“ Address: Koningin Astrid Boulevard 5 / 2202 BK Noordwijk / Netherlands Tel: 071 3619220 „
~Five Stars - but five DUTCH Stars~
Someone told me recently that there are international plans to standardize hotel classifications across Europe. It seems like a plan that will be doomed to fail in a region where we struggle to agree with a standard definition of a Euro-sausage and I'm not sure we even agree within countries about hotel accommodation standards. Getting all the countries aligned sounds about as likely as a western European country winning the Eurovision. However, until such time as this happens, I have one suggestion for anyone looking at hotels in Holland - knock off one (or even two) stars from the official Dutch rating and you'll probably have a good comparison with the UK star rating.
The Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin (literally the 'house on the dunes') is located in the North Sea coastal resort of Noordwijk and is a Dutch 5-star hotel. It's a giant of a hotel that's renowned for being the place where the Dutch football team goes to prepare for big games. It is - as the expression goes - 'world famous in all of the Netherlands'. The CEO of our company is an ardent football fan and picked this hotel because of its association with the Dutch Football team. It is - he says - a hotel for winners. OK. he'll admit they lost the World Cup but they did get very close.
Certainly the website made it look very grand and I was ready to be impressed - ready and hopeful but not entirely expectant. I had a sneaky suspicion it would be at least a little bit crap.
A German colleague drove me to the hotel - or rather we sat in the car park known as the Dutch motorway system and eventually popped out the other end at Noordwijk. We knew the hotel was on the sea front so it wasn't difficult to find and we were happy to see that it came with an enormous car park. My first impressions were that it's one of the ugliest looking places that I've seen in a long time - it's a big bluff lump of yellowy-orange stone that has a hint of the worst of Eastern European architecture. I'd love to tell you that it's stylish or architecturally 'interesting' but neither would be true - it's just pug ugly.
Fear of making a pronunciation faux pas can stop people booking hotels with funny names. You WILL get laughed out of town if you ask where the Hoo-ees ter Doo-in is so it's worth knowing that 'Huis' is pronounced like the English 'House', 'ter' is pronounced like 'the' but without the h and 'Duin' is something like 'Dern' to rhyme with turn.
The original Huis ter Duin dates back to the late 1800s when a local chap realized that it wouldn't be long before anyone who was anyone would want to take breaks at the seaside. Noordwijk would stop being a sleepy fishing village and could - with some careful planning - soon be the fashionable place where the well to do would go sailing, swimming and generally having a jolly time. The royal families of both the Netherlands and Belgium were regulars at the original old Huis ter Duin. An extension was built in the 1980s, not long before a fire destroyed most of the hotel in 1990. What we see now comprises a 5-storey older part - the Grand Hotel building - and the 11 storey Nouvel Building, complete with a wavy roof line that might be representing a wave or perhaps it's a whale. My money is on the former.
Entrance is from the car park side via a rotating door. The interior of reception is heavy on dark colours and highly polished wood, a style that's definitely not in fashion amongst 21st century hotel builders. If you head downstairs there's a spa, some shops and a hairdresser but the ground floor is mostly bars and the reception area. My check in was very easy because the company had booked most of the hotel for our big meeting and all that was required was a signature or two. I was given an internet cable because the wi-fi didn't work in the part of the hotel that I'd been assigned to whereas the colleague who checked in at the same time got wi-fi instructions. The welcome was warm and polite which might sound like a 'so what' factor but this is Holland, land of the indifferent receptionist so I was quite pleased to be greeted and welcomed.
~Fingers Firmly Crossed~
I headed for the lifts to go and find my room. I'm a bit of a pessimist about good hotels and I always expect that even if 99% of the rooms have a sea-view, I will get one of the 1% that overlooks the car park, the kitchens, the dustbins or the air conditioning units. I got into the glass elevator and headed up to the 7th floor with few expectations of a good view. I guessed that probably half the rooms had them but I was completely disorientated by the time I opened my door. The room was gloomy and my heart sank. It was about 8pm and someone had come round to turn down the bed and had drawn the curtains. Dropping my suitcase on the bag stand I crawled towards the window hoping to brighten things up. And then I saw it!
Outside my window was a whopping great view of sea and sand. I stood open mouthed with shock. The room was pretty dire but the view was out of this world. I couldn't believe that the hotel had hidden it behind closed curtains. I threw open the window to breathe in the sea air and wave at colleagues on the beach who couldn't see me. I was ready to forgive the Dutch people for their many crimes (being better at football than we are, being able to speak dozens of languages, thinking bread and cheese is 'lunch') because the view was just so gorgeous in the evening sunshine that suddenly nothing seemed terribly important. And with the sun flooding in through the windows, my dreary room glowed happily at me and suddenly the chipped paint and the strange tartan fabrics were transformed into something almost half-bearable.
There's no getting away from it, my room was badly in need of being dragged out of the 1990s and into the new millennium. Twenty years ago this was funky - but then 20 years ago nobody had computers or mobile phones and we thought that Sonic the Hedgehog was cool. I was on a pink floor. I worked this out by checking the colours of the floors when making my many trips up and down in the lift. Odd floors were pink and even floors were green. Being on a pink floor meant my room was not surprisingly rather pink. What I mean is too pink which is saying a lot because I rather like pink normally. The carpets were patterned in shades of pink and sand and whoever chose them did well. Every guest who goes to the beach treads a few ounces of sand into the room each time they return. This carpet hid that completely. The woodwork was all pink - a dusky dark pink that wasn't overly pleasant. The walls were creamy yellow but the horror lay in the curtains, bed spreads and the padded wall behind the beds which were furnished in ugly tartan fabric in tones of yellow and pink. Scots be warned - this will not make you feel at home but it might make you feel insulted.
