Amsterdam and luxury don’t usually go together. But I completely disagree – I have been to Amsterdam a good 5 times before, always for business, and the city always left me wishing I stayed for longer.
Last year, thanks to Sabine de Witte, I enjoyed an amazing weekend in Amsterdam – lux all around, great hotels (I loved the Pulitzer, a hotel I have stayed at many times and has character and a lot of Dutch quirkiness and the Sofitel Legend The Grand, which is possibly in my top 5 of hotels ever), design shops, architecture and amazing people. I wanted another Amsterdam fix again… so I got the girls together, and we headed back. Because there was lots to do and see… and enjoy!
We picked possibly the busiest weekend of the year – or ever, as the MTV awards were taking place, which left us competing with every pop star who was attending for the best hotel rooms. Getting a room, any room, in any 5-star hotel, was incredibly difficult – but thanks to my SPG points and status, we were able to get the last two rooms at the Pulitzer, which was to be our home for our Dutch adventure). Stress over, time to enjoy…
I checked in before the girls (who were travelling from Paris), and simply enjoyed the views from the rooms – turned out they were all connected so we had a lot of space to play!). Before I knew it, Lauren from Where in the world is Lola, Mary Anne from Jetset Extra and Ashley from The Lazy Travelers had arrived and it was time to hit the town. We were on a hotel hopping mission – the girls weren’t familiar with the city and I wanted to make sure they saw some of Amsterdam’s finest spots – because you are spoiled for choice. Oh well, someone had to do it!
Our first stop? The incredible Sofitel The Grand, which used to be the City Hall and well, it isn’t anymore. Besides being a fab hotel, it is also the home of Bridges, one of the best restaurants in town. With a very cool bar, where we *had* to start our evening.. with a cocktail, of course.
One thing that sometimes scares me when you are going to a michelin-starred restaurant and are going to have the tasting menu, is how much you have to eat – I know that we are talking small portions, but sometimes it can get a bit much. I loved the Dutch sense of practicality, and how they read us perfectly well – I couldn’t quite believe when the Maitre d’ said that they would love us to try the shared tasting menu – where 2 of us would get one dish, and the other 2 would get another, with its respective wine pairings. This made dinner very exciting (as if the company and the location were not enough!) as we were very keen to see what the other two were having. We had an incredible meal, and I cannot recommend this restaurant (and hotel) enough.
After a good ‘almost three hours meal’ – think 4 girls who had not been together… for 3 days, we had a lot of catch up on – we decided to go for a night-cap. We were a little bit tired after a long week of work, but it would be rude not to.
I had been to (and loved) the Conservatorium Hotel before, and obviously knew about its fab Tunes Bar (tried and tested before, not taking chances here). As it happens, 2 out of the 3 lovely ladies (excluding yours truly, of course) have a thing or three for gin – and the bar only offers a selection of 30 gins (and 6 tonics… served in what I call proper gin glasses).
The bar was heaving and we had a great time just people watching, whilst trying on various gin combinations – personally, I was not disappointed at all. How could I?
We had a reasonably early wake up (almost double digits but not quite), so we actually went to bed quite early. Because a lot of exercise awaited. We were to walk around Amsterdam for more than a couple of hours, in the company of Tim, a ‘scholar’ (check us out!) who offers one of the many bespoke private walking tours run by Context Travel, who provide these services for ‘the intellectually curious’. Private tours cost from €300 per group.
I love the idea of walking tours (private ones, of course) – you get to see the city from a completely different perspective and get more than the odd soundbite. I have to say I was a bit surprise to find myself walking around the Red Light District at 11.30 am (and also how busy it was – not sure if still night trade or day one). Seeing these things by day (I have to say, I love the honesty of the concept – there is supply and demand, there is a market, do it safely and legally. No one is forced to go and have a look) made it a bit harsher than I ever remembered – certainly part of the experience.
From risqué areas, to more modern ones, we got a really good balance. We even walked around a few markets which is one of my favourite touristy things to do – food markets tell you a lot about a country and its eating habits, and very rarely I resist bringing something edible home.
Needless to say, we loved having our Flytographer with us, to capture such moments. This was my third experience with this brand, which I simply adore – I don’t think I can’t travel without Flytographer anymore – enough said! (A 30-minute session costs $250, and an hour session $350. The memories? Priceless)
Before we knew it, it was almost 3pm – not quite sure where the time went, but our legs certainly needed a rest. Instead of lunch (which we desperately needed by now), we were to try something quite different: High Wine at The Dylan Hotel. Think afternoon tea for the ‘intellectually interested’. Served between 3pm and 6pm, and for €39.50, you get the same concept of afternoon tea, but with delicious savoury small courses.. and wine! The Dylan is a lovely boutique hotel located not far from the 9 streets (and our hotel), and truly special.
At this stage, for some reason, I started not to feel well – I wasn’t 100% during the week, and just started to feel really tired, which was a real shame. But I joined the girls while we visited one of Holland’s good and great brands – who doesn’t remember those Bols bottles at bars? I didn’t actually knew they were cocktail liqueurs, so I really enjoyed a trip down memory lane (visually!). If we were to do something touristy, this was high on my list.
After this very interesting experience, we headed back to the hotel to change for dinner. Needless to say, that room service was what I needed, as well as a 12-hour sleep. I was exhausted after 2 weeks non-stop (of both work and play) and my body just said stop. So I did. The girls went out and had a lot of fun.
We were up at a very respectable hour – with double digits, which is what I need each Sunday. And to be honest, if I am travelling, I behave exactly the same way – we all have work weeks ahead and rest is absolutely necessary. After a lovely breakfast back at our hotel, it was time to get wet. Or maybe not!
In my first trip to Amsterdam, many moons ago, I did one of those more commercial canal tours, and really did not enjoy it. On subsequent visits, I had the pleasure of enjoying a private tour (many canal hotels have their own boats and offer these to guests, The Pulitzer being one of them). But this time around, I really wanted to try a private charter company, and we had a great time, navigating Amsterdam’s canals for one hour with Private Boat Tours. A 1h tour starts at €240, which is outstanding value for money (our boat comfortably fitted 10 passengers).
We gave the bar a miss, but really enjoyed the commentary of our captain. Amsterdam is a stunning city and the best way to see it is by foot and/or by boat.
And from the our stunning boat, it was time to have our last meal in Amsterdam, before returning to the airport and saying goodbye to the girls. The place for Sunday brunch? The Bluespoon at the Andaz Hotel. I had been to the bar on my last visit, and also for brunch (and planned to return on Saturday night) and I really wanted to go back. There is something wacky about this hotel, which again is very design-led. But there is also something very special about the desert table – you couldn’t get Lauren away from it!
And after a group hug, it was time to say goodbye. Once again, Amsterdam surprised us – there is something about this city and the people, that make you want to go back. For us, it is a mere 45 minute flight away, and so culturally different, and unique.
And I will be back, and it won’t be long.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Bridges Restaurant, Tunes Bar, Dylan Hotel, Context Travel, Flytographer, Private Boat Tours and the Andaz. Thank you to the Amsterdam Tourist Board who helped us organise the visit to the House of Bols, but not much more. Opinions are, always and as you know by now, my own.