First thing to do in Amsterdam, says the gal, is to look out at the surroundings. You must have water, you must have quaint old houses side by side, packed so closely that you feel if one house was removed the others would all fall down, like books in a bookcase. Step out on to the balcony of suite 424 at the super-luxury Hotel de L’Europe, owned by Heineken (which has no other hotels) and you look across the Amstel River at the houses the other side of Amstel street. Why, by the way, is the hotel super-luxury? Well, for example, arrive and you are offered a glass of Ruinart champagne, perfectly chilled and in a Riedel flute. This is a hotel, by the way, where the MD, Tom Krooswijk, makes sure brands are everywhere, but discreetly.
I decline a glass as I cannot wait to get out on one of the hotel’s bikes and because of the concentration needed to cycle in Amsterdam even one bubble would not be a good idea. Why is cycling here unique? Well, with the exception of other cyclists, anyone on a bike seems to have priority over everything – buses, cars, traffic lights and pedestrians. I pedal quite happily the wrong way down one-way streets, and on the left, or right, of oncoming traffic (my driver Danny, bringing me to the hotel, says every Amsterdam driver knows to look through 360 degrees as you never know from where a cyclist might emerge). I manage perfectly, along to the Amstel InterContinental and back again, taking in the sunset along the way.
And blow me down, having dropped my bike back to bellman John, I am about to climb the 123 red-carpeted steps to my current home when I see a wooden bike. I hear later it is a prototype from COCO-mat, the Greek company that makes the divine, must-sleep mattresses on beds in all the 111 rooms. Having mentioned brands, by the way, I should add the linens here are De Witte Lietaer, and the toiletries are Blaise Mautin, big size and easy-open (I could buy some, too, via the full-colour hanging card on my doorknob – charge to my bill, of course). There are so many clever things here. Have afternoon tea in the splendid lobby Promenade, surrounded by Rembrandt blow-ups and with six gigantic sparkling chandeliers overhead, and your cakes and scones come on a three-tier holder hanging, like a bird cage, from a floor-set stand.
One guest here has, apparently, checked in 163 times – which means a total of 326 glasses of Ruinart as this luxury hotel also offers a glass on departure. Before I leave I have a pre-dawn workout in the 24/7 Technogym, playing sudoku on the elliptical’s screen, and breakfast in the cheery De Hoofstad Brasserie. They have some of Europe’s best yoghurts, Pur Natur, from Belgian, and three different types of marinated and smoked salmon, and coffee in little silver pots really tastes good. Brasserie manager Kostas, here 21 years, shows me the 22-bottle oenotheque machine, a Heineken product called By The Glass: three of the labels, he says, are specially for Hotel de L’Europe, blended from three grape varieties each by the hotel sommelier. I sit at a window table, looking out at reflections at this early hour. And sadly, all too soon, I am being offered my farewell glass of Ruinart.