters. Packed with numerous facts and anecdotes.

Hostellerie Mont Kemmel  **** is located near the top of Flanders (156 m) and opened in 1954.
Hostellerie Mont Kemmel **** is located near the highest hilltop in Flanders (Kemmelberg, 156 m) and opened in 1954. This, in terms of point of view, rather unusual photograph was taken from the valley, from the Beukelaarstraat.

Chronicle of the jonkheer and his "Netty"...

The "hostelry" was an initiative of the then mayor of Kemmel Jonkheer Jacques Bruneel de la Warande (Kortrijk, 15 January 1891 - Kemmel, 9 January 1964). He was the son of Jonkheer Gustave Bruneel de la Warande (1863-1932, senator and also mayor of Kemmel) and was married to Baroness Marie-Antoinette de Montalembert d'Essé (1892-1993). They lived in their newly built castle at the foot of the Kemmelberg, now the town hall of Heuvelland.

Castle of Baron Jacques Bruneel de la Warande.
Castle of Jonkheer Jacques Bruneel de la Warande. In 1925 he built this imposing castle in neo-Renaissance style, replacing the castle destroyed by the war. The couple lived there until Jacques Bruneel's death in 1964. Source: © Westhoek Depicted.
Original castle of Baron Jacques Bruneel de la Warande.
This is the original castle of Jonkheer Jacques Bruneel de la Warande. However, this castle went up in flames at the end of 1917. Source: © Westhoek Illustrated.
Baron Jacques Bruneel de la Warande, the then owner of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel
Jonkheer Jacques Bruneel de la Warande, the then owner of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel , on the terrace. (Exact recording date unknown).

The jonkheer wanted to stimulate Hostellerie Mont Kemmel the emerging tourism in Kemmel. At the opening of the building in April 1954, two glazed memorial stones, bricked in on either side of the entrance to the bar, were unveiled. Why two stones? Well, one in Dutch and one in French: "Noblesse oblige".

Prayer card Baron Jacques Bruneel de la Warande (9 January 1964) - (Source: Alain Leroy / Patrick Geelhand de Merxem)
The mayor Jacques Bruneel de la Warande died in Kemmel on 9 January 1964. His wife, Baroness Netty, would live no less than 29 years longer. She was to succeed Hostellerie Mont Kemmel. Eventually she agreed to an annuity agreement with brewer Depuydt. (Source prayer card: Alain Leroy / Patrick Geelhand de Merxem)
Corridor to the seminar rooms. In this corridor hang a number of works by the owner baroness "Netty": she was also engaged in painting and had exhibitions in Paris and Brussels. At least one of her works also hung out in some Belgian embassy. We have been contacted several times by people who offered paintings by her.
Corridor to the seminar rooms. In this corridor hang a number of works by the owner baroness "Netty": she was also engaged in painting and had exhibitions in Paris and Brussels. At least one of her works also hung out in some Belgian embassy. We have been contacted several times by people who offered paintings by her.
Menu card Hostellerie du Mont Kemmel (page 1). The front cover shows a painting by the then baroness "Netty" (Marie-Antoinette de Montalembert d'Essé (1892-1993)). [source Véronique Geissler]
Menu card Hostellerie du Mont Kemmel. This cover shows a painting by the then baroness "Netty". Her creations were often spiritually inspired and influenced by her travels. Often some exotic bird appears on her works, as here too.

In the early 1950s: the building plans...

Below you can see some excerpts of the original building plans of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel ****. We requested these from the city council in 2014. The building plans, dated 30 January 1953, were signed by the Ypres authorities. architect Henri Viaene. He lived at the Kiplinglaan in Ypres (near the Menin Gate).

It immediately strikes me that it was valley side actually planned as the main entrance. In that plan there were front doors in the middle of the building. These would be located on the large staircase that gave access to the courtyard. There was one garage and two covered pitches (where now the "Jupiter" room is). Above the central part, where now is the bar, was the sign "Gasthof Kemmelberg". The lower two floors, and of course all massive fireplaces, were made of stone, the upper two floors are a wooden construction. The roofing was presented in the plan as blue-grey, but in the end it became a pinkish-red covering (still visible today).

Construction Hostellerie Mont Kemmel  plan ****: valley view.
Construction Hostellerie Mont Kemmel plan ****: valley view.

Isn't it normal for a building to have front doors on the "most special / most beautiful" side ? Isn't it ? Normally yes, but that's beyond the mayor: the story has a special course. We have always heard that the building plans have to be changed "last minute". Indeed, if they had been carried out in this way, with a front door on the territory of Dranouter, the builder would not have been given "free play". What's more, he would have owed taxes to a municipality other than the one of which he was mayor. And that was certainly not desirable. It was then decided to make the official entrance (say the current entrance) at the, original, "back" of the building. After all, the current front door of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel (and only that!) is just on the territory of Kemmel. And with a postal address of Kemmel, the builder/mayor had some more "freedom" to do what he wanted. What almost none of today's hotel guests know is that they actually enter the building through the planned back. This must be unique for a hotel! So much for this interesting anecdote.

