Amsterdam isn't a shy and retiring type of city. The neon-lit windows of the red-light district are so in-your-face that you wander by with scarcely a second glance; the omnipresent tang from the coffee shops soon fades into familiarity. Even the elegant 17th-century merchant's houses that line the canals are so numerous that they start to look homogenous; you become blase about their handsome good looks.
The Dylan hotel flaunts its assets a little more modestly. Located on the Unesco-protected Keizersgracht (the Emperor's Canal), the hotel conceals its virtues from passers-by behind a 17th-century facade that sets it back from the vernacular architecture either side of it.
The stone-arched gateway is all that survives of Amsterdam's first theatre, which was built here in 1632 but destroyed by fire in 1772. A Catholic almshouse replaced it. The building stayed under the church's ownership until 1998, when it was turned into one of the city's first boutique hotels.
Designed by Anouska Hempel, The Dylan preserved the building's history: baker's ovens remain in the brick walls of the Michelin-starred restaurant, and timber beams and herringbone brick floors channel through the lounge. But it also introduced its own peculiar style of subtle luxury to Amsterdam.
In doing so, it has become the pit stop of choice for visitors seeking sanctuary in the city. An icon from the Britpop era was spotted at the bar on this visit; Annie Lennox, Mariah Carey and Kate Moss are cited as previous guests.
However, this is Amsterdam and there are quirks; firstly, the name is curious.
"The hotel's owners are fans of Dylan Thomas; this is their tribute to him," I was told.
How did a Welsh poet inspire Irish hoteliers and the design of their Dutch boutique hotel?
It's not the first idiosyncrasy. Take the recent renovation of a collection of bedrooms: the design was based not on mercantile houses, canals or clogs - but by the copper-colouration of the Loxura butterfly.
Then there's "High Wine" - not a variation on the city's coffee-shop culture, but The Dylan's take on high tea. Between 4 and 7pm, four tasting dishes are served with matching wines in the cosy sitting room. Forget nursery food, here you might be served leek tortelloni with crayfish and Noilly Prat sauce with a Dr Crusius Riesling, or Wagyu beef with bearnaise sauce accompanied by the blackcurrant finish of a Stellenbosch Thelema Shiraz. Eccentric? A little, but it's all part of the subtle charm that keeps this luxury address just the right side of retiring.
Location: The hotel is in the lower reaches of "De Negen Straatjes", or Nine Streets - a tranquil, fashionable district of side streets that cross the Canal Ring between Singel and Prinsengracht and sport quirky boutiques, vintage shops, enticing cafes and antiques shops. The flower market is a five-minute walk away, as is the Anne Frank Museum. Amsterdam Centraal station, with train links to the airport, is five minutes away in a taxi, or a 20-minute walk.
You can rent a "Johnny Loco" cruiser bicycle for €21.90 per half day. Alternatively, if you are blessed with the budget of a Britpop icon, you could charter The Dylan's 19th-century saloon vessel, Vinkeles on the Water. This is a floating version of the hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant. It caters for up to four passengers as it glides along the canals for an evening. A seven-course menu for four costs €1665.
Comfort: There are 40 rooms that fall into nine categories. I was in one of the 10 new Loxura rooms, which was small but tall and decorated in luxurious tones - silks in shimmering butterfly hues, timber beams, copper mirrors, mother-of-pearl detailing, horn lamp bases, a fossilised tree trunk table and metallic green leather headboard. The signature Dylan Thomas Suite with its antique cupboards and slate tones also falls into this group.
Both my room and the Dylan Thomas Suite overlook the central courtyard, while some of the Asian-styled Kimono and ZenSation rooms have views of the picturesque Keizersgracht. The hand of Hempel is writ large in these, with Japanese minimalism and contrasting rich reds at the fore of their design. Perhaps the most atmospheric are the loft suites set up in the gables, all timber beams and cosy sophistication.
Address: Keizersgracht 384, Amsterdam (0031 205 302 010). Book online at dylanamsterdam.com.
- INDEPENDENTBy Sophie Lam