The Scheepvaarthuis – The Shipping House – stands on the spot where vessels departed for the East Indies in Amsterdam's Golden Age. Dating from 1916, this fascinating and beautiful building was created to provide showpiece office space for the city's leading shipping companies, and is one of the finest examples of the Amsterdam School of architecture and design (the Dutch version of Art Nouveau).
In the Eighties, this national monument became the headquarters for the city's local transport operator, and last summer, after a painstaking renovation, the Amrâth Dutch hotel group opened it as a five-star hotel. It's worth visiting just to admire the superb ornamental, maritime-themed decoration. Around the entrance – which is pointed to evoke the bow of a ship – are granite statues representing the oceans, while appearing out of the building's brick-covered flanks are several dozen carved faces of notable Dutch explorers, traders and governors. Inside, the focal point is a magnificent stairway, carved with bas-reliefs of ships, lobsters and tridents, and topped by a dazzling stained-glass ceiling depicting the eastern and western hemispheres and the signs of the zodiac.
So impressive is the stairwell that it is rented out for receptions. On a day-to-day basis, interesting French/international fare and drinks are served in a smart restaurant and relaxing café/bar, which is candlelit in the evening. The decor in both rooms – floorboards, upholstered banquettes – complements the building's style.
Grand Hotel Amrâth, Prins Hendrikkade 108, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (00 31 20 5520 000; www.amrathamsterdam.com). The medieval core of Amsterdam lies directly behind the hotel, while the revived docklands area (parts of which are currently a building site, but which includes the current, temporary location of the modern-art Stedelijk Museum) lies across the Oosterdok, in front of the hotel. You can take a tram to virtually anywhere in the city from outside the Centraal Station.
Time from international airport: Trains take 15-20 minutes to make the journey from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam's Centraal Station, from where it is a five-minute walk to the hotel. A taxi from the airport will take much longer and cost around €35 (£27).
Exceedingly. You can look forward to king-size beds (turned down in the evening) with super-soft duvets and pillows, plus robes and slippers, electronically controlled curtains, and giant walk-in showers and deep baths. Rich, Art Nouveau-style wallpaper and fabrics, and leather armchairs decorate the spacious, high-ceilinged bedrooms.
Ask for a room on the Binnenkant side of the hotel, which should be quiet and have lovely views over the old city centre. Those facing Prins Hendrikkade are less appealing if you like having the window open, since the street is a busy dual carriageway, and the view beyond, over the harbour, is of office blocks and railway tracks.
In the basement, you will find a "wellness centre", with a small swimming pool, saunas and a Turkish bath.
Freebies: Nothing less than the full contents of the mini-bar, which includes two 25cl bottles of wine, two cans of Heineken, several miniature bottles of spirits, soft drinks, and a Toblerone – and everything is restocked each day. There's also free tea and coffee (with an espresso machine to make it), and fresh bars of soap appear daily unless you tell housekeeping otherwise.
Keeping in touch: 40 satellite channels on the flat-screen TV, and free Wi-Fi access in bedrooms and public areas. You can also access the internet for free from computers in the business centre.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The official rack rate for a double room starts at €494 (£380). But "winter special" rates, valid until the end of March (though with limited availability over Easter), start at €219 (£179), and for later in the year, relatively affordable rates are often available via the hotel's website. The buffet breakfast – an expansive feast – costs €25 (£19) extra per person.
I'm not paying that: The Lloyd (00 31 20 561 36 36; www.lloydhotel.com), a short tram-ride away from the centre in the Eastern Docklands, is a laid-back and imaginative hotel converted from what was once a boarding house for emigrants heading for the Americas. Rates start at €84 (£65), room only, for small cabin-like doubles with shared bathrooms.