Room Service: Andaz, Amsterdam
A hotel to inspire Wanders lust
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Saturday 01 February 2014
Like an ageing rock star, Amsterdam has just wasted a decade in a cultural wilderness. For most of the past 10 years, Europe's most human city has endured the ignominy of the Continent's foremost art collection being confined to an awkward annexe – the Rijksmuseum's refreshment took three times as much time and money as predicted.
In parallel, the avant-garde Kandinsky-to-Warhol collection belonging to the beautiful Stedelijk was closed down on grounds of health and safety by fire officials, and shunted out to a former post office near Centraal Station. Re-installing the collection in its original home dragged on for three years. But the Stedelijk is now back in business, and today a new exhibition opens to celebrate Marcel Wanders, a contemporary star of Dutch design. The suitably graphic title is "Marcel Wanders: Pinned Up at the Stedelijk". This is the year to return to Amsterdam – and to stay at a venue reborn at the hands of none other than Mr Wanders.
The Andaz brand is the attempt by Hyatt hotels to enter the boutique market. The only other Andaz in Europe is the former Great Eastern at Liverpool Street in London. Most of the properties are in the US (including two in Manhattan and one in Hawaii); Shanghai and Costa Rica are open, Tokyo arrives in the summer.
The official form of the name is "ANdAZ", which looks like trying too hard to be cool. But the concept is sound: "Each hotel features indigenous designs capturing the sights, sounds and tastes of its surrounding area." So too is the execution, with the best local brains hired to fuse culture and comfort.
The Amsterdam Andaz is on the outer orbit of the main Canal Ring, which has decorated the city for four centuries. But not every property on the canal dates back to the 17th century. The Andaz occupies the city's former public library, one of the post-war buildings that still scar the city's noble visage. But the dark, brick exterior does a creditable job of blending in with the more venerable neighbours.
The eclectic design After that neutral introduction, the ground floor is a joyful surprise. The humdrum previous existence of the Andaz location means Marcel Wanders has enjoyed more freedom of expression than traditional canal houses allow. Dimensions have been dramatically stretched, with your attention drawn high and wide. The area that in other hotels would comprise reception has chandeliers concealed in gigantic white bells that dangle over a carpet infused with notes of navigation, Delft ceramics and tulips – and a series of round, white tables. Check-in, conducted by iPad, feels almost conspiratorial.
Venture deeper into the hotel and a bibliophile theme refers to the building's previous role. But the greatest honour goes to the Golden Age, when the Dutch East India Company – the world's first true multinational – helped Amsterdam assume the role as cultural and commercial capital of Europe. The hotel, says Wanders, "is intended to be a vessel that instantly connects people to place," and "to offer a local experience for international people".
Amsterdammers are enticed in by the Bluespoon Restaurant. Using ingredients such as hare, duck (sourced from nearby farms) and sea bass, chefs prepare dishes in full view of diners.
... is where the Prinsengracht ("Prince's canal") makes a gentle turn, spilling classic images along with plenty of light into the premium water-facing rooms. It is on the edge of the "Nine Streets" shopping and dining area. The Rijksmuseum is just 10 minutes' walk, with the Van Gogh and Stedelijk about a quarter-hour away. Centraal Station, with links from Brussels (for Eurostar) is a half-hour walk. Schiphol airport, with links from the world, is a 20-minute cab ride (€35).
Amsterdam is a non-standard city, and standardisation has been chased out of town by Marcel Wanders and his team. Each room is different, and in each abstract elements of Dutch design are imaginatively combined – yet not at the expense of sleep and convenience. The bed is reliably and comfortably conventional, while the bathroom has the kind of hydraulic power more normally associated with steam locomotives.
Outer rooms command a premium. Those on the west get the canal views, and those on the east look over gardens. But an interior room had quite enough visual interest for me.
High-speed Wi-Fi is free and accessible everywhere, without the need to tap in a frustratingly complex code – a relief for ageing rock stars.
Prinsengracht 587, Amsterdam, Netherlands (00 31 20 523 1234; andaz.com)
Doubles start at €255, including breakfast.
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