Story by Barbara Angelakis
Photos by Manos Angelakis
Amsterdam… A Luxury Destination
Amsterdam is a city of bicycles and canals; distinctive architecture and friendly people; a city with personality and pleasures galore for the luxury traveler to delight in. We spent a few days savoring just a few of the treasures that the city of Amsterdam has in excess… Amsterdam bats it out of the ballpark when it comes to indulgence.
By pre-arrangement, we were collected at Schiphol Airport by taxi company Biosgroep and driven to the Conservatorium Hotel in a luxurious black Tesla model X with the Falcon wing doors… a first for me. And while the car is elegance personified, the inability to open the doors from the back seat did not sit well (no pun intended) with me. Nevertheless, the limousine maneuvered through Amsterdam’s tiny streets - more suited to bicycle travel than luxury automobile - with ease and deposited us in the Conservatorium’s elegant courtyard, our home for the next several days. (see review)
On our first night we enjoyed a round-robin (progressive) dining experience at some of the most storied hotels in Amsterdam. We were chauffeured from site to site by Captain Taco in the wooden hull boat “La Reine” (the Queen) built in 1911 and fastidiously maintained by Classic Boat Tours Amsterdam. On board we sipped Champaign and nibbled on tidbits while gliding through a series of canals that wind through the old town; a more pleasing ride than dodging the avalanche of bicycles that ply the streets and byways and have the right of way in this city.
We began our gastronomic feast with drinks and small appetizer plates at the hotel Pulitzer Amsterdam located in the Nine Streets neighborhood. The hotel is a collection of twenty-five 17th and 18th century Golden Age Canal houses that due to landmark status have retained their individual charming facades and certain interior structural details. It makes navigating through the connected buildings a dizzying walk through history but you come across treasures like the original Delft tiled reception counter. Many of the 225 rooms and 19 suites have canal views while others over-look a tranquil interior green oasis decorated with delightful sculptures.
There is an old Pharmacy entrance that leads directly into the upscale Restaurant Jansz without having to pass through the hotel proper. The 5* Pulitzer is just steps from one of Amsterdam’s linked canals.
The entrée or main course was served at the gracious Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam (see review). Located between two canals in the heart of the old city, we exited “La Reine” and entered directly through the courtyard into the U shaped building that boasts a rich history. The oldest section of the building was a 15th century convent. It also had a turn as a Royal Lodging; the Dutch Admiralty Headquarters; and finally the City Hall of Amsterdam, before becoming a 5* luxury hotel.
The hotel boasts many beautiful public rooms and two Michelin stared restaurants, but we were fortunate to be hosted in my favorite, the magnificent Wedding Room. The walls are covered with lovely art deco paintings illustrating the various stages of love and marriage and when the walls run out the glass doors leading out into the garden continue the story in stained glass. It seems during the Nazi occupation the room was considered degenerate and boarded over. It was revealed during renovation to be in perfect condition, giving future generations the pleasure of viewing the room as it was intended. Today, the room and garden beyond, host many weddings and anniversaries, thereby fulfilling its original purpose honoring love and marriage.
Our dinner table was beautifully decorated and the filet minion accompanied by mashed pumpkin puree was impeccably served and absolutely delicious, as befits a Michelin stared restaurant.
Back on “La Reine” and our last stop of the evening; the Conservatorium Hotel. The chef went all out and produced a large platter overflowing with sweet specialties of the house so that we could sample the variety of his desserts. Of course at each stop we were offered Champaign and the Conservatorium was no exception. By this time I felt that I had swallowed a canal of Champaign so settled for a late night coffee and off to bed to dream about what adventures the next day would bring.
Up early to an unseasonable beautiful sunny fall day and after a light breakfast we crossed the street to the Van Gogh Museum and a private one hour tour. Our exceptional guide covered much about Vincent’s life and works from the large collection of paintings, drawings and letters housed in the museum. Van Gogh was self-taught and this collection illustrates his progression through different styles and influences – including his fascination with Japanese art – experimenting until he found his personal style. He suffered from deep depression and artistic disappointment all his life and was just hitting his stride as shown in the final paintings he did before he died. While the events of his tragic death are still being debated, his creative output and the enormous pleasure his work has brought to millions is without question.
