THE DUTCH capital might be renowned for its canals, bicycles, red light district and laid-back attitude but it scores high on the art front too.
With its unique architecture and wealth of galleries, it offers a visual feast both indoors and out. If you fly to Amsterdam, the experience starts at Schiphol airport where, in a typically Dutch piece of pioneering, the Rijksmuseum has had its own annexe since 2002. Located behind passport control, it is open from 6am until 8pm every day, with free admission.
OLD MASTERS GALORE
THE Rijksmuseum (www.rijksmuseum.nl), Holland’s national collection, is one of the world’s great troves of fine art. To see these famous paintings up close, rather than on myriad tea towels, is wonderful. As with the Louvre or London’s National Gallery, it’s best to be selective. This is easier for now as the gallery is undergoing the biggest renovation in its history. Standout works include Vermeer’s Milkmaid and The Little Street, and Rembrandt’s Nightwatch.
THOUGH the Stedelijk Museum, one of Europe’s foremost modern galleries, is also closed for construction until later this year, it is collaborating with peer institutions in Amsterdam to present lectures, performances, film screenings and other activities (www.stedelijk.nl)
VAN GOGH MUSEUM
VINCENT was only 37 when he died but 864 paintings and 1,200 drawings survive. About a quarter is in the Van Gogh Museum (www.vangoghmuseum.nl), where it is fascinating to trace his journey from young artist to extraordinary talent and, ultimately, tragic figure.
HUIS Marseille (www.huismarseille.nl) at 401 Keizersgracht, one of the concentric half-ring canals in the 17th century heart of the city, exhibits outstanding works by contemporary international photographers, with an emphasis on analogue prints over digital. Just to walk round this narrow, gabled brick townhouse, with light pouring through the high windows, is worth a visit, let alone images by the likes of Scarlett Hooft Graafland of Peruvian salt miners or Naoya Hatakeyama of tsunami damage.
ABOUT three miles south-west of the city centre is Frankendael (Middenweg 72, www.huize frankendael.nl), a 17th-century country house now run as galleries by Jacqueline Grandjean. “We often approach recent graduates from Amsterdam art school before they go further afield,” says Grandjean, who set up the Frankendael Foundation to promote artistic links throughout the city.
FOOD AS ART
In the Frankendael’s old coach house is the Merkelbach restaurant (00 31 20 665 08 80), where head chef Geert Burema puts a French twist on local ingredients to dish up exquisite creations fit for this setting. Pumpkin ravioli, with olive oil and herb dressing and roasted pistachios, and duck breast with red cabbage and potatoes, garnished with purslane salad, are among the highlights.
WHERE TO STAY
BOUTIQUE hotels don’t come much better than Hotel Roemer (Roemer Visscherstraat 10, www.vondelhotels.com). It is imaginatively furnished and hung with contemporary art, with doors on to a delightful private garden. Drink is included in the price and you help yourself from a bar.
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