Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

September 2013

Going Dutch: Five Days, Four Cities in Holland

By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor

host events for up to 5,000 people. And, over the next three years, The Hague is investing 25 million euros to expand the facility’s exhibition space and upgrade its technological infrastructure.

Then a guide from Den Haag Marketing collected me for a fast-moving tour of the old city. After two flawless summer days, the sky had reverted to Holland’s usual iron-gray ceiling, but the weather was still mild as we hopped a tram that took us into the heart of town. Our first stop: the Hotel Des Indes, a 92-room property with 4,200 square feet of meeting space that was built as a palace in 1858. Gorgeously, almost sinfully appointed, the lemon-yellow grand dame sits on Lange Voorhout square, a famous part of The Hague’s diplomatic community that’s home to numerous embassies, including those of the United States and Great Britain.

In just a few short blocks, we moved from the city’s past into its glimmering present, visiting the cutting-edge contemporary Hilton The Hague. Sharp and professional, the 195-room Hilton offers four boardrooms, five meeting rooms, and a 3,520-square-foot ballroom.

That would be my last impression of The Hague, and it was perfect: a flawlessly modern venue perched amid history itself, a new idea standing on the shoulders of an old world. Little did I know on my train ride that afternoon, two-and-a-half hours southeast, to the very bottom of Holland, that when it came to the old world, I had barely scratched the surface.

MAASTRICHT: ON THE BORDER

 

Straddling the Meuse (known in Dutch as the Maas) river, up against the border with Belgium, an easy stone’s throw from Germany, Maastricht is a medieval city whose ease and warmth belie a formidable network for business meetings. Both of those aspects revealed themselves quickly during my first day in the destination.


The Maastricht Convention Bureau picked me up at the train station and took me right to the Maastricht Exhibition & Congress Centre (MECC Maastricht). The sleek facility has more than 320,000 square feet of exhibition space, 30 breakout rooms, and two auditoriums that combined can seat 1,650 people. Just as impressive, MECC Maastricht is directly next to the Maastricht Health Campus, an ambitious complex of clinics, research labs, and education institutions that offer a wealth of resources for medical conferences.

From there we left town, driving through the intensely green Jeker valley and up to Château Neercanne, a 17th-century castle in the hills overlooking Belgium that today offers a variety of unique event spaces, including Baroque gardens, terraces, conference and banquet rooms, a restaurant, and, burrowed into the cliffs behind the château, a series of cool, atmospheric wine cellars.

Château Neercanne is one of a handful of properties owned by Camille Oostwegel — all of them “housed in monumental buildings with a rich cultural history,” according to Oostwegel’s website. They include my host hotel, Kruisherenhotel Maastricht, which occupies a church that was built in 1520 and about 10 years ago was carefully reimagined as a magnificent 60-room property that preserves the building’s original lines and structures — and even offers three conference rooms that each can accommodate from four to 20 people. That night I enjoyed a leisurely dinner with Marcel Knols, the convention bureau’s managing director, in Kruisherenhotel’s restaurant, floating on a mezzanine level among the stained glass and gothic arches of the old church.

The next morning, a guide from the bureau took me on a stroll through the city center. It was gray and chilly, and as we navigated the narrow, winding streets, through small public squares, past crumbling segments of the old city wall, and over the Meuse, it would have been easy to slip into the past — except for the high-end shops, boutiques, and bars that line Maastricht. We stopped for a coffee at Selexyz Dominicanen, a 13th-century Dominican church that’s been converted into a bookstore and café, then later popped in to the Museum aan het Vrijthof, housed in the 16th-century Spanish Government building, and full of light thanks to a transparent roof soaring over its courtyard. Eventually we ended up at Maastricht University, internationally respected, with nearly 16,000 students, and, like the health campus, offering valuable resources for meeting planners. The university was only founded in 1976, but seems much older because it occupies a series of 16th- and 17th-century buildings in the city center.

Perhaps the best indicator of Maastricht’s old-world charm and the comfort it engenders in visitors is that, after our walk, I was eager to say goodbye to my guide — an engaging, knowledgeable companion — and spend some time on my own. By the time I’d made my way to the train station, after a quiet lunch at a window seat at Harry’s in the Hotel Beaumont, I felt like I’d been welcomed as a friend. The final leg of my trip beckoned - heading back north, to Rotterdam — but I wasn’t sure I was ready to leave.

ROTTERDAM: WINNING THE WAR

Photo by Marc Heeman
 

But Rotterdam cured me of that. Rotterdam Central station, where I got off the train, is in the middle of a huge improvement project that’s creating a transportation hub in the heart of the city. The space is light and airy, with an angular, shiny silver roof that points like an arrow toward the center of Rotterdam. And that’s where my host from Rotterdam Marketing and I headed, following the arrow’s path across the street and into The Manhattan Hotel for a coffee.


The 230-room Manhattan is a striking property, tall and elegant, with more than 7,000 square feet of function space. It’s connected via covered skyb ridge to De Doelen International Conference Centre, a meeting space and concert venue that offers three interconnected complexes of breakout rooms, foyers, and exhibit space, each one anchored by a performance-quality auditorium — 1,755-seat Large Hall, 700-seat Willem Burger Hall, and 465-seat Juriaanse Hall.

From De Doelen, we walked several blocks to Beurs-World Trade Center, a business complex that includes shops, offices, and the 37-room Congress & Event Center, with features such as 10,800-square-foot Rotterdam Hall, 11,400-square-foot Exchange Hall, and, on the 23rd floor of the building, a breathtaking event space offering panoramic views of Rotterdam.

Standing outside on a glass-walled balcony, staring across the skyline, revealed something jarring: Rotterdam, the second-largest city in Holland, home to the busiest port in Europe, looks much newer than it actually is. That’s because the city, founded on the Rotte river in 1270, was literally flattened by Germany during the Rotterdam Blitz in World War II, with only a few buildings surviving. After the war, city officials were determined to rebuild quickly and boldly, and today Rotterdam is known for its architectural marvels - high-rises and bridges that soar and surge against the sky. That spirit has come to define the city’s character. As more than one local told me: “We roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Another brisk walk and we were at our final stop for the day: the Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk, a 15th-century church and the oldest building in Rotterdam. One of the few survivors of the blitz, Sint-Laurenskerk is still used for church services, but also serves as a venue for events from 25 to 1,000 people, from conferences and receptions to seated dinners.

After a relaxing dinner with Rotterdam Marketing, I checked into my host hotel, the Mainport, a chic waterfront property that gleams behind a glass and aluminum façade. The next morning we toured the 215-room Mainport, which has nine meeting rooms spread over 2,000

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