Imagine my surprise upon entering the lobby of the Hilton Amsterdam one evening to find all the lights out and only candles illuminating everything.
An electricity failure in such a lovely 5-star hotel in a prestigious neighborhood of Holland’s colorful capital city?
But no, that wasn’t the reason.
Instead, full credit to the Hilton Group. It was a deliberate action to focus attention on environmental concerns and Man’s need to conserve precious energy as part of the international Earth Hour. That’s why the entire hotel was ‘blacked-out.’
With candle-flames flickering, creating a soft, romantic ambience, I walked towards the restaurant and couldn’t help but notice the framed photograph on the wall of John Lennon and Yoko during their famous ‘sleep-in’ at the hotel many years ago and thought how touched they probably would have been by this symbolic action.
Located in a quiet, suburban neighborhood several kilometers from downtown, the Hilton Amsterdam sits alongside one of the city’s many canals, the Noorder-Amstel, where guests can enjoy open-air seating on the terrace, weather permitting. Our room, an upper-floor executive suite with plenty of open space and floor-to-ceiling windows, had a balcony that granted us a 180-degree view – the more modern city landscape of multi-story buildings off in the distance directly in front and the older neighborhoods such as De Pijp to the left.
A highlight is this 271-room hotel’s excellent glass-paned executive lounge on the top floor with panoramic vistas. Tasty warm snacks, succulent chocolates and an array of drinks made for a wonderful soiree before heading out for an evening.
Breakfast is also a delight with friendly, efficient service from young waiters and waitresses (Amsterdam benefits immensely from having its own hospitality college) and an impressive buffet selection. Johnny Wells, the California chef who oversees breakfast, is a naturally warm and friendly gentleman who mingles freely with guests in lively conversation. If you’re more in the mood for coffee and a quick bite, then head to ‘Issimo’ – the hotel’s espresso bar.
Fortunately for us, the ‘black-out’ occurred just as we were having dinner at ‘Roberto’s Restaurant,’ which added a delightful romantic twist to our evening. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant offers traditional yet contemporary Italian cuisine, with again excellent, friendly service. For something more casual, try ‘The Half Moon Lounge,’ also on the ground floor, which hosts live music every week.
An added attraction at the hotel are the cooking classes hosted there under the able direction of chef Franz Conde, who on the initiative of former general manager, Roberto Payer, published some of his best recipes in a book entitled, ‘Pure Italian Cuisine.’ During the master-class, not only do guests learn to cook traditional Italian dishes but also learn the historical and cultural nuances linked to them and the most appropriate drinks as accompaniment.
As for recreational activities outside the Hilton… ‘small,’ ‘friendly,’ ‘diverse,’ ‘idiosyncratic’ – such adjectives sum up Amsterdam, so it’s difficult to be at a loss for things to do. The city is a true ‘crossroads’ where people from throughout the world meet (178 nationalities at last official census), a 1,000-year old place built around waterways, on thousands of piles driven deep through the clay where they rest on solid ground. As evidenced by its many museums, Amsterdam is a place of art in abundance, freedom of conscience and a center of liberalism.
Aside from its famous cultural hotspots – the Rijks, Van Gogh and Stedelijk museums – try the city’s newest offering, the Micropia, the only one of its kind in the world. Unbeknownst to most of us, we have about 1.5 kilos of microbes on our bodies and this museum delves into many aspects of this fascinating world of tiny, almost invisible, creatures. Located in Natura Artis Magistra’s, a ‘cultural collection’ in the historical Ledenlokalen district that includes a zoo, a planetarium, a library and a soon-to-be museum of biodiversity, Micropia is the brainchild of Haig Balian, director of the Artis. As microbiology helps solve global problems, from water purification to curing infectious diseases and produces energy, food and bio-plastics, one can imagine how multi-faceted this fine museum is. For fun, visitors can even test out the Kiss-O-Meter and learn just how many microbes are exchanged in this simple act of affection.
Within a short distance of Hilton Amsterdam are several diverse evening entertainment options. ‘Boom Chicago’ offers high-quality comedy improvisation shows several times a week – with the US Presidential campaign providing ample fodder for hilarity – while CC Muziek Café operates a popular live music venue in the homey Pijp district. Of course, with the business legal in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, there is always the ‘Red Light Secrets – Museum of Prostitution,’ which offers intriguing insights into the world’s oldest profession. If the notion takes you, you can even ‘sit in the window.’
For a luxury hotel in a quiet, leafy neighborhood close to convenient public transport, some centers of entertainment and within striking distance of downtown, the Hilton Amsterdam lives up to its brand name.