During our visit to Amsterdam for my photography exhibition at the Sheraton AMS last week, my husband and I decided to venture a little further out of the city and spend one night in The Hague.
We were drawn partly by Starwood’s luxurious Hotel Des Indes but also by the desire to experience something more of the Netherlands than just Amsterdam.
It turned out to be a fantastic decision as we soon discovered both a beautifully-historic hotel and a charming and unique destination, just a short train ride from the bustling city center of Amsterdam.
Situated along the North Sea coastline, most international travelers likely think of The Hague primarily as the home of the UN’s International Court of Justice. But we would quickly discover so much more to the Netherlands’ third-largest city.
Known as “The Royal City by the Sea,” The Hague is the seat of Dutch government and parliament and home to many members of the Dutch Royal Family. As the UN’s fourth major center after New York, Geneva and Vienna, The Hague is also home to more than 150 international organizations lending it a modern, global feel that merges seamlessly with a decidedly Dutch historic city center.
History and luxury, the Hotel Des Indes
Commissioned in 1858 by Baron van Brienen, chamberlain of King Willem III, the residence was originally intended to host huge parties and private functions. In addition to an elegant ballroom, the property also featured an inner courtyard, stables, servant quarters and private quarters.
What was once the gate to the inner courtyard is now the entrance to the Hotel Des Indes. And what is now an elegant lobby and restaurant was once the spot where guests of the Baron arrived in their horse-drawn carriages for the festivities. It was incredible to look up at the ornate ceilings and imagine the hotel as it once was with carriages unloading well-heeled party-goers.
Van Brienen passed away in 1873 and in 1881, the property was purchased by a wine merchant and his wife (daughter of a famous hotelier) and later that year the city palace would begin a new life as the Hotel Des Indes.
The hotel was an instant success and, over the next 130 years, she would play host to kings, world leaders and celebrities. Van Brienen’s distinctive tastes still permeate the hotel with elegant touches like the Louis XVI-style furnishings and the monogram “B” on the door handles.
Our room was reminiscent of a guest suite a palace with elegant fixtures, marble finishes, plush fabrics and rich colors. It was definitely unlike anything we’d seen in Amsterdam and we couldn’t wait to get settled in and head out to explore our surroundings. But since we’d arrived just before dawn, we decided to get some sleep first.
Exploring The Hague
After a little rest, we began our self-guided tour of The Hague with the city’s most famous museum, the Mauritshuis. While the museum is best known as home to Vermeer’s “The Girl with the Pearl Earring,” it also contains works from Rembrandt, Paulus Potter, Jan Steen and a wide variety of well-known Dutch and Flemish Golden Age painters. The museum’s interior is spectacular and we spent a leisurely few hours strolling the various rooms on each level.
From there, we took a walk through the 13th century Binnenhof, considered the cultural center of the city. The trees along the water blazed with fall colors and there was a mild chill in the air, it was a perfect day for a walk.
We crossed the street, mindful of the city’s many cyclists whizzing by, and into the cobbled streets of a neighborhood called the Plaats. Lined with shops and cafes in the traditional Dutch architectural style, the The Hague’s royal heritage was evident down to the light fixtures – hanging, crown-shaped lanterns.
It was a terrific day and well-worth the slight detour from Amsterdam to enjoy the many cultural delights of The Hague. Next time you’re in Holland, don’t miss the opportunity to hop on the train and spend a day or two savoring the charms of this historic Dutch royal city.