Building Hostellerie Mont Kemmel plan : west facade (salon side).
Building Hostellerie Mont Kemmel plan : west facade (salon side).
Building Hostellerie Mont Kemmel plan : east facade (restaurant side).
Building Hostellerie Mont Kemmel plan : east facade (restaurant side).
Construction plan Hostellerie Mont Kemmel : location plan.
Construction plan Hostellerie Mont Kemmel : location plan. Here we can note that the space at the valley side front of the building Hostellerie Mont Kemmel was foreseen as a "playground".
Hostellerie Mont Kemmel in the early years
Hostellerie Mont Kemmel in the early years

Some of the ground plans can be Hostellerie Mont Kemmel found here.

The bar of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel  (1965?)
The bar of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel (Anno 1965?). The bar still contains many original elements as can be seen in this picture: the wooden farmers' tables, the bar and drinks cupboard, the wooden doors and finishing, the green glazed windowsills. This is all still there.

A brief history of the managers and the clientele...

Hostellerie Mont Kemmel was officially opened in April 1954. In the early years it was mainly the "better off", the bourgeoisie, who passed by. At that time the textile barons of Roubaix and the port directors of Dunkirk, among others, regularly frequented the "gasthof". The ordinary Kemmelnaar, say "the yawners", were not so welcome at that time. With the older population of Heuvelland this still plays a role today. Many people still think that "Mont Kemmel", because that is how the hostelry was and is popularly called, is not for Jan Modaal (today completely wrongly 😉 ). A lot of French was spoken then. And, it may be said, it was quite expensive: we were told that a cleaning lady, who worked in the Hostellerie at the time, had to work at least one and a half hours to be able to pay for one coffee. By way of comparison: if we were now to pay a cleaning lady 10 €/hour as wages, today we would have to charge about 15 € for one coffee to be on the same price level as before. Yes, that's how expensive it was. Fortunately, it is now 5 times cheaper! The intention was to keep the common man out. It was a conscious strategy. This was told to us personally, and without hesitation, by one of the owners. It gives a good idea of how expensive "Mont Kemmel" was at the time. Even now people from the region come in sometimes and tell us that they "finally get to enter" the "Mont Kemmel". As children they came to the Kemmelberg to look at the fences to see if they couldn't see anything of those "rich stinkers", uh, rich people. For them it was a totally different world, that world of the "Mont Kemmel". 😉

The first manager (gerant), during 1954-1975, Head Waiter came from Knokke: Walter Geissler. At that time, it was assumed that it was not possible to recruit high class mistresses or cooks locally. "Monsieur Waltèr" (pronounce on his French), as he was usually called, came from the former Czech Republic-Slovakia. Pictures from that period can be found in our Facebook-album "HMK Generation I 1954-1975 (Walter Geissler)". The Geissler family built a modest villa at the foot of the Kemmelberg. Certain plants, rhododendrons to be more specific, were planted in the garden of that house. According to Marika Strobbe, landscape management consultant at Immovable Heritage, this was a typical plantation for country houses at that time. Later this family home of the Geissler family was exploited by Sven Martein as a brasserie "De Alverman". After his departure to start a new catering business in Stavele, this building had been vacant for years. It is currently being converted into a private home.

Sticker Hostellerie du Mont Kemmel, Belgium
Sticker "Hostellerie du Mont Kemmel, Kemmel, Belgique". These kind of stickers were given to the guests. With these stickers they could prove to third parties that they had been in the "Mont Kemmel". It was typically stuck on suitcases. The coat of arms in the middle is that of the first manager Walter Geissler.

In a second period, 1975-1990, it was mainly a loom manufacturer. Picanol who was, say, the biggest customer ofHostellerie Mont Kemmel ... There are stories going around that the restaurant was sometimes full in the afternoon with only board members and executives of Picanol, their salesmen and international guests. It was precisely for this reason that the restaurant had to present Hostellerie Mont Kemmel itself as an "international" hotel and certainly had to have a certain class/appearance. At that time there was a real "Country Club" for Picanol on the garden floor (in the current "Jupiter" room). The Hostellerie has also often been the rendezvous point for numerous hunting parties. These have continued in the Hostellerie until the takeover at the end of 2012, even in 2013.

The second owner Hostellerie Mont Kemmel was the Luxembourger Martin Herbrand. Pictures from his period can be found in our Facebook album "Generation II 1975-1990 (Martin Herbrand - Annie Tant)". After leaving the hostelry Meesterkok Herbrand started his own restaurant in the "Romarin" in a small farm in Nieuwkerke. Mr. Herbrand died at the age of 69 on May 23, 2010 ( In Memoriam ).

