Spinning through the years

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 August, 2011, 12:00am


Sybille de Margerie fell in love with Amsterdam 15 years ago when she visited the city for the first time to go to the Van Gogh Museum.

Since then, she estimates that she has been back at least 20 times, even choosing the scenic city for a three-week team-building exercise for her company.

Years after that first visit, she had the opportunity to redesign the city's Grand Hotel. This has been everything from a 15th-century convent to a city hall. This job cemented her ties to what she calls 'a very special city'.

De Margerie, a scion of the illustrious Taittinger champagne family, is one of France's most acclaimed contemporary interior designers. She has just put the finishing touches on the new Mandarin Oriental in Paris, the group's first outpost in that country. From her home in Paris, a weekend sojourn to Amsterdam is easy, and often irresistible.

The city is an easy-to-navigate warren of outdoor markets, cafes, parks, museums and heritage buildings. Yet Amsterdam maintains its reputation as being one of the most progressive and modern cities in Europe, with plenty for visitors to do.

'It's really a city where you feel better coming for a weekend, or a holiday. You can't imagine only working there,' she says.

Rule number one about Amsterdam: ditch the car and rent a bike, a very easy proposition in a city designed to be enjoyed leisurely on foot or two-wheeler. Rental shops are plentiful. De Margerie recalls that on a recent trip with a colleague, they would try to finish work by lunchtime so they could cycle through the streets of the city, checking out the many art galleries along the way.

She usually stays at The Grand, but also loves The College Hotel, which is something of an incubator for hotel management trainees. In the city centre, she sits in one of the pavement cafes and indulges in some people watching.

'What I love about the city is you feel very comfortable there. It's safe, easy and very romantic.'

Lunch might be at De Kas, which is essentially a kitchen surrounded by fertile soil boasting all manner of fresh vegetables and herbs. The menu changes all the time, depending on what is in season.

'Unlike France, Italy or Spain, where the culture of food is so important, Amsterdam is not a place for gastronomy. But it is becoming better and better,' she says.

After lunch, de Margerie will usually indulge herself in some shopping. She especially likes Droog Design, an artsy, high-end store with branches in New York and Las Vegas, showcasing home accessories, fashion and jewellery from top local talent.

From there, it's on to the Reypenaer Cheese Tasting Rooms, which is considered the best cheese store in the city, to try its selection of rare aged gouda and artisanal goat's cheese.

Come evening, de Margerie will gather some friends and hit supperclub, an unusual nightlife destination that is also in Los Angeles, London, San Francisco, Ibiza and Istanbul. In Amsterdam, supperclub brings together food, music, art and spontaneous, interactive performances.

'It's really an amazing place,' says de Margerie. 'Very unusual, but still casual.' On a Sunday morning, de Margerie might arrange a trip down a picturesque canal. Boats, she says, are as integral to the enjoyment of the city as bikes.

'Boating is one other thing you can't avoid,' she says. She eschews the tour boats and rents a small private one that makes its way down the canal, allowing her the option of stopping off on the way for a drink or spot of lunch.

Boating is also one of the best ways to appreciate the richness of the heart of the city, which is filled with elegant mansions and historic churches with their bell towers.

Later, de Margerie will drop in at one of the 50 or so museums that are among the city's main tourist attractions. She will always make a point of returning to the Van Gogh Museum, but other highlights are the Rembrandt House Museum, Anne Frank House and the 200-year-old Rijksmuseum, home to masterpieces from Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Dyck, and a large collection of Asian art.

'The museums are part of the cultural experience of the city. It's like Paris. You can't go there without going to a museum. And there is such a range. I look at everyone from ancient history to new painters.

'That's what I like about Amsterdam - the link between its history and the richness of its culture to its new creativity.'

In old Amsterdam

How to get there:

Cathay Pacific flies daily from Hong Kong to Amsterdam. Economy round-trip fare is about HK$11,000.

Where to stay:

Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam (below)
Oudezijds Voorburgwal 198
Rates from about HK$3,100 if booked in advance.

The College Hotel
Roelof Hartstraat 1
The collegehotel.com
Rates start at HK$2,285.

Where to eat:

De Kas
Kamerlingh Onneslaan 3

Jonge Roelensteeg 21

Where to shop:

Staalstraat 7b

Reypenaer Cheese Tasting Rooms
Singel 182