Travel: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Six townhouses make up the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Amsterdam. Picture: IAMAMSTERDAM

Six townhouses make up the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Amsterdam. Picture: IAMAMSTERDAM

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THE delights of Amsterdam are all around, starting with the luxury of the Waldorf Astoria finds Gaby Soutar

Here is the Waldorf Astoria,” says the captain of our cruise along Amsterdam’s canals. “It is very beautiful, and the most expensive hotel in the city!”

Shopping on De 9 Straatjes. Picture: IamAmsterdam

Shopping on De 9 Straatjes. Picture: IamAmsterdam

The other passengers say “ooh”, lean forward and whip out their cameraphones. My other half and I look on smugly.

We’re still luxuriating in the afterglow of a night at this place, which opened in May last year.

Situated in the Unesco World Heritage site of the Herengracht, the 93 room hotel is the fusion of six historic 17th and 18th century townhouses. Although walking the streets of Amsterdam involves keeping your eyes to the ground (mainly to avoid falling down one of the basement staircases, or plopping into a canal), once you’re up the double staircase and inside the Waldorf Astoria, one’s sight is drawn heavenwards.

The high ceilings feature ornate stucco that’s as pure white as newly applied royal icing, while, in the reception room, look up for frescoes featuring baskets of flowers that look so fresh, it’s as if they were painted last week. According to a member of staff, who was wearing their uniform of dresses printed with an antique map of the city, the overhead decor was originally designed so that passers-by could admire the owner’s wealth and good taste when peeking into the windows from street level.

Over the centuries, these buildings have been owned by various merchants and dignitaries, and much of the historic detail – the Rococo paintings by Jacobus Maurer in The Maurer Room, the original marble floors and the vaults in the basements that are left over from this building’s spell as a bank – has been well preserved.

Its newer features include the dusty blue and ochre paint job, inspired by Johannes Vermeer’s painting Girl with a Pearl Earring.

There’s something about the colours and the decor generally that makes the light in this building appear diffuse and gives a serene feel. This is accentuated by the lush rose-y scent of their special Cire Trudon candles, which fills the hallways and drifts into the lifts.

As befits Amsterdam, there was a vase of raspberry-coloured tulips in our King Grand Premier Room, which featured a separate living space with telly and desk as well as a huge boudoir with views directly onto the canal. Of course, we couldn’t have survived without the telly by the tub, where I soaked while watching the Dutch version of The Voice.

And then there’s the Guerlain Spa. Unusually for this city, they have a swimming pool, as well as a wooden sauna and steam bath. I experienced the Orchidee Imperial Prestige Treatment – one of the best rub-downs I’ve ever had, and it incorporated a mini facial, which sorted out my sore post flight sinuses. Not that they were THAT painful, as it is just a 70 minute hop from Edinburgh to Amsterdam, courtesy of KLM.

Too easy, and that made me feel guilty that this was my first visit to this city.

As far as food goes, this place boasts Peacock Alley for afternoon tea, the Goldfinch brasserie (and, yes, there are copies of the Donna Tartt book on display) for lighter bites, and the three Michelin-starred Librije’s Zusje Amsterdam.

Sadly, the latter, which looks out onto their private garden and tea house, was at capacity on our visit, so we ventured outside the hotel, where you’ll find loads of twinkly and independent eateries along the side streets.

Choose from Indonesian, Surinamese, vegetarian, Italian and Greek places, as well as trendy tapas joints, on any of the streets that intersect the Herengracht. However, on a Saturday night, it’s best to book in advance. We hunted for somewhere that would serve rijsttafel (rice table) – a popular by-product of Dutch colonialism which consists of an Indonesian smorgasbord of mini dishes, served with white rice.

Sadly, after trying to bag a table in about ten places, we had to settle for a rather pedestrian Mexican joint.

For yet more quirky eateries, head a couple of blocks along to the bohemian Jordaan area, which was built in the 17th century as a quarter for workers and migrants. On Sunday, we wandered along here and had lunch at the quirky Boca’s on Westerstraat, which serves small rolls stuffed with goodies including a Van Dobben bitterball (a Dutch fried meatball).

Once you’ve sated your appetite, shop, as there are lots of independent boutiques in this area (though many are closed on Sundays).

We loved De 9 Straatjes, which is a grid of streets that are packed with interiors, fashion, jewellery, beauty and gift shops.

My purse of euros and hand luggage allowance were swiftly diminished.

If you’re planning on extreme exploration, it’s also worth getting an iamamsterdam card, which gets you free travel on public transport, various discounts and gratis entry to some of the many museums and galleries, including the Van Gogh Museum and the Amsterdam Tulip Museum.

It also bagged me a gratis trip on the aforementioned Blue Boat Company canal boat trip, when we were allowed a final drool over our five star Amsterdam home. And of course we took a few photos along with the other tourists. Who could resist?

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam (Herengracht 542-556, Amsterdam, 03120 718 4600, www.waldorf3.hilton.com). Rates from e465/£395 on a room-only basis.

KLM flies to Amsterdam from 18 UK airports, including Edinburgh, with return fares from £79 including taxes and fees, visit www.klm.com

The iamamsterdam card costs e49 for 24 hours, e59 for 48 hours or e69 for 72 hours, www.iamamsterdam.com