I stood for a long time staring at the sign in the lobby of the Conscious Hotel, in Amsterdam’s Westerpark. A very long time. “Eco Sexy!” the sign read, like the Tinder bio of a freshly divorced vegan, or the aftermath of a tragic word bomb, with two fatalities and one jaunty exclamation mark. Eco Sexy also appears on the website, and in various emails. They are very pleased with this phrase, to the degree that I asked a Dutch speaker if perhaps there is some glitch in the translation. There is not. But – and don’t worry, I hate myself for saying this, no need for you to as well – in using this phrase, these words stapled together, they have a point.
This, the fourth property from Dutch sustainable brand Conscious, is the first hotel in the Netherlands to be powered entirely by wind. It’s genuinely eco (desks are made out of recycled yogurt pots) and it’s genuinely sexy, if you, like me, are gently turned on by high-ceilinged rooms panelled with blond wood, and growing walls spilling with foliage, and views over Westergasfabriek, the first park in the Netherlands to offer free wifi to all. So civilised!
We arrived in Amsterdam at night, on Eurostar’s new direct train from London St Pancras (there are two trains a day, a journey time of just over three and a half hours), and something was rumbling. It wasn’t until morning that I learned we’d arrived on the eve of King’s Day, marking the birth of King Willem-Alexander. Across the city, locals were dragging their unwanted books and clothes into the street to sell, and young people (many having made the journey from the UK) were gathering for the piss-up of the year. From a distance we heard the dull thump of a soundsystem – as the day went on, the music got louder. But while stag-like groups of tourists were dancing a mile down the road, outside the Conscious Hotel in Westergasfabriek, a bouncy castle was inflated for the city’s kids, excitedly selling their old toys for €1 a pop.
It’s something that gives Amsterdam a unique and joyful tension, this constant balancing of calm beauty with beery hedonism. Look to the left, a slim dark house whose interiors, visible through windows the size of Wales, leave one breathless; look to the right, a fistful of Liverpool fans in mankinis pissing richly into the canal.
The new Conscious Hotel isn’t the only innovative place to stay. This city is reinventing the boutique hotel in new and creative ways. Sweets Hotel is slowly transforming Amsterdam’s 28 bridge houses (built between 1673 and 2009) into one-of-a-kind hotel suites. There’s no lobby, no porter – the whole city becomes the hotel, with its rooms scattered along the water. One has a facade of glass and mint-green cement, another, in a periscope-like structure near Centraal Station, has a bed enclosed by a bright pink curtain, a room within a room. Once home to bridge operators (now redundant due to automated systems), these structures have been adapted to create modern little retreats right on the canal. There are currently 11 which take reservations along the city’s 60 miles of canals, with 10 more to open before 2019. Expect a bed, a shower, a shelf, and a view. That’s it.
A more luxurious waterside conversion was recently completed on the impressive Herengracht – the “Gentlemen’s Canal”. The Waldorf Astoria comprises an imposing terrace of six mansions, knocked through but preserving many of the existing 17th- and 18th-century features, including Rococo details, ceiling paintings and a staircase that beckons you to sweep down it, grandly. As you check in, you’re invited to select one of four signature fragrances by sniffing glass sampling trumpets from an ornate trolley in reception. Your chosen perfume will be hurried away to scent your bedlinen.
We were travelling with our three-year-old, who found the whole thing fairly perplexing, and there are only so many times one can try to explain the depths of luxury she was witnessing, so after a while I gave up and showed her the swimming pool. Beside the spa is a pool with doors on to one of the largest private gardens in the city, where, as we peered through the glass, a rainbow of manicured tulips was dewy with rain.
We took a languid canal trip through the storm – the canal, we heard, is composed of 1m mud, 1m water and 1m bikes – then visited the Anne Frank house, where a man called Barry showed us into the museum where they’re undergoing a major renewal project. It was later that I saw him again online, explaining to a Jewish magazine how he’d been banned from wearing a kippah to work, because it might “endanger the neutrality” of the foundation. “Here of all places, where Anne Frank was forced to hide because of her identity, I have to hide my Jewish identity?” he said. Awaiting an enquiry, he was wearing his kippah that day, shepherding the queues of coach tours and kids.
Every detail of the afternoon, from the museum’s descriptions of creeping antisemitism to Barry standing sentry in the rain, felt uncomfortably weighted. Afterwards, we ate apple pie at the café Winkel 43 in a kind of silence.
Though the intention was to open the full Eurostar route last month, the return leg currently feels more like a long haul flight. At the end of the platform a glass Eurostar waiting area stands locked and dark and slightly embarrassed. Rather than that luxurious direct journey, you take a Thalys train to Brussels, go through snail-like security checks, then finally the Eurostar to London. A new Tracey Emin neon greets passengers off the train in St Pancras station, many of whom emerge still smelling sweetly of weed. I Want My Time With You, it says, but everyone walks past with their head down as if replying: “Not now, love.”
There’s something glorious about the idea of bringing Amsterdam closer to the UK, with all its beer and beauty, its elegant cobbled history. But while it’s wonderful for us Brits, able to pop over for a short weekend without extending our carbon footprint too far, stepping over a puddle of orange vomit on the way to the station – remnants of a lairy stag do – made me feel quite apologetic for our inevitable influx. Sorry Amsterdam – this year you’ll be seeing a lot more of us.
Way to go
A direct train from London to Amsterdam costs from £35 one way (eurostar.com). Rooms at Conscious Hotel Westerpark start at £105 (conscioushotels.com); £140 at Sweets Hotel (sweetshotel.amsterdam); and £523 at Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam (waldorfastoria.com)
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