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pakhuis klompen Windmill fiets lighthouse
Here is Holland
ISBN 978-9059721418 - 492 pages


Most Elegant Address in Amsterdam: Amstel Hotel
Once in a while we all deserve a real splurge. If you're planning to visit Amsterdam and want to stay in what I consider 'the most elegant hotel in the city', then consider the Amstel Hotel (an Intercontinental property) where elegance abounds and the rich and famous stay. After all, they know a good thing when they find it, and we're talking the likes of Paul McCartney, Madonna, Richard Gere, Lionel Richie, The Rolling Stones, Robbie Williams, U2, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Celine Dion, Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis, Shakira, Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean!), Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bono, George Clooney, Diana Ross, Hilary and Bill Clinton, Steven Spielberg, Kissinger, and even Walt Disney himself. You name it -- they've stayed here. In 2007, Antonio Banderas and Cameron Diaz held their press conference here for the release of 'Shrek III'.

The Amstel is considered 'standard lodgings' for The Rolling Stones and, during their visit in 2006, Mick Jagger even learned a little Dutch so that he could address his concert audience in their local language. After studying a tape that the Amstel staff supplied him with, Mick bolted out, "Het dak gaat eraf!" (Let's blow the roof off!)

Even the Royal family of the Netherlands uses this 'Grande Dame' hotel for their private functions. In 2002, when Crown Prince Willem-Alexander married Princess Maxima Zorreguieta, the Amstel hotel was transformed into the private residence of more than 50 royal guests and other international personalities -- for three days! In all, 11 kings and queens, 13 crown princes and princesses and 29 princes and princesses stayed at the hotel, as well as Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan (head of the United Nations at the time). Other Royal wedding receptions, formal dinners and various celebrations are held here on a regular basis.

Obviously, this is an exceptional hotel -- celebrated as the most prestigious and luxurious hotel in the Netherlands -- with quiet, understated elegance throughout. For example, I loved the fine-sounding doorbells for each room, as opposed to doorknocks. A minor detail, but very classy. Makes one feel truly 'at home'.

Kudos extend to the service, of course, with unparalleled attention from the moment you enter the amazingly cozy but oh-so-elegant grand foyer. Even the reception and cashier are placed discreetly to one side in a very intimate setting. With 180 staff members and only 79 rooms and suites, guests get true, undivided attention.

As for the food, well, suffice it to say that it's the best. I opted for the Royal High Tea (standard High Tea also available) in the conservatory -- featuring a mind-boggling, almost non-ending array of tea sandwiches, delectable mini-scones with decadent clotted creme and jams, pastries, chocolates (including a tip-of-the-iceberg plate of sweets and fruits to hand-dip by yourself), 'hot bites', champagne and, of course, tea -- 6 kinds served one after another! Be forewarned, it's almost too much food for an afternoon tea, so go with a hearty appetite and much-later dinner plans.

If the weather cooperates and you have time to linger at the hotel one day, allow some time for 'cafe-sitting' or even a full meal on their classy outdoor terrace along the Amstel river. A perfect spot to watch the water vessels of Amsterdam go by, and savor the sights of a few houseboats in the mix. And for something a cut above, the Amstel has 'salon boats' that you can rent for private dinners or parties.

Breakfast in their Michelin-starred restaurant, La Rive, was a royal treat in itself -- the freshest salmon I've ever tasted and, the tour-de-force for me -- a crusty sourdough bread that's to die for. (If you're like me and prefer toast in the morning, don't hesitate to ask them to toast a slice or two for you, as I did. They were more than happy to oblige. Toast is not very common in Europe, so one must ask for this service sometimes. Not all hotels will understand ...or care, but, this is the Amstel, after all. Service is their top priority.)

Amenities? They're all here in regal form. The Health and Fitness Club boasts a lovely pool and Jacuzzi looking out over the Amstel river, outfitted with the requisite sauna, massage room, exercise machines, Turkish bath and solarium; and it reminded me of a typical old-world, European spa where the wealthy are known to luxuriate. In fact, this is where the very first, modern-day-style physiotherapist is purported to have practiced -- Dr. Johann Georg Mezger -- who ran his clinic from the hotel for several years, attracting a very privileged clientele from around the world. Although Dr. Mezger is long gone, the Amstel's international reputation still glows.

Hands down, this is an expensive hotel (625 euros for an Executive room to 4250 euros for the 14-karat-gold-fauceted Royal Suite -- perfect for that honeymoon!), but if you have the opportunity to stay at the Amstel, whether on a business expense account or your own healthy budget, go for it. Trust me, they'll make you feel like part of the Royal family. (The Penthouse Suite with two floors gets my vote for 'most romantic'.)

Location is superb too -- within walking or short tram distance of most Amsterdam sights -- and the setting is magnificent and private, down a rather off-the-beaten-track boulevard. That's why the movers and shakers and 'those in the know' prefer this bastion of glorious accommodation; it's discreet and quiet, but incomparably regal.

GOOD NEWS is that summer rates are, in fact, lower than the rest of the year, since this hotel caters mostly to business executives who are typically on vacation (and therefore not here on expense accounts) in what would otherwise be high season for 'tourist hotels.' So, take advantage of their 'off season' summer rates and get incomparable luxury for a substantially lower price. Check their website for current rates.

While you're at it, ask the hotel about their chauffeur-driven limousines, available for airport transfers and personal-guided tours of Amsterdam. If you're going to stay here, you may as well travel in style.
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