Luxury Hotels

Heineken’s only luxury hotel

Napkin by Eva Gas

Napkin by Eva Gans

It is always a delight, says the gal, to return to Hotel de L’Europe, Amsterdam, the only hotel owned by the Heineken family, now led by Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken. Jeroen Henneman’s silhouette of her father, the late Fredy Heineken, greets you as you bound up five red velvet steps from Nieuwe Doelenstraat, and in through the door (what would Mr H think, one wonders, if he knew he is now looking down on a very successful macaroon display table?). This luxury hotel has few signs of Heineken, actually, though there are coasters and cocktail napkins, specially designed by Eva Gans.

A cheery hello as I walk through the kitchen

A cheery hello as I walk through the kitchen

I was taken through the immaculate kitchen of Bord’eau, the hotel’s two Michelin-starred restaurant, and the team, led by Richard van Oostenbrugge, smiled broadly. They know that many European gourmets make dinner reservations first and, once those are confirmed, they then reserve bedrooms to stay over rather than drive home. We were in fact lunching casually in Hoofstad Brasserie, which seemed to have many regulars, experienced lunch-goers who know a good deal when they see it. Many will certainly be here for New Year, says Tom Krooswijk, the highly capable boss of this 110-room hotel.

Beetroot and burrata salad in Hof

Beetroot and burrata salad in Hoofstad

This year the festivities are themed Great Gatsby, and he expects at least 300 revellers, though here perhaps that is a slightly over-the-top word. He does say, by the way, that Heineken is considered a fun drink by Americans, which is a draw. He also knows that he can regularly rely on Amsterdam’s many art exhibitions to attract the increasing numbers of art-loving high net worth travellers: coming up, for instance, is Hermitage Amsterdam’s Dutch Masters from The Hermitage: Treasures of the Tsars, 63 amazing works by 50 artists, including Bol, Hals and Rembrandt, on loan from the Hermitage, St Petersburg, and showing in Amsterdam October 7th, 2017, through to May 27th, 2018.

Tom Krooswijk never stops working

Tom Krooswijk never stops working

We were going to have look at the luxury hotel’s pop-up Mexican restaurant, which runs until Christmas, but somehow we ran out of time. There was, of course, by necessity just a minute to toast a couple of people in the farewell flutes of Champagne that seemed miraculously to appear, bubbles and all, from the front desk team. How appropriate, I thought: the Champagne was Billecart-Salmon, like this hotel, one of the few to remain family owned. Well done, Tom & Co, I still do not know any other hotels that always offer Champagne on departure.

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Luxury Hotels

A new-look historic luxury hotel in Amsterdam

One of several inner-courtyards

One of several inner-courtyards

There are some clever ideas at The Pulitzer, Amsterdam, a hotel that is now entirely independent – for many years it was part of Starwood. Now this luxury hotel stands on its own two feet, with the help of Preferred Hotels & Resorts. Its history is that in 1970 Peter Pulitzer, a descendent of Herbert-of-the-prize, was asked by KLM to sreate a hotel suitable for the airline’s first class passengers. He bought seven adjacent merchants’ houses along Prinsengracht canal and added more so that now the luxury hotel is a jigsaw of nearly two dozen houses, some of them actually on parallel Keizersgracht canal. In between there are several courtyards, one of which is a kids’ playground, Dutch style.

View from the Pulitzer Suite

View from the Pulitzer Suite

The Prinsengracht Suite, up 13 marble steps from a main lobby, looks out on to another courtyard (see the video below). The entire hotel has been reimagined by a young designer called Jacu Stauss, who has found antiques, bought modern pieces and designed others himself. He has an amazing creative mind. Outside the main Prinsengracht door, or rather between the outer and inner doors, is a display of blooms that are colour-coded. Yes, this is a working flower boutique. Overhead, deliberately askew, hangs a full-size grand piano. Come on in to the lobby and the three standing-height reception desks are entirely Delft tiles.