The room was large and equipped with all the furniture you'd expect. I had two beds and the one in which I slept, in keeping with Dutch standards, was far too soft and a little bit short. It was not comfortable at all. The pillow by contrast was enormous and much too hard. Picture my body sinking into the squishy mattress whilst my head sticks up on the rock-like pillow. There were two very nice arm chairs by the windows, one with a big padded footstool and there was a coffee table between them. Both chairs looked into the room and all I wanted to do was look out of the window so they weren't very relevant to my room usage. The room had the most storage space I think I've ever seen in a hotel. There were cupboards and drawers everywhere. You could actually live in this room rather than just hang up a few things and live out of your case. The biggest wardrobe had a safe inside, bathrobes and slippers and shoe cleaning sponges. Strangely there was no iron or ironing board which seemed like quite an omission although there was a rather ugly trouser press on the wall. The desk was long and there were sufficient electrical sockets for charging both my phone and my computer and the internet access was easy to use and reliable. There was a good reading lamp on the desk and a large mirror over the desk offered an alternative to anyone who wanted to apply make up and couldn't deal with the poor lighting in the bathroom. There was a television and a mini-bar but I didn't investigate either.
The bathroom was a complete disgrace. The gold plumbing fittings were all badly worn. The lighting was absolutely dreadful and the shaving or make up mirror would have been less than useless because of the poor light. There was a hairdryer but it was one of the old wall-mounted ones that looks like a hand dryer. On the plus side there were both a bath and a separate shower cubicle but both were in a very dated 'champagne' colour plastic. The towels were smaller and rougher than I'd expect in a good hotel and I was really surprised to see that the bathmat and flannels were not white but were brown and yellow. It wasn't all bad - the toiletries were quite pleasant - but the bathroom needed ripping out and starting again.
~The Rest of the Hotel - does it get better?~
I wasn't planning on spending much time in my room and I generally sleep with my eyes closed so I could ignore the décor. So what about the rest of the hotel, how was that? My first big grumble was the lifts. In an 11 storey block you need more than two lifts and to add insult to injury, those two lifts had minds of their own. Within two days I think everyone who used them had learned that if a lift arrived you'd better get in it regardless of whether it was going up or down since there was no knowing when it would be back. On one morning only one of the two was working and with 200 people from our company alone, it was fast becoming an issue. The meeting rooms were not ideal and the ones I used were all dark and rather gloomy. I know they don't want us sitting looking out of the windows when important stuff is going on but even so, I found the big presentation rooms very poor. We also used a set of smaller rooms on the second floor although I only saw the one in which I was presenting and it was nothing special.
The catering was mostly very impressive and the main dining room we used was very large and if you got there at the right time you could get an excellent view of the beach. The food was always laid out in such a way that the queues to collect food were not too bad and most of the buffets we had for breakfast and lunch were excellent although I did laugh the day they served masses of sausage rolls. To be fair I'm not sure if that was 'being Dutch' or whether they were our company's sausage rolls so I can't draw too many conclusions from Sausage Roll day. We had a formal dinner on one night and the food was excellent. I warned them that I didn't eat meat and they brought a big blue plate and placed it in front of me to mark me out to the servers so that nobody brought me anything I couldn't eat. It looked a little strange but it worked. On our first evening we had drinks on the terrace overlooking the sea and a smaller buffet dinner in the Terrace Brasserie. The one place we didn't get to try was the Beach House restaurant down on the beach which looked absolutely lovely but was probably too small for such a large group and on one evening was hosting a private wedding party.
~Holland's best kept secret~
Most people when asked to think about the Netherlands will produce mental images around clogs and cheese and canals. Relatively few outsiders are aware that the Dutch have some spectacular beaches. My Belgian colleague Joep has an apartment on the Belgian coast and so knows those beaches well but he proclaimed Noordwijk to have the best beach he'd seen along the Belgian and Dutch coasts. The beach was always spotlessly clean and I suspect that they went out first thing each morning to pick up litter and polish the sand. The beach in front of the Huis ter Duin is broad, very gently sloping, and extraordinarily clean. Just 100 m up the coast there are small sailing boats for hire and there are changing facilities for bathers in the opposite direction, just past the Helipad if you don't fancy the Dutch traffic. Whilst I wasn't overly impressed by the hotel, the coastline won my heart totally and I would love to go back again.
If you don't like sand between your toes, the Huis ter Duin has a very large terrace with beautiful big rattan chairs and tables and for several of our group discussions we escaped the hotel to go and sit in the sunshine. I'm not sure if it was just too early in the year for Noordwijk to be busy, but early May this year was absolutely beautiful.
~Shut up and just enjoy it~
On the final day after our meetings had ended, my colleague and I spent the morning sitting in the lobby bar working. It was a very attractive bar with a 'gentleman's club' vibe and Joep was really taken with the place. An older man was sitting in the corner with a newspaper and the waitress approached him to offer him 'the usual' and then the bar manager sat with he chatting for about half an hour. Joep told me that he dreams of one day being the kind of person who has his own corner in a fancy hotel bar, where the staff all know him by name and everyone knows what his 'usual' is. This rather stopped me in my tracks. I'd been getting snooty for several days about all the things in the Huis ter Duin which really didn't justify its 5 star rating but my colleague - being from not far away and used to Dutch hotels - was clearly really moved by the hotel. I made a mental note to stop being such a hotel snob in future.