The Netherlands is blessed with an abundance of incredible cities. Amsterdam obviously shouts louder than the rest, whether you're a devout hedonist looking to take advantage of this veritable mecca of decadence, a keen historian eager to explore the capital's incredible heritage, or an arts buff heading for some of the world's greatest galleries.
Elsewhere, Rotterdam's reputation for innovation in design, architecture and business is well-known, and widely reported. The Hague represents continental royalty at its best. Schiedam produces arguably the world's finest gins (and certainly the best jenevers), and Haarlem's quaint beauty is also well documented. For such a small country, you might think that's enough in terms of urban highlights, but the land of orange and liberalism has plenty more up its proverbial sleeve. Not least Utrecht, which must go down as one of Europe's must-see spots, despite being often overlooked.
A short train ride from the country's main international airport, Schipol (granted, most places are), lands you right in the heart of this stunning city, which can look the big hitters squarely in the face and hold their gaze, without obsessively broadcasting itself. A major university town, which therefore understandably boasts some of the continent's best nightlife- from underground clubs to more refined bars- this is also home to wonderfully preserved streets, great exhibition spaces, one of the world's most impressive cathedrals- The Dom (complete with top-of-the-tower viewing platform offering unbelievable vistas)- and the legendary Rietveld Schroder House, a design masterpiece comprising moving walls and some inspired (but perhaps not too comfortable) furnishings. But that's all another story.
We're actually in town for Hotel Karel V. This 5* address comprises an expansive complex of buildings and courtyards, some of which date back to the 14th Century. The Knights of the Teutonic Order called it home, with Charles V and his sister, Maria of Hungary, regular guests; we like to think they kept it warm pending our arrival.
Strolling around the grounds is an experience in itself, and certainly feels far removed from the bustling city just beyond the entrance drive. You may only be a short stroll from Centraal station, itself the busiest of all rail hubs in the Netherlands, but the feeling of peace and tranquility is impossible to deny. Exteriors will only get you so far though, but thanks to a full renovation in 1999 we find the delights inside match- if not exceed- expectations after stepping into the understated but refined lobby.
In addition to a full wellness centre in the modern 'Roman Wing'- featuring jetstream bath, gym, beauty treatment areas, solarium, sauna and steam room; 121 bedrooms and suites make up the property, and these are impressive enough to make venturing back into town a challenge in itself. Standard offerings are certainly as you would expect from major European city luxe, but the Empire Suite is nothing short of remarkable.
The bathroom alone is spectacular; big enough to house a small family (well, perhaps not, but...), elegant black marble meets period tiles, which in turn perfectly compliment original sash windows looking out onto rear grounds. Combined with seated bay windows in the living space, that enormous bed with overhung curtains, and refined furniture, it's truly befitting the stately home ambience. Elsewhere some guests are lucky enough to stay in the top floor eaves, where timber beams and unique angles make for an unforgettable night. Meanwhile, those looking for something on two floors can opt for the split level deluxe options- the clue is in the name. Regardless of choice, each makes dedicating a few hours to lazing on the mattress something of a top priority.
Of course no accommodation fit for a king should be without fantastic food options, and the main dining room leaves no expense spared. Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling in abundance, with many tables giving guests the chance to gaze out on the surrounding gardens as they indulge taste buds. That's if they aren't captivated by classical artwork adorning the walls, or transfixed by the roaring fireplace that adds an air of homeliness to what could otherwise be a rather formal situation. The result is a truly inviting restaurant that feels bright and airy during breakfast, and exudes aristocratic sophistication once dinner service begins. Don't expect stuffiness on the menu, either, with the cuisine innovative enough to make the Michelin Guide fawn, adhering to the dominant Dutch trend for environmentally-conscious cooking and locally-sourced produce.
Needless to say, then, our rationale for this recommendation should be clear by now, leaving only one question: when can we return?