For lovers of culture, Amsterdam’s Conservatorium could not be better placed – literally across the street from such prestigious museums as the Van Gogh and the Stedelijk, and within walking distance of the Rijksmuseum.
Staying several nights on the third floor, Room 328, a junior suite, our floor-to-ceiling windows faced directly on to Museum Square, with convenient public transport outside directly to the downtown area. Brushed-oak flooring and beige furniture created a cool autumnal color scheme that is both modern and classic at the same time, while spacious sliding cupboards were ‘hidden’ in the walls.
Boasting 129 rooms on its eight floors, the Conservatorium underwent a multi-million dollar renovation, converting it from its former lives as the Rijkspostspaarbank (Dutch savings bank) for 80 years and the former Sweelinck Conservatory of Music, into a spacious, post-modern structure with authentic Old World touches, including, amusingly, ‘piggie’ tiles from its bank era.
Neo-Gothic 19th century in style, chosen interior designer for the comprehensive renovation project that started in 2011 and lasted four years was Piero Lissoni, well known for his conversion of steel structures. Coincidentally, the hotel was opened the same year the Rijksmuseum after its renovation.
The Italian architect made good use of the original masonry exterior, corten steel stairs and multiple catwalks and accentuated their meeting points through arched windows and portals within the brick façade. Not only did Lissoni oversee the radical changes for the building’s reincarnation but also created unique television sets for each room.
From the carpeted corridor outside our room, a balcony granted us clear views over the vast, open atrium and Brasserie, complete with natural foliage, all encased in glass including a ceiling high above, thus allowing plenty of natural light to filter through. Here breakfasts, with delectable, lightly home-smoked wild salmon, as well as all-day meals, snacks and drinks are served, as well as a traditional afternoon tea.
The hotel, part of a luxury collection known as The Set, is owned by the Israel-based Akirov family through the Alrov Hotel Group which also controls other luxury properties – the Mamilla and David Citadel Hotels in Jerusalem, Hotel Café Royal in London and Hôtel Lutetia in Paris. Celebrities are regular guests at the Conservatorium, with Madonna a recent visitor. Servicing such high-end clients is a gallery of stores along the first floor including Skin Cosmetics and Bentley.
Aside from the ground-floor Brasserie, Taiko restaurant, named after a traditional Japanese drum which stands in one corner, is the fine-dining option of choice overlooking the Paulus Potterstraat and the Stedelijk Museum. Signature dishes include sashimi and beef from the Bincho-tan grill. All food at the Conservatorium is produced under the watchful eye of Dutch chef Schilo van Coevorden.
For a more laidback evening within a chic ambience, ‘Tunes’ bar is more suitable. An elegant yet casual haven (including a separate smoking lounge) serving sushi and Asian tapas, this is where one evening we enjoyed two delightfully creative gin-based cocktails concocted from the Icelandic Napua and the Dutch Hermit brands, the latter served with salty fingers sea vegetable. Mixologists, Sander Lucardie and Alex Wassenaar, are extremely helpful and patient in explaining the various options. In-house DJs roll out the music in the aptly-named bar on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
For relaxation of a different kind, try the 1,000 square meter Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Spa. Divided into four different areas corresponding with the elements of nature – earth, water, fire and air – they house the bar lounge; pool, hamamm, Jacuzzi and sauna; the gym, yoga and pilates respectively.
Credit must be given to The Set hotels for their role in corporate social responsibility. Paying tribute to its illustrious past, this year the Conservatorium launched an ‘Art of Musical Expression’ award by which a talented student will receive paid-for tuition, amounting to about 5,000 euro, to the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, Amsterdam’s University of the Arts. In addition, students are provided a podium to perform every weekend in the hotel and this year also three bands will play in the Symphony Room.
While the attractions of the Conservatorium are enough to keep anyone comfortably ensconced within its walls, museums just outside beckon. The Van Gogh Museum is hosting a fascinating exhibition entitled ‘Easy Virtue’ on depictions of prostitution (legal in Holland) through the eyes of Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso and other well-known 19th-century artists. One of the highlights of the Stedelijk is Edward Kienholz’s ‘The Beanery,’ a walk-in bar based on his local bar, The Original Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles. It’s a wonderful metaphor on time – with each person having a clock for a face. Make sure also to see the rather startling sculpture of Joachim and Anne, grandparents of Jesus, in a kissing embrace, when they hear news that their daughter, Mary, is pregnant; Cornelis van Haarlem’s shocking depiction of ‘The Massacre of the Innocents;’ and the unicorn’s horn at the nearby Rijksmuseum.
Overall, so much to do and to see in Amsterdam – if you can break free from the seductive comfort of the Conservatorium.