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Canal-House Hotels in Old Amsterdam

June 20, 2008 By: Anne Sophie Guerin Travel Agent

Accommodations to suit both luxury and budget-minded clients

It’s difficult to find a more likable or photogenic European city than Amsterdam. Compact in size and tourist-friendly, Amsterdam casts a spell over art enthusiasts, botanists, pleasure-seeking sybarites and history buffs. In fact, Amsterdam appeals to just about every kind of visitor. Spiraling out from the Centraal train station, the concentric canals are lined with whimsical gabled houses dating from the Golden Age, when money poured in from the Dutch colonies in the 17th-century and contributed to the empire’s awesome prosperity. From the get-go, the Netherlands served as a sanctuary for European dissidents (like the Huguenots from France) and this attitude of social tolerance and acceptance continues to this day. Youngsters from all over Europe converge on the red light district, famous for the cannabis-stocked “coffee shops” and free-wheeling sex scene, to partake in the bacchanalia. But this simultaneously hip and laid-back city offers much more than mere sensuality.

ambassade hotel

The Ambassade Hotel overlooks the Herengracht and Singel canals

Amsterdam’s world-class museums include the Rijksmuseum, which houses an impressive collection of the Dutch masters like Vermeer and Rembrandt, and the Van Gogh Museum, showcasing the biggest collection of the artist’s paintings worldwide. The Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, the Westerkerk Church, Rembrandt's House, the Royal Palace, and the Anne Frank House round out the premier tourist attractions. And yes, you’ll find plenty of dikes and a windmill or two. Advise your clients to go Dutch and rent a bicycle to zip around Amsterdam (the city has almost as many bikes as it does inhabitants). A canal tour is an absolute must: your clients will delight in the boat’s-eye view of the graceful low bridges, merchants’ houses, flower market and quirky houseboats with gardens. At night, the bridges sparkle with hundreds of lights, creating an enchanting cityscape.

The most popular time to visit Amsterdam is in the spring, when the tulip fields are awash with color and the window boxes bloom. Tulip time is April and May, and accommodations quickly sell out. The city is also packed from mid-June to mid-September, so reserve as far in advance as possible for these peak seasons. Note: Many hotels require a three-night minimum stay. Also keep in mind that some of the city’s most charming hotels are historic-listed buildings, meaning that there are no elevators. This could mean difficult maneuvering for your disabled/handicapped clients.

Where to Stay
An excellent mid-range choice is The Toren Hotel, centrally located near the stately canal houses of the Keizergracht, one of the city’s most famous canals. The four-star hotel is situated in two 17th-century townhouses, one of which dates from 1618 and formerly housed the Free University. Converted into a hotel by the Toren family in 1968, the 38-room hotel continues to be one of the most popular choices in the city center. A renovation in 2004 by acclaimed interior designer Wim van de Oudeweetering resulted in chic new interiors, richly decorated with comfort in mind. Room categories range from the practical Singles (with shower, no bath) to the ultra-luxurious Garden Cottage with its double Jacuzzi and steam shower cabin. Superior and Deluxe rooms offer more space than the Single and Double rooms, and have either garden or canal views. For your clients celebrating a special occasion, book the Special Deluxe Suite, elegant Bridal Suites or Garden Cottage—all of which boast spacious Jacuzzis and face the garden. The Royal Bridal Suite is a split-level with a four-poster, blue canopy bed.

toren hotel garden cottage

The luxurious Garden Cottage at The Toren Hotel

Breakfast at The Toren is an experience on its own, served in the breakfast room overlooking the canal. Most Amsterdam hotels provide an international breakfast buffet, but at The Toren, the Chef is known to stop at each diner’s table and describe his market-fresh ingredients and inquire about special requests.

Indeed the staff, led by owner Eric Toren ([email protected], 011-31-0-20-622-6033), will bend over backwards to take care of clients. The 95 percent occupancy rate year-round is proof of the hotel’s commitment to service. To quote Lieselotte Toren, Eric’s sister, they strive to make their business “the best and most beautiful four-star hotel in Amsterdam with still-affordable prices.” They strive to constantly improve the hotel, and guest feedback is very important. In addition to the standard requests, like private museum visits and canal rides, the reception staff can make personalized arrangements for your clients, like canal tours aboard a classic saloon boat with a special lunch or dinner served onboard.

