There’s something about train travel that is effortlessly stylish – much like the wheels of your suitcase, one just seems to glide onto the train and arrive at one’s destination, or perhaps it’s the excellent people who run the Eurostar who make it feel that way? Eurostar operates three direct services a day (increasing to four from 5 September 2022) from London St. Pancras International to the Netherlands by way of Lille, Brussels, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam. Eurostar’s Business Premier aims to offer the highest standards in cross-channel train travel and a superior experience for passengers, my two-night adventure was taking me to the city of Rotterdam, Amsterdam’s beautiful yet seemingly forgotten cousin.
OUR JOURNEY ON BOARD EUROSTAR BUSINESS PREMIER
Luxury can be enjoyed in a variety of forms, one of my personal favourites is the luxury of ease. I was travelling to Rotterdam by train, experiencing none other than the iconic and now revamped Business Premier aboard the Eurostar. A short tube ride and I was at St. Pancras, already feeling smug that I hadn’t needed to get up at a stupid hour to get to an airport. I joined a non-existent queue at passport control and whizzed through security knowing all my lotions and potions were not going to be confiscated, I sat in the exclusive Premier lounge with a coffee, light breakfast, magazine and comfortable leather armchair in the space of fourteen minutes, my trip had started in the most luxurious way possible, hassle-free!
Suitably caffeinated and several buttery croissants down, I boarded the train, tucked my suitcase away with effortlessness and sat down in my ergonomically designed seat. World-famous Italian design house, Pininfarina, renowned for its iconic Ferrari car designs, has transformed the look and feel of the train, with elegant colours and chic interiors selected to enhance each passenger’s sense of personal space and comfort – I indeed was comfortable. Another delight of train travel is the innocent joy of looking out at the passing window landscape at high speed – matched with the glass of champagne I had been swiftly handed, I was thoroughly enjoying myself.
The elegance of Business Premier continued with a three-course lunch menu designed by Michelin star chef and Eurostar Business Premier Culinary Director, Raymond Blanc. After a successful nine-year partnership, Blanc has wowed again with a new summer menu launched in May 2022 – all the dishes are inspired by the destinations that the Eurostar travels to, yet most importantly at the heart of Blanc’s ethos and that of Eurostar is sustainability, using local and ethically sourced ingredients. I devoured Dutch asparagus custard with pea shoots and chilli, succulent beef tagine from Aldens, an Oxfordshire butcher founded in 1793 and a pistachio and French apricot tart, all accompanied by a varied and complementary wine and premium spirit menu.
I charged my phone next to me, extended my seat cushion for extra leg room (a true superfluity for us taller people) and relaxed in the notion that my trip wasn’t damaging our planet – from its early days of operation Eurostar has championed the environmental benefits of high-speed rail, a person’s carbon footprint from one flight can be the same as making 13 Eurostar journeys, one train ride emits 93% less CO2 than one flight. And indeed, this mode of transport is high-speed – in what felt far less than three hours and thirteen minutes we had arrived at Rotterdam Centraal. No arduous waiting at baggage reclaim, I was fed, watered, and utterly relaxed as I left the station, right smack in the centre of town.
A fourth direct train service from London St. Pancras to Rotterdam Centraal and Amsterdam Centraal stations from 5 September and tickets are from £39 one way. With more direct services linking these iconic business and tourist hubs, it will be even easier for you to choose the environmental benefits of high-speed rail over air travel. The fourth service, which will run from Monday to Friday, will allow Eurostar to carry up to 3,600 people per day between London and the Netherlands, which is the equivalent of 18 plane journeys.
When you haven’t got a long stay in a city a centrally located hotel is vital, a mere five-minute walk from the train station past hundreds of parked bicycles is the trendy Hotel Not Hotel, its sister hotel of the same name is already an Amsterdam icon. ‘A place where a room isn’t just a room, but a work of art with its own creator, story and identity’, Hotel Not Hotel is something of an adventure and not just a place to sleep.