Housed in the museum’s vaults are four of Van Gogh’s rarely seen sketch books due to their fragility. Using a printing process known as ‘reliefography’ by Fujifilm, they have been reproduced in a limited edition and are exact replicas, practically indistinguishable from the originals, including the book covers. A display table has been designed to be part of the offering and is now available for purchase from the museum and a few carefully chosen outlets. For details visit https://vangoghmuseum.nl/en/news-and-press/press-releases/limited-edition-facsimiles-of-vincent-van-goghs-sketchbooks
Moving on, we walked the short distance to The Royal Concertgebouw Concert Hall that proudly boasts of having the best acoustics in the world. It was in 1881 that architect Adolf Leonard van Gendt was commissioned by a group of six wealthy private citizens to bring musical culture to Amsterdam. Van Gendt selected a swampy marsh near where the Rijksmuseum was being built and miraculously turned it into the neoclassical splendor that is The Concertgebouw. Sadly our schedule was too full to accommodate a live performance but we enjoyed a back-stage tour and witnessed a set-up for that evening’s performance which was fascinating.
After a morning devoted to “cultural” pursuits we took a sybaritic break and visited the Royal Coster Diamonds showroom. The first diamond polisher registered by the Chamber of Commerce was in 1586. Since then the industry, initially exclusively led by Jewish immigrants, expanded until Amsterdam became known as the “city of diamonds”, a title it still holds. Amazingly by the 17th century almost all the world’s cut diamonds were processed in Amsterdam. Coster is the oldest diamond polishing factory founded in 1840 by Moses Elias Coster. Right from the beginning it catered to royal customers from around the world and was chosen to polish (recut) Queen Victoria’s famous Koh-i-Noor diamond in 1852, which is still the center stone of the Crown jewels of England. Having a tour at Coster is an education in diamonds and the de rigueur 4 “C’s”- carat, color, clarity, and cut. The standards for polishing - or cutting a stone - have improved over the years and brilliant cut with 57 facets replaced the old rose cut. The expert polishers at Coster have come up with a Royal cut diamond featuring 201 facets and the difference is dazzling. If you are considering the purchase of a diamond – and who isn’t? – requesting a tour at Royal Coster and a look at their showroom, is a must while in Amsterdam.
While we were still feeling bedazzled we moved on to the sparkling Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam for Afternoon Tea. In the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th and 18th centuries, merchants were the high-society of their day and their merchant houses and palaces were built facing the canals with a large garden in the rear. The standards set for the average merchant house was for three windows facing the canal and one interior staircase; while the palaces were more elaborate buildings with five windows facing out and a double central interior staircase. The Waldorf has created a luxury hotel incorporating six individually designed palaces facing the UNESCO World Heritage grand ‘Herengracht’ or Gentleman’s canal.
Afternoon Tea was served in a private room facing out on the garden which featured six replicas of the merchant’s palaces that comprise the hotel. The surprising response to my inquiry was the houses are bee hives for the hotel’s own branded honey. Also surprising was the display of jewelry by DL Jewelry Collection designed by Debora Leeser. It turns out that the Waldorf Tea changes by season and this season was in cooperation with this jewelry collection of colorful precious stones, rings and earrings. I have enjoyed many Afternoon Teas from a tiny tea shop in Dover, England - the alleged home of the cream tea - to formal liveried teas in England, Canada, Bangkok and Hong Kong; but I must admit this one was totally unique. The savories and sweets were designed around the jewelry collection and presented in serving plates created for the occasion, with each bite being beautiful as well as delicious. The final sweet was a replica of the colored stones available in the collection.
The evening ended with a traditional ‘Turn on the Lights’ festival in front of the Royal Palace at ‘Dam Square’ and across from the famous high-end department store de Bijenkorf. This is the official opening of the holiday season and welcomes the arrival of St. Nicholas from his summer retreat in Spain. Spain? Well it seems that the children of Amsterdam never heard of the North Pole and reindeer, in relation to St. Nicholas (Santa) and believe he spends his summers in Spain. It is traditional for children to sing a song when putting their shoes under the mantelpiece with an apple or carrot for St Nick’s horse before going to bed. In the morning they will find small presents in the shoes to replace the fruit. I am told this delightful tradition is faithfully passed down, and even when the children no longer believe they never reveal it to their younger siblings.
It was glorious to be celebrating with what seemed like all of Amsterdam as huge crowds packed the square and surrounding streets to see the stage performance which was streamed live on large screens. There was music, dancing, colored lights, giant puppet animals and the piece de résistance was an enormous chandelier raising into the sky holding members of the band in fancy dress with their instruments, while aerial artists performed high overhead dangling from the chandelier. And if that was not spectacular enough, fireworks went off to conclude the festivities and the season was officially declared open. What a perfect way to end a glorious day of being pampered and entertained in Amsterdam.
With thanks to Amsterdam Marketing and its Partners. For information on any of these properties or sight-seeing opportunities, visit www.iamsterdam.com/luxury
© January 2019 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.