This was an amazing design trip through three countries and based in the Hague, which is a beautiful and friendly city. If you like a mix of city and country and a slow and relaxing pace, I highly recommend visiting the Netherlands. For architectural design, don't miss Prague in the Czech Republic—especially at night. The city lights make this city a truly magical setting. Lastly, Antwerp in Belgium has great cobblestone roads, hidden alleys and superb beer. It's truly worth the trip!
Banks Mansion, Netherlands
Amsterdam 1017 BV, Netherlands
Tel: 31 20 420 0055
The blah Canal Crowne Hotel was taken over by Carlton Hotel Collection, a NetherlandsUK boutique chain, and reopened in May 2004 as a far nicer prospect. Instead of relying on high design as so many other new places in the Dutch capital do, it's taking a shot at being the coziest, comfiest hotel in town. In fact, the design is fine too, taking its cue from the early-20th-century building itselfa former bank on the Vijzelstraat "Golden Bend" of the Herengracht Canaland riffing on H.P. Berlage's Amsterdam School and Frank Lloyd Wright. It all ends up looking homey in a vaguely Art Deco way, especially in the lounge, called "The Living," with its leather chairs and brass lamps, and in "The Kitchen," with its checkerboard tiled floor, pine dresser, and giant old-fashioned range. Breakfast (included) is cooked to order in "The Kitchen," and guests are encouraged to hang out there and in "The Living," where all drinks and snacks are free. Contents of your minibar and unlimited Internet and movie channels are gratis as well. Right there, they're onto a good thing, and the website has incredibly low last-minute deals. Who needs a spa anyway?
See + Do
Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, Netherlands
Amsterdam 1011 AD, Netherlands
Tel: 31 20 573 2911
This modern art and design museum's permanent home on Museumplein was a little run down by the time it closed for renovations in 2004. The good news is that until autumn 2008, the museum's galleries have moved across town to the second and third floors of the former post office tower, near Centraal Station and a stone's throw from the IJ (an arm of the southern sea). Local architectural team Zwarts & Jansma (also responsible for the Rembrandt House Museum facade) played up the temporary nature of the galleries by fitting out the space with inexpensive materials. To our surprise, it's a great backdrop for the Stedelijk's temporary exhibits and permanent collection from Dutch Stijl through the Cobra movement, and video art through Gilbert and George. The Stedelijk Bureau Amsterdam also curates a tiny gallery space for intimate exhibitions of up-and-coming artists in the Jordaan district of town (59 Rozenstraat; 31-20-422-0471; www.smba.nl).
Open daily 10 am to 6 pm.
See + Do
Antwerp 2000, Belgium
Tel: 32 3201 1555
Peter Paul Rubens liked his women fleshy and his home palatial, so when he bought this building in 1610, he set out to turn it into a Renaissance palazzo that befitted a painter who would one day occupy the top echelons of Old Masters. Out of the Rubens family hands for nearly 300 years following the painter's death, the house was finally acquired by the city in 1937, and it set about restoring the place with as much bona fide Rubens memorabilia as possible, filling in the gaps with period pieces. The ten Rubens paintings on display include a self-portrait, as well as a portrait of another young lad who showed some skill with a paintbrush: Anthony van Dyck.
See + Do
Koninklijk Museum Voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, Belgium
Antwerp 2000, Belgium
Tel: 32 3238 7809
Discover exactly what art historians mean by "Flemish Old Masters" at the Antwerp Royal Museum of Fine Arts. This is the native city of Rubens, and the collection not only contains the largest number of works under one roof by that master of voluptuous goddesses, but the museum's very entrance halls were frescoed by the man himself (or at least by his army of assistants). Other famed Low Country names abound too: Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Frans Hals, and Brueghel. The works on display span five centuries, all the way up to the 20th, but the Renaissance masters are why you visit.