The third flock was Solange Bentin and Erwin Van der Keelen. Pictures from their period can be found in this Facebook album: "HMK Generation III 1990 - 2012 (Bentin - Van der Kelen)".

On 12/12/12, an extremely easy date to remember, Kristine De Loose and Philippe Vercoutter took over as the fourth couple.

The kitchen and his cooks...

In the early years of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel ****, i.e. in the early fifties, the chefs did not have as much prestige as they do now. Are they now, unfortunately too much, seen as stars, in those days it was completely different. They worked in dark cellars and in anything but pleasant working conditions. Luckily this was not Hostellerie Mont Kemmel so bad: from the kitchen the cooks had a direct view of the driveway. At least they still had daylight in their kitchen, a luxury that many other cooks did not know. When we look with today's eyes, we can't help but notice that the working conditions back then were rather primitive. Fortunately, the personnel costs were much lower then, which meant that they could work with even larger kitchen brigades.

Chef Raymond Doulet (photo from 1960-1966)
On the left side of the picture: Chef Raymond Doulet (photo from the period 1960-1966).

One of the first chefs (if not the first ?) to cook for Hostellerie Mont Kemmel was Raymond Doulet. Did you know he was even an author? Well, at least one of his books came out. Title ? "Jeanine, fille de Satan" (Publishing house "La Pensée Universelle", 1975, 88 pages). We don't know if the Kemmelberg, or his hostelry, played a significant role in it. Nor do we know if he was a gifted writer or not...

The book "Jeanine, fille de Satan".

As said, the working conditions were far from ideal, but apparently many young chefs wanted to come to Hostellerie Mont Kemmel because of her status. At that time they looked up to the "Mont Kemmel" both literally and figuratively.

Several cooks who once worked in the kitchen Hostellerie Mont Kemmel have afterwards started their own restaurant. For example, chef Franz Van den Weghe built it together with Monique Dekeerle in 1960 the hotel/restaurant "The Hollemeersch" at the foot of the Kemmelberg. Rik Vansevenant later ran the restaurant of the "Belvédère" on the Kemmelberg, followed by the "Trilogy"(Kemmel). And as written above, Martin Herbrand later started up the restaurant "Romarin" (Nieuwkerke).

A chef who also had a remarkable CV was Daniel Dupuis. In 1987 he was proclaimed "First Chef of Belgium" (Prosper Montagné). For many years he was the personal chef of the late King Baudouin (and for a while at King Albert II) have been. He was also there when the King died in 1993 in their country house 'Villa Astrida' in Motril, Spain. In 2013 he was for one year the chef of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel . However, for personal reasons he had to leave the business, unfortunately.

The hall and its masters (Maîtres)...

Hostellerie Mont Kemmel has known some remarkable mistresses. The first manager Walter Geissler, himself a former Head Waiter manager of a hotel in Knokke, knew the tricks of the job "Head Waitervery well. He was known for his resolute approach.

Walter Geissler, director of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel
Walter Geissler, director of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel
Beginning of the sixties: the complete sealequipe of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel . We recognize on the left Director Walter Geissler (= the first manager). Next to him is chef Raymond Doulet. The middle cook is Antoon Bommarez (who later founded the non-profit organisation Westvlaamse Grootkeukenkoks). Photo taken from the archive of Antoon Bommarez, cook in HMK 1960-1966].
Beginning of the sixties: the complete sealequipe of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel . We recognize on the left Director Walter Geissler (= the first manager). Next to him is chef Raymond Doulet. The middle cook is Antoon Bommarez (who later founded the non-profit organisation Westvlaamse Grootkeukenkoks). Photo taken from the archive of Antoon Bommarez, cook in HMK 1960-1966].
Terrace of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel in the 50s.
Terrace of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel in the 50s.
HMK guestbook - 40th Anniversary of the "Battle of Flanders"
From the guestbook ("livre d'or" ) of the "Mont Kemmel" - Meeting on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the "Battle of Flanders" (4 May 1958).

At the time of manager Martin Herbrand Frank Verbeke the role of steward in itself. After a career with Hostellerie Mont Kemmel him he joined the Picanol family Steverlynck as a butler. It was he who took the laterHead Waiter, Jean-Pierre Scharre, under his care.

