Within an hour of touching down at Schiphol, we’re relaxing in ‘t Smalle, a traditional canalside pub on the site of the 1780 Hoppe gin distillery. It’s the epitome of cosy, with a tumble-down spiral staircase, stained-glass windows and a good selection of locals sampling a good selection of beers. We wash down some poffertjes (mini pancakes) with Jenever, a strong, juniper-flavoured liquor which preceded gin. We drink it as tradition dictates: as a lager chaser, from a tulip-shaped glass filled to the brim so that you have to take the first few sips hands-free.
After sleeping off the Jenever, our first day sees us at the Van Loon Museum, a private residence filled with paintings, furniture, precious silver and porcelain from Amsterdam’s Golden Age. We marvel at monkey-patterned wallpaper and the garden’s tulip hedgerows shaped after a map of the city’s waterways (or a Trivial Pursuit playing piece).
Next we explore the canals on a salon boat, tall-roofed to accommodate the hats of 1920s gentlemen. Our captain, in full regalia, points out forward-leaning houses (built to appear more impressive from the water), merchant buildings decorated with symbols of their trade, and a modest view of the red-light district. It’s raining, but we tuck into sandwiches and a bottle of white wine.
Following a 10-year renovation, the Rijks Museum has received plenty of positive press since it reopened in April. We’re treated to a whirlwind private tour, past tourists crowding the Vermeers (always the same apparently), through the lotus flower shaped Asian Pavilion, and under the Atrium’s majestic suspended “chandeliers”. The museum’s new visual identity was created by Irma Boom, with a palette based on colours found in the collection’s best known paintings. The blue, yellow and red of Vermeer’s The Kitchen Maid are instantly recognisable.
On the second evening we are guests at the studio of Urban Larsson, a Swedish portrait artist specialising in traditional realism – the visual language and techniques of painters from earlier centuries. Before dinner, antique dealer Kitty Lameris talks to us about the history of drinking glasses. Zooming in on the celebratory feast of a projected Golden Age painting, she produces real-life examples: glasses with anti-slip studs for greasy, meat-picking hands, practical joke glasses with hidden syphons, and engraved friendship glasses for taking a sip and passing around, which of course we do.
Dinner begins with miniature starters of artichoke hearts with lemon, Waldorf salad with shrimp, blue cheese with fig, walnut and parma ham, and incredible gazpacho. Over our meal we chat to the charming Larsson. He tells us about his new portrait of the Swedish Queen, and the emotional connections that are forged when you paint someone from life. A lot of things are called exclusive nowadays, but this evening really lives up to the definition.
Late morning on day three is a tour, by director Paul Spies, of the Amsterdam Museum. Old and new go hand in hand here, with thoughtful media installations offering a contemporary view of the city’s art and history. After lunch, we’re given an etching demonstration at Rembrandt’s house, now a museum. We wander round his kitchen, the studio where he worked and taught, and rooms filled floor-to-ceiling with artefacts he obsessively collected. (Hands and feet of statues, dried puffer fish, leather bound tomes and the like.) A museum guide shows us the squirrel and badger-hair brushes he would have used, and the ultramarine reserved for the Virgin Mary’s robes; all the more poignant for having unexpectedly come across a Rembrandt being restored in a private collection that morning.
For an early dinner on the final evening, we return to our hotel, the Pulitzer, a labyrinthine abode in the Jordaan district, sprawled over 25 18th-century canal houses. We eat in a room called the Apotheek, a salon specialising in sustainable French wines whose ornate shelves, marble columns and curved windows date back to 1800 when it was a pharmacy. A highlight of five courses is cod off the grill with crispy bacon, stir-fried cauliflower and capers, potato purée, mixed shellfish and sauce of Amsterdam beer. The rooms at the Pulitzer, by the way, are spacious, comfortable and well-equipped, and with art exhibitions lining the corridors you’re always guaranteed an interesting stroll to and from reception.
I leave the bridges and cobbled streets wanting to return, and thanks to our behind-the-scenes experience, feeling like a bit of a local already.
by Sam Edwards
Our visit was a condensed version of The Golden Age of Amsterdam tour, part of Cazenove & Loyd’s new Inspired Journeys collection. The first trip runs 16-20 September, flying with British Airways.
Visit www.cazloyd.com for more information and booking.
Cazenove & Loyd are on twitter @cazenoveandloyd