by Janice Nieder
I recently received a stellar invite to join a small group on the christening river cruise of the Avalon Expression. We’d begin in Frankfurt and end in Amsterdam and jackpot, I could bring along a plus one. I immediately thought of my BFF, Joan, a single working mother, who, although she had purchased a passport about 10 years ago, never had the chance to use it. I decided her pristine passport also needed christening. A quick phone call later and the plan was set. After the cruise we would stay at the Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam Hotel for the next four days. I always felt that Amsterdam was a microcosm of Europe’s finest offerings and therefore the perfect introduction for a newbie.
Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam fit for royalty
Walking through the polished brass front door of the Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam, held open by an attractive, liveried doorman, Joan and I entered an ornate lobby with a commanding double staircase, Persian carpets, crystal chandeliers and tasteful flower arrangements (think a warmer, mini-me version of the Palace of Versailles). After looking around at the sumptuous surroundings, Joan was rendered completely speechless, until she was handed a welcome flute of champagne when, after one sip, she proclaimed me the world’s best friend. I have to admit that my slightly jaded jaw dropped also. This European Grand Hotel does it right. Its regal magnificence never feels the slightest bit stuffy or standoffish. Actually, the staff could not have been more friendly and hospitable. Case in point: after a full day of museum hopping, we wanted to do something really fun that night. We talked to one of their many Clefs d’Or concierges who gave us the scoop on a couple secret (as in no published addresses) underground clubs in town. Joan spent over an hour with another concierge, asking him to mark about a zillion places on our map, and he never once made her feel like it was anything but his pleasure to do so.
Fascinating History or I’d come here for a surgical procedure any day!
A popular physician, Doctor Samuel Sarphati built this wildly extravagant hotel in 1867, which initially received international acclaim but then went through some lean years. Things picked up in 1870, when Doctor Johann Georg Mezger, another successful physician, opened a surgical center in the hotel, where he treated many wealthy and royal patients during the next two decades.
Sadly, much of the original interior of the Amstel Hotel was lost over the years but the entrance hall has been retained in its authentic 19th century condition complete with a chandelier from 1896.
In 1992 the Amstel reopened after a two-year makeover, once again reclaiming its place as the Grand Dame of Amsterdam, graciously welcoming today’s royalty: Bono, Brad Pitt, and Russell Crowe.
Enviably perched on the banks of the Amstel River, the hotel is situated right on the edge of all the action, in a peaceful, tree-lined neighborhood. Most major sites are within waling distance, although you should plan some extra time for getting lost, part of the fun, as you zigzag your way through the maze of canals.
The Amstel seamlessly blends regal elegance with homey comfort. The extra-large rooms feel cozy and the discreet modern touches (illy coffee maker, exceedingly comfortable beds, plenty of outlets, etc) play nicely with the classic period furniture. The generously sized, well-designed bathroom featured Agraria toiletries from my hometown, San Francisco.
Insider tip: Splurge on a canal-view room, particularly since this is one of the few hotels left where you can actually throw the windows open for fresh air.
Tempting roster of Restaurants:
Selections included acclaimed Michelin star restaurant, La Rive, where you can enjoy French Mediterranean cuisine complemented by one of their cellared wines and a magnificent view of the river. The bountiful champagne breakfast buffet is served here.
For a more casual meal, try the Amstel Bar & Brasserie specializing in simple, seasonal Bistro dishes. The new “A Bar”, features a state of the art sound system, local DJ, and a contemporary, Noma-ish menu.
Insider tip: Don’t leave breakfast without trying the rustic apple tart. Too full to appreciate it, our waiter sweetly wrapped it up for us to eat later.
We were sorely tempted to spend the day relaxing in the luxurious pool and spa (complete with sauna, Jacuzzi, ice bath chaise lounges, etc.) but we never had the time.
Insider tip: Hailing a taxi can be so gauche, so why not use the hotel’s private yacht for exploring?