There are many great reasons to go to Amsterdam – you can stroll along the charming canals, steep yourself in contemporary design or shop the boutiques – but if what you love best are museums, Conservatorium is the hotel for you.
Conservatorium is right in the centre of Amsterdam's robust museum district, with both the Van Gogh and the state-run Rijksmuseum just a few minutes walk away. Also nearby is the Stedelijk Museum, featuring modern and contemporary art, which had been closed for a major renovation but reopened last month.
The hotel itself feels a bit like a contemporary museum with its glass atrium, soaring communal spaces, steel, brick and mix of old and new. Designed by Milan-based Piero Lissoni, the look is chic and expensive, especially in the lobby, which is chock full of modern classic chairs and tables from brands such as Cassina and Kartel. I like the effect of all that good furniture grouped together, but my son (an art-school furniture major) deemed the look too heavy-handed and deliberate. Natural light and vintage Asian rugs warm up what would otherwise be an overpoweringly masculine environment.
The lovely Nespresso coffee machine in the room makes waking up in a different time zone a pleasure, as does the lush Akasha Wellbeing Center and spa on the hotel's lower level. You can swim in the dramatically lit Watsu pool or use the gym for free, but if you want a spa treatment, you will need to go back into your pocket. A signature Four Elements treatment will set you back about $200 and will take you through earth (reflexology), water (massage in a special pool), fire (hot stone massage) and air (scalp massage).
RESTAURANT OR ROOM SERVICE?
No ubiquitous Italian influence here; the food is squarely Dutch, especially in the Brasserie, where we have both breakfast and lunch. Breakfast is a proper buffet that includes fruit, cold cuts, grilled vegetables, fresh juices and local dairy products. Lunch is more hit-and-miss, or possibly just an acquired taste – we try the traditional MRIJ croquettes and find them oddly creamy, considering they are beef. The burger is more reliable, and the dark bread and Dutch butter are a revelation.
IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING
The best way to see Amsterdam is from the seat of a bicycle, and the hotel has a few Dutch cuties for guest use. But be sure to book in advance: Both mornings that we came down looking for wheels, we were disappointed to find all the bikes were out.
Instead of a dreadfully generic hotel room, the Conservatorium offers a sleek and thoughtfully designed place to lay your jet-lagged head. Rooms feel almost like tiny European apartments, especially if you opt for a Deluxe Duplex, which is laid out like a modern loft with sofa, TV, desk and closet on the main floor, and bedroom and bath upstairs. One wall is composed entirely of windows, which can be left bare or covered for privacy with the flick of a switch. Bathrooms feature gorgeous honey-coloured stone and are cleanly recessed behind a wall panel (just beware of the door, which is heavy and awkward to use). But best of all, Conservatorium's un-hotel-room rooms allow you to play my favourite game of travel "let's pretend": What would it feel like to live here?
Conservatorium Hotel Amsterdam, Van Baerlestraat 27, Amsterdam, 31-0-20-570-0000; conservatoriumhotel.com; 129 rooms from $400; eco-rating: Green Globe Certification.