“Little by little, one travels far.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
When planning a holiday, it can be tempting to overlook European neighbours, like the Netherlands, in favour of far flung destinations with never-ending sun, sea and sand. However, like other European cities, Amsterdam has its benefits; you can fly there in less than an hour, the cultural heritage is rich and varied, the cuisine is exciting and if you’re looking for a home away from home, you’ll find you can fit right in.
Amsterdam is built on both banks of the river Ij and the centre on the south bank is cut through with looping concentric canals which create tiny alleyways and numerous bridging pathways to explore. Hotel 717 is a private guesthouse in the heart of Amsterdam, on the famous Prinsengracht canal, within easy reach of art galleries such as the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk museum, historical sites such as Anne Frank’s house and the Begijnhof, and other tourist must-sees such as Dam Square and the Oude Kerk. The façade of the hotel is unassuming, but the welcome is the best I have ever encountered in a hotel.
Arriving from the airport, glamorous yet travel weary, we climbed the steps to the entrance of the hotel and, when the door opened, we were struck at once with the sense of the interior of a home as opposed to a hotel. As with most traditional canalside houses in Amsterdam, this 19th century property is tall and narrow but is surprisingly spacious once you get inside.
On either side of the narrow hallway are communal rooms for guests to use, a lounge and a library. This is where you really begin to see what makes 717 special. Every piece of furniture has been carefully selected and peppered with works of art, trinkets and curios from various eras. Not a single surface is bare and it could take years to wander around the whole hotel and investigate all of them. The combination of old and new gives the kind of eclectic mix that one expects in the home of a well-travelled intellectual.
The welcome, too, is quite unique. Our bags were taken to our room but we were shown to the lounge and offered a glass of wine and some nibbles. These were most welcome after our journey and, while showing off the singular design of 717, gave us the opportunity to properly relax while inspecting original paintings and international souvenirs. The guestrooms, of which there are nine, including two suites and five junior suites, have all been individually designed with a particular writer or artist in mind. We had, before our arrival, discussed at length whose work we preferred, with my love of Shakespeare and Charlotte’s fondness for Picasso, but we were both overjoyed to find out that we would be staying in the Tolkien room, since the work of that particular writer had been a much loved staple of our respective childhoods. The room did, indeed, seem to embody some of Tolkien’s best known work.
There’s something cosy about hobbits. If you’re a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, you probably know what I’m talking about. If you’re not a fan and somehow you’ve managed to avoid the books, the four films, the chessboard, the card games (I could go on)… then you’ll have to take my word for it. The suite is decorated in brown, burgundy and deep green, and has the unpretentious, practical comfort of a luxurious hobbit home.
As junior suite, over 50m² in size, it has a distinct living area and more of the delightfully eclectic decorations and pictures that we saw in the lounge. It overlooks the patio garden at the rear and, with two further window aspects that overlook tiny courtyards, the room is full of natural light during the day. At night, a number of lamps give you the ability to adjust the light according to your personal preference. A deep and sumptuously covered sofa was a great place to curl up and peruse the substantial details that had been left for us, with guides to Amsterdam, information about breakfast and a full list of the items that could be ordered through room service.
Charlotte and I were glad to make use of the well-appointed bathroom and, after a refreshing transformation, headed out to dinner at Bridges at Sofitel Legend The Grand. Upon our return, in true hobbit style, our appetites had been whetted for a long, wine fuelled conversation over a log fire. Again, 717 could provide a unique and charming solution by allowing us to order a final drink in the library, amongst an extensive collection of art and philosophy books, and, with the number of possible guests of this small establishment being minimal, we had the room to ourselves all evening. It was a pleasure to sink into the fluffy pillows and comfortable mattress after a long first evening in Amsterdam, to dream of further excitement the city might have in store.
Breakfast at 717 is served in the Stravinsky room, a many-windowed salon overlooking the patio at the rear of the property, with yellow hued walls that made the blue and white Delft-style plates and cups really stand out. One may order any of the usual breakfast items and the kitchen cooks these to order while you enjoy a hot beverage of your choice. It was a lovely experience to feel so at home in a place after one night, but the size, décor and atmosphere of 717 really give the impression that nothing is too much trouble and that you are truly welcome.
We were sad to go but the rest of Amsterdam lay waiting to be discovered. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien writes that “you step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to”. This, of course, is part of the fun of travelling and, if you’re very lucky, you’ll be swept along the Prinsengracht to this unique, exclusive and excellent guesthouse, 717.
1017 JW Amsterdam