Nice perk: The Toren has a partnership with the Restaurant Christophe’, the Michelin-starred favorite just around the corner from the hotel. Guests can enjoy the superb, multicourse tasting menu in the comfort of their own room or in the hotel lounge.

ambassade hotel guest room

The rooms in the Ambassade Hotel are stylishly furnished in Louis XV/XVI Decor

The Ambassade Hotel is another stylish canal-house hotel, spread over ten 17th- and 18th-century houses on the Herengracht and Singel canals. Most of these canal-side buildings are interconnected with small flights of stairs to bridge the difference in floor elevations, and there are two elevators. The privately owned hotel is appointed with beautiful antiques and a splendid modern art collection from the Northern European Cobra school. Popular among the literary set for its library stocked with 2,400 volumes signed by celeb authors while staying at the hotel, the Ambassade offers some of the best canal views in the city. Furnished in Louis XV/XVI style, the 59 rooms (including six deluxe rooms, seven suites and one apartment) are decked out with contemporary conveniences like free Wi-Fi and bathrooms with separate shower and tub. All rooms are unique and sophisticated in character, with varying sizes and configurations. The deluxe category is more spacious, with guaranteed canal views. Request the top-floor rooms with beamed ceilings for the best panoramas over the canal, and book one of the Senior Suites (rooms 85 and 97) for your VIPs. Operations Manager Roos Bruyn ([email protected], 011-31-0-20-555-0222) is happy to help with your VIP clients. The hotel also offers a private apartment with a living room, dining room, bedroom and kitchen. Sized at 80 square meters, the apartment has a separate entrance from the street and spectacular Herengracht views from the four French windows. Note: The hotel does not have guest rooms that can accommodate more then three people.

The doting staff of the Ambassade will make your clients feel like they’re the guests of a wealthy 17th-century merchant. Nice perk: The hotel offers bicycles for rent at the reception desk. Also recommend a visit to the hotel’s Float and Massage center called Koan Float. Esteemed as an effective relaxation technique, floating sessions take place in private cabins in a high-level saline solution heated to 96 degrees.

The city’s best budget option is the Hotel Brouwer, owned by W.H. Boegem ([email protected]), Mr. Brouwer’s grandson. A former sea captain’s home, the Hotel Brouwer has eight canal-facing rooms, all with private bathrooms. With room rates starting at $94 per night, this pension offers real value, which explains why budget travelers have flocked here for years. The Hotel Brouwer is extraordinarily popular and often booked six months in advance.

college hotel gray room

The Gray Room at The College Hotel is sleek and sophisticated

While not a canal-house hotel, worth mentioning is the College Hotel. Opened in 2004 by the Stein Group, it offers a unique, luxury stay in Amsterdam. With rates starting around $310 per night, the College Hotel is surprisingly affordable for a luxury hotel. Originally a 19th-century school, the College had morphed into yet another kind of school: one for hospitality students. The concept is one-of-a-kind, and rarely will your clients experience service as conscientious and professional. Exceptional students from the Amsterdam School of Hotel Management, the Bakery and Pastry School and the School for Tourism (ROC Amsterdam) operate the hotel under the guidance of the expert staff of the College Hotel. The general manager is Isabelle van Ouwerkerk ([email protected], 011-31-0-20-571-1511).

The building may be historic-listed (reminiscent of the architecture of the nearby Rijksmuseum), but the hotel it houses is marked by an elegant, contemporary design with high-end facilities. With its exposed brick, tall ceilings and big fireplaces, The College exudes a sense of history. Situated on the border of the Museumplein (Museum Square), just a stroll away from the Vondelpark, The College Hotel offers 40 rooms designed in muted tones of brown, sand and black. Even the bathrooms have style, featuring a uniquely designed washbasin in black French polish with brown marble and chrome legs. Twenty-seven rooms have tubs and 13 rooms have high-pressure showers with a cascade showerhead. Room categories range from the Superior Single Room to the spacious suites, including the Van Baerle Suite and College Hotel Suite with views over Amsterdam. All rooms have a flat-screen TV with video on demand system, DVD player, Wi-Fi, safe, minibar and bathrobe with slippers. These suites are highly requested, perfect for your VIPs.  Contact Louise Wallace, reservations manager ([email protected], 011-31-0-20-571-1511) for all VIP requests. Note: The bar and restaurant are the place to see and be seen in Amsterdam.  Insiders tell us that famous Dutch soap stars and artists hang out at the hotel and use it as the backdrop for film shootings.


Travel Agent Insight

Julie Currier Arbelaez , owner of Peace Frogs Travel/Outfitters in Charlottesville, VA, launched her agency in 1993 “as a tool to diminish distances” and promote cross-cultural understanding across the continents. Specializing in leisure travel, Peace Frogs puts aside a percentage of all sales towards a scholarship for international study abroad. Julie loves Amsterdam precisely for these educational opportunities. “The museums are some of the best in the world,” Julie says. “I particularly recommend the Van Gogh Museum and catching a concert on the Leidseplein.”

Julie also advises her clients to have dinner at the Supperclub Amsterdam. “I can count it as one of the most intense and exciting dining experiences I’ve ever had. The food was great, the staff is handsome, and the multimedia entertainment is unpredictable and fun. But this restaurant is not for the uptight!” For accommodations, she recommends the Radisson SAS. “It’s right in the center of things. And I also like the Piet Hein for clients on a budget.”

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