Alex Van Gastel in the former apothecary shop

Alex Van Gastel in the former apothecary shop

Among the total 225 rooms are four speciality suites, with their own front doors on Keizersgracht: one is the Book Collector’s Suite, and real books form an arch up with side of, and over, an inner door. The main entrance to the hotel’s Restaurant Jansz, by the way, is also on this street, which is part of the Negen Straatjes, Nine Streets, historic part of town. You come in through what was formerly an apothecary, and then to the restaurant, which is of the plain wood floor (endgrain as used in mediaeval warehouses) and plain wood tables and working kitchen variety, and very good it is, too. Best-selling starter is braised meatballs with marinara sauce but I loved my burrata with different colours of heirloom tomatoes, and I went on to a hanger steak, chopped into bite-sizes with bits of Jerusalem artichoke.

An impromptu pink rose 'put to bed' in a restaurant napkin

An impromptu pink rose ‘put to bed’ in a restaurant napkin

I hear how the hotel commendably partners with Plastic Whale, which makes cleaning local canals into a fun activity – as with local companies’ team-building canal-cleaning outings, hotel guests really appreciate learning more about the city’s geography while, wearing protective gloves, they are in a boat, made from recycled plastic, fishing for discarded bottles. Everyone working at this luxury hotel, led by GM Alex Van Gastel, is really lovely, enthusiastic, professional and empowered – as we were sitting pre-dinner, enjoying glasses of Chilean wine, Leyda Pinot Noir 2015 Rapel Valley, one of the servers discreetly laid a rose in the folded napkin awaiting two women about to come in from the bar (the servers, by the way, wear white shirts, jeans, Convers trainers, and weird aprons with beige upper half, pine green skirt-half). Another example of empowerment was when I called down to see if there was an extra standing lamp. Within ten minutes the housekeeper personally led a posse of three, all carrying gigantic lamps as tall as themselves, which, since the Dutch are the tallest people in the whole of Europe, is no mean feat. NOW WATCH THE VIDEO OF MY SPACE

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Luxury Hotels

Final luxury hotel in India (this trip, that is)

Park of the lobby

Park of the lobby

The Leela Mumbai is an institution – it was more or less built in the gardens of the two-floor ‘bungalow’ in which the much-loved, and much-missed, Captain Nair lived with his wife, Madame Leela. In 1985 they built a hotel, and thus started the entire portfolio of The Leela. The gal knows all their luxury hotels, and, like all of the brand in India, they feel like family.   The Leela Mumbai has the big advantage of being only ten minutes’ drive to the airport (stay in South Bombay and you might have to allow two hours in case there is traffic). The hotel also has a magnificent garden – with 67 gardeners.

Testing glasses...

Tasting glasses…

Under GM Sameer Sud, this hotel is elevating its game. It has got rid of a somewhat tacky selection of souvenir shops that used to line the lower level, which made walking to the gym or the spa uncomfortable as you were petitioned by all the traders as you went. Now all those stores are white-windowed, so much more stylish. The spa, by the way, is well worth a visit: three of the therapists are Bhutanese and they and ESPA get along just fine. Admittedly, there will soon be more stores moving into this lower level arcade but I am assured they will be definitely upmarket, highlighting Leela experiences, and fashion heritage.

The wine was deftly poured into a carafe

The wine was deftly poured into a carafe

What a joy it was, my last supper in India, to return to Le Cirque. This restaurant, on the eighth floor along from Royal Lounge, is now definitely gaining in popularity – there were foreign business types, dining alone, as well as multi-groups of Indians in the 30-ish age range. I hope they had as good an evening as I did, especially since we had entertainment and education from a sommelier. I commented on the lovely glasses, 400-size, from Zwiesel, and mentioned an 800 Riedel I had inadvertently bought from Harrods once (it had to be changed, later, for a 400, but now, at home, we have 200s, which are much more practical). Aha, said the sommelier, and produced one of the dozen 800s that this restaurant actually has.

Another burrata from Bangalore

Another burrata from Bangalore

How much wine does an 800 hold? He filled an empty wine bottle with water and showed that an 800 holds 2.5 bottles (750ml size) easily, but then it was time to offer our Cakebread Cellars 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, which went marvellously with burrata from Bangalore and the rest of the meal. Then there was just time to go along to pack, in lovely Konarak Suite, named for the 13th century Konarak Sun Temple in Orissa, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And then, sadly, my car was waiting and I, and the trusty Porsche Rimowa wheelie, said goodbye to this luxury hotel and went to the sparkling new International Terminal, to leave India. As a final memory, see the video of the garden, below.

 

 

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