Jean-Pierre Scharre at the New Year's Eve party of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel on 31 December 1993.
Jean-Pierre Scharre, the waiter with his inseparable moustache on the right, at the New Year's Eve party of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel on 31 December 1993. At that time they went around the room to show the cooking skills of the cooking team at every table. The paper mini-chef's hat on the roast clearly "finished" the creation. 😉

What few people know is that Jean-Pierre Scharre had actually applied to Hostellerie Mont Kemmel work in the kitchen. He had never worked anywhere else, only in the "Schuttershof" internship. Since the kitchen team of the hostellerie was then full and they only had a vacancy for the hall, Jean-Pierre was asked to start as a waiter there "just for a moment". Well, he stayed there for more than 40 years! Except to pick up the signs at the thermal bridge, he never took one step inside, so to speak. And certainly not as a cook! He was very charming and was carried as a waiter, and later asHead Waiter, by the guests on their hands. You can hardly find a mistress like that now: it's really becoming an extinct breed. Jean-Pierre retired at the end of 2019. A few months later, on 31 March 2020 to be precise, he died of a cerebral haemorrhage. His farewell party was even still under construction. Too bad. Read our "In Memoriam of Jean-Pierre Scharre“.

Chronicle of the domain and the stones...

Originally the Hostellerie Mont Kemmel property was owned by Jonkheer Jacques Bruneel de la Warande. After his death, brewer Depuydt concluded an annuity agreement with Baroness Marie-Antoinette de Montalembert d'Essé (often called "Netty"). Reportedly, the brewer had "misfortune" because the baroness lived much longer than usual: after all, she was more than 100 years old! In the vernacular it was said, somewhat with sorrow, that "the brewer eventually had to pay twice the real value of the hostelry", given the high age the baroness had reached. After the death of her husband, the jonkheer/ burgomaster, she lived in Ixelles (Brussels). However, she wanted to die in Hostellerie Mont Kemmel Ixelles and stayed there for a few weeks on the second floor. Apparently her last hour hadn't been beaten yet and she had to return to Brussels.

Baroness Marie-Antoinette de Montalembert d'Essé, abbreviated as Netty.
Baroness Marie-Antoinette de Montalembert d'Essé, widely known as "Netty". She became more than 100 years old. Source: Westhoek Illustrated.
Prayer card Marie-Antoinette de Montalembert d'Essé (12 April 1993)
Prayer card of Baroness Marie-Antoinette de Montalembert d'Essé (12 April 1993) (Source: Alain Leroy / Patrick Geelhand de Merxem). Note that the title of baroness has not been used here. It said, rather modestly, "painter", although also knighted as "officer in the Order of Leopold II".

After the death of Baroness Netty, the building was owned by the Depuydt-Vandermarliere family for many years. So it has always been the case that in the first 60 years or so, the ownership, say "the stones", never belonged to the managers. So it was then that some decay began to occur or that an elevator, necessary for a modern 4-star hotel with so many floors, was never installed. In the course of 2012, there was even a notification that the hotel was in danger of losing its 4-star status.

This eventually changed in 2013 when Philippe Vercoutter, an Ypres engineer-entrepreneur (also known as co-initiator and chairman of the Project- and Volkssterrenwachten AstroLAB IRIS in the Provincial domain "De Palingbeek"), bought the building including the domain from the Depuydt-Vandermarliere family. This transfer of ownership came as a thunderclap to many people from the region. So since 2013, for the first time in the history of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel the owner of the land, the building and the business are owned by one and the same party. This is also the reason why now suddenly a lot more can be invested.

In the period 2013-2019 the building was thoroughly renovated in various areas. For example, the number of official rooms was increased from 16 to 23 (7 additional luxury rooms were created), a new seminar room (the "Saturn" room) was created, the bar and lobby were renovated, and so on. Accessibility was also greatly improved: an elevator was installed, new stairs were made easier, access was made easier for the disabled, and so on. Although the building itself is not officially protected, it was always kept in mind during all the works that the authenticity of the building was not compromised. It was therefore renovated with respect for history. In 2013 and 2018 it could Hostellerie Mont Kemmel easily see its 4-star level certified.

And so the "grandeur", whatever one might call it, quietly returned from the past. But on the understanding that now "Jan & Alleman" is really welcome! 😉

To finish: do you know that we still regularly have a lady guest who's been around since day oneHostellerie Mont Kemmel ? She was 14 years old, say 14 years young, when she first got acquainted with the business. She's 80 now. And still this crazy, charming lady comes to her Hostellerie on the Kemmelberg with just as much pleasure. Who does this to her?

So much for the 66-year history of Hostellerie Mont Kemmel .

Written on 18 April 2020 by the current host and hostess.

Remarks, anecdotes, photos and additions are always welcome at info@montkemmel.be . Also drawings and paintings of Baroness Netty are welcome.

In this way we would like to thank everyone for their contributions, the transfer of their memories, photos, etc..:

  • Anthony Bommarez
  • Mrs. Geissler, wife of Walter Geissler.
  • Annie Tant
  • Monique Dekeerle (+ 2018)
  • Frank Verbeke
  • Jean-Pierre Scharre (+ 2020)
  • Jan Van Den Weghe
  • Alain Leroy
  • Patrick Yellow Hand the Merxem
  • Walter Tailly
  • and so many others whose names have slipped our minds.