I go to certain hotels for very different kinds of business. If I am going to Amsterdam laden with laptops and a Blackberry full of appointments, then I’ll head over to Conservatorium, or even grin and bear a vanilla chain if someone else is picking it. It’ll be a fake grin, but I can do it. If I’m looking for a romantic hotel in Amsterdam, with lots of fancy, boutique bells and whistles, and more bed than floor space, I’ll go to Canal House.
One of my favourite hotels in Paris is L’Hotel, in Saint-Germain-de-Prés, which is the sibling to Canal House. L’Hotel is where, famously, Oscar Wilde had a last dig at the wallpaper. I’ve stayed in that very room, and I can tell you that there’s nothing like a little fin de siècle death to enhance the mood.
I don’t know who has died in its sister hotel (although many must have – Canal House is fashioned from three original 17th century houses on Keizersgracht), but what the Amsterdam property shares with L’Hotel is scale and intimacy. Each is tiny (Canal House has 23 bedrooms), and has a dark plushness to it that’s very appealing for a couple with nothing in the diary apart from meandering, wining and dining.
There’s no restaurant as such at Canal House, although there is a kitchen, which you have to walk through to get to the lift – such is one of the quirks of a hotel in such a beautiful old building. If you dare delve into the Flyover State demons that lurk on Tripadvisor (and I advise you never do), you’ll find someone whinging about this. But then you’ll also find imbeciles moaning about the sound of the orchestra warming up at the Venice Opera next to their B&B in Campo San Fantin. Such people shouldn’t be allowed to travel.
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The hotel does serve breakfast, which is probably its weakest point – all refined white carbohydrates with cheese and sandwich ham under glass domed lids. It’s a shame, as the room its served in – which turns into a lounge, games room and extension of the bar in the evening – is very handsome indeed. It’s retained much of the old detail, including some beautiful wooden doors, but with a lot of blacking-up and mirroring of walls. There’s a slight fetish feel in the use of black elasticated bandaging around the dining chairs – reminiscent of Margiela perhaps, but dark. If you look up, you’ll see Marcel Wanders’ face decorating the light fittings: Canal House is that kind of modern, design-literate Dutch hotel.
I find the maze-like corridors at Canal House a little disconcerting. The layout of the adjoined houses means that staircases can lead to dead ends. For such a small property, it can all get a bit David Lynch. And the rooms aren’t vast, which is one of the reasons I’d avoid Canal House for business. These aren’t rooms to tend to Excel spreadsheets in. They are too soft and too dark – great if you’re sleepy or amorous, less so if you’re busy. If you’ve stayed at L’Hotel – or Cowley Manor, one of the best hotels in the Cotswolds – you’ll be familiar with Green & Spring, A Curious Group of Hotels’ in-house skincare. It’s very nice indeed; reminiscent of Cowshed in look and style, but more Liberty and less Boots.
There’s a very swanky bar on the ground floor, which anyone would be very happy to while away a few hours in, and some great browns bars just around the corner: Da Twee Zwaantjes is particularly fabulous, with a non-stop Eurovision soundtrack, great beer and nibbles. This is an excellent part of town to be in; there are lots of chic restaurants, bars and shops, and you can walk to just about everything (or get a cab a short ride to either De Kas or Ron Blaauw). The Anne Frank House is three minutes away, and the canals and cobbled streets surrounding the hotel couldn’t be prettier.
Take the right person with you to Canal House, turn your phone off, and you’ll have a very memorable long weekend away indeed. C
Canal House, Keizersgracht 148, 1015 CX Amsterdam
31 20 622 5182; canalhouse.nl