Each room has been designed entirely by three chosen internationally acclaimed Dutch artists who have created something more akin to a modern exhibition space where all rooms lead into an open community with secret sofas in alcoves and a giant chess board on the terrace which guests can play. Naturally, Rotterdam has many conventional luxury hotels on offer but what Hotel Not Hotel has in spades, is fun! Without spoiling all the mystery, guests can choose from a variety of entertainingly themed rooms, anything from a large cuckoo clock, an Italian villa to a vertical swimming pool – I enjoyed the magic of the secret bookcase room. Gimmicky this is not – delightfully unctuous Egyptian cotton sheets on an extremely comfortable bed, a powerful Villery & Boch shower, modern light fixtures and a hotel that serves the best tequila cocktails and tacos in town at its Mexican-themed ‘Jesus Malverde’ bar and restaurant, and you have chosen a fabulous spot from which to discover the city.
The fiery red backdrop and authentic mosaics in the bar transport you to Mexico. With a hugely impressive range of tequilas and the best Tommy’s Margarita I’ve had outside of Tijuana, it’s no surprise that this is a hit with hotel guests and also popular hangout for locals also to drink the night away. In the morning you can grab a superb coffee, enjoy a delicious Mexican twist on breakfast and set off for the day.
ROTTERDAM BY ROOFTOP
Rotterdam is simply bursting with culture (it even has its own orchestra), yet the relaxed and inviting nature of the city never imposes it on you. No one knows the city better than Rotterdam Partners who are based at the Schielandshuis, a city icon, this “House of the City” is worth a visit on your exploration. Their deep passion for the committed cultural growth of the city powers Rotterdam Info the only tourist website you’ll need to know exactly where to go, eat and drink during your stay.
We quickly learnt that Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands, bombed heavily in the war, it allowed the city to rebuild and modernise and now exhibits ground-breaking architecture, often being nicknamed ‘Manhattan at the Meuse.’ Inspired by the skyline of Rotterdam we chose to discover the city from its rooftops.
Our cultural odyssey began with a guided walking tour with the fabulous Esther, who works alongside Inside Rotterdam – think pleasant strolling rather than exhausting power walking. This was a perfect introduction to Rotterdam as we viewed the city’s delights from several viewpoints that are only accessible via this tour. Our charming guide gave us insights into not only Rotterdam’s history but also its forward-thinking culture as the Municipality of Rotterdam is encouraging the construction of green roofs.
Our favourite stop was to the rooftop farm DakAkker, a city garden with edible flowers and beehives and a fantastic place for a good coffee and bite to eat at the popular Ted’s All-Day Brunch. Depending on your energy levels, Esther can take you up on as many as five rooftops which allows you to get a real 360 view of the city, but it’s also the walking in between with a local resident that gives you the true flavour of your surroundings. You can find several walks and quirky activities to do which are inspired by Rotterdam locals at Inside Rotterdam, which I highly recommend.
From then it was easy to continue our rooftop adventure unaided. Lucky enough to be there during Rotterdam Architecture Month we visited the City Podium on top of the Het Nieuwe Instituut – a temporary neon pink installation that allows you to get to the top of the building to view the city, but also enjoy the different music and cultural events it will be hosting, with a good place for a cocktail downstairs by the pond. Rotterdam is a city that evolves for its people as is impressively forward-thinking, for those of you fearing the number of stairs that need climbing to see all these magnificent panoramas, fear not, all the rooftops were equipped with a lift option.
Our rooftop theme continued with our dining choices, something I cannot recommend enough. Ashamedly my knowledge of Rotterdam was poor prior to my visit and I had given little thought to what we’d be eating, and yet the gastronomic excellence that we enjoyed is alone enough for me to want to come back to the city again.
Walking through a secret door of a vast glistening dome we entered a glass lift – as we shot up six floors we passed an array of artworks, the sensation was surreal and exhilarating, we had just had a flash private viewing of The Depot Boijmans Van Beunin – the world’s first publicly accessible art storage facility. In contrast, the lift door opened to vast glass and natural light with a spectacular panoramic view of the city amidst a green oasis, here we were to dine at the beautiful Renilde.
Chef Jim de Jong offers a fine dining carte blanch dinner, where you leave the choice to the chef – all seasonal small plates using local ingredients. Personal highlights were the cod and tomatoes with an oyster froth, some more delicious asparagus which we had sampled on the train and a dessert of peaches that was garnished with edible flowers from DakAkker which we had visited earlier. Exceptional wines were paired with each course but look out for The Dandy Walrus cider to try something different. Long dining tables meant that you were eating with others, but the atmosphere was relaxed and inviting, everyone was united by the view of the city and the warmth of the magnificent sunset we could all appreciate.
My favourite meal of the trip was at Restaurant Fontaine, another rooftop but a hidden gem, delivering some of the best dishes in Rotterdam. Walking through what felt like mini-Berlin we entered an inconspicuous lift only to arrive at a far more intimate, wooden-clad restaurant, artistically lit by soft lighting which led to an informal terrace. After two days of walking this was the perfect place to unwind, chat with friends and truly go deeper into Rotterdam’s culture which is all about its community. We sampled a five-course tasting menu with included skate, lamb’s neck, and a tartare of watermelon. Once again, the wine pairing was outstanding, yet another pleasant surprise of Rotterdam. Another favourite luxury of mine is that of serenity – Restaurant Fontaine has that rare ability to make you excited about its food but also to be so relaxed in your surroundings during your meal that the evening melts away, a true symbol of Rotterdam itself.
THE EUROSTAR JOURNEY HOME
Rotterdam is a true delight of a city – bursting with modern architecture, culture, green spaces, exciting food and drink options at every level, vintage shopping galore and there always seems to be an artistic festival happening, celebrating the city’s rich identity. This city is organised and welcoming, small enough for a city break but with so much to do you’ll want to come again.
Our post-Covid life has us wanting to travel the world again but so many neglect the joy and ease of train travel, I urge you to reconsider. As if the already quick journey from London to Rotterdam wasn’t speedy enough, Eurostar has announced a new fourth direct route to the Netherlands. A Monday to Friday service beginning in September will take you straight to Rotterdam Centraal and Amsterdam Centraal respectively, perfect for a dual city break.
Boarding at Rotterdam onto the Eurostar was even quicker than in London, a feat I thought impossible. Another culinary delight with new dishes to choose from in Business Premier for our late lunch made us feel that our trip had not yet ended. My suitcase was heavier than when I’d left, but of course this was of no matter on a train. I’d woken up in Rotterdam that morning, visited a museum, perused some shops, boarded the Eurostar and was back in London for a sundowner at St. Pancras International to relay it all to friends – this is a unique adventure that only train travel, and the Eurostar, allows.
To discover more about Eurostar, visit: eurostar.com
To discover more about Rotterdam, visit: en.rotterdam.info
All imagery courtesy of Eurostar / Rotterdam Partners.
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5 THINGS TO DO IN ROTTERDAM
Naturally, Rotterdam has a plethora of things to do on the ground – it is Europe’s largest seaport of which they are enormously proud. The city is over-flowing with museums, galleries, festivals, shopping, and dining options – embrace the Dutch way of life and jump on a bicycle.
For a change of pace, I can highly recommend a visit to the Nederlands Fotomuseum, I could have spent hours in its tranquility. Here is a treasure trove and a showroom in one. With over 5.6 million images in the collection, you can discover the Dutch photographic heritage from 1841 to the present, including iconic prints from the likes of Vincent Mentzal and Viviane Sassen.
Take a stroll to the waterfront and grab a snack at the hip Fenix Food Factory and hang out with the hip local community. Found at the foot of the Rijnhavenbrug, a bridge that connects Wilhelminapier with Katendrechtm, it serves organic street-food in a former warehouse. The terrace has great views over the river, the harbour halls, and the high-rise buildings of Wilhelminapier, great for an afternoon beer.
If you’re looking for a touch more luxury, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Putaine, which floats in the harbour as part of the largest sustainable office in the world. With marvellous views from inside and out, they even have a summertime pool you can enjoy frolicking in the heat. Known as the ‘King of Seafood’, Putaine is a fine dining a la carte restaurant – sophisticated and charismatic, it is perfect for a special date night – with a variety of champagnes by the glass your evening will be unadulterated.
Sitting at Putaine you can see the WIkkelboats, which in essence summarise Rotterdam to a tee – cultured, environmentally aware, and forward-thinking yet never obnoxious. All made from sustainable cardboard, these tiny luxury floating houses can be hired for the night or longer with friends or for business meetings, but personally, I found them highly romantic. These smart homes are modern in design – equipped with indulgent bedding, kitchen, terrace, surprisingly large bathroom, and cinema system. Sit in your private jacuzzi, drink in hand and watch the world leisurely float by – understated luxury at its best.
Straddled above roads and intertwined amongst themselves, Rotterdam’s sting of cube houses, each tilted at an abnormal angle of 55 degrees, are a visitor staple. Designer Piet Blom created these residences as an urban forest, thankfully one of the houses has been converted into a museum that is open to the public.