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Michele Sponagle

Managing editor

Smitten by hotels ever since she was a kid, hoarding toiletries started early and picked up steam as Michele Sponagle began a career as a freelance journalist. Her globetrotting has taken her to properties in more than 50 countries, from rustic B&Bs to sprawling resorts.

As an elegant tray laden with beautifully crafted, tasty treats lands on my table, I’m captivated by a cute little penguin perched on one of the tiers. He’s wearing a fringed scarf and has the most adorable eyes. I’m torn. I want to eat him, but he’s just so adorable. I’ll have to think about it while I sip on some Pol Roger champagne, a lovely way to tickle my tastebuds in preparation of what’s to come next.

Photo: Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam

I’ll have time to ponder the penguin’s fate because I need to eat my way through the savory goodies first. Each one has been artfully made by the pastry team at the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, a five-star hotel located on a fashionable stretch of Herengracht, right next to one of the city’s famous canals. Afternoon tea is a beloved tradition in its elegant Peacock Alley lounge. Just sitting in there makes you feel special. Dressed in soft cream tones and rich blue, it’s a place that invites you to relax and stay a while.

Photo: Brian Douglas

While other guests are enjoying a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, many are doing exactly what I’m doing—getting into the swing of the holiday season with an afternoon tea that brings joy to their world. I watch the facial expressions of guests as servers deliver silver tiers to their table. The smiles say it all.

Photo: Brian Douglas

How could you not feel happy when your afternoon tea features such colorful treats, including a whimsical Rudolph the reindeer (choux with lychee and toasted white chocolate), a Santa hat (lemon curd and marshmallow), a candy cane pastry (French toast with milk panna cotta), a red Christmas tree ornament with roasted banana and passionfruit flavors and a gingerbread man (feta remoulade and spinach).

Photo: Brian Douglas

There’s also a pretty, painted picture of houses and evergreens covered with snow. “You can eat that, too. Just don’t bite into the easel. It’s made of wood,” says the server with a smile. After she fills my cup with fragrant, smooth green tea, I crunch into the canvas. It’s a crisp biscuit that melts in my mouth.

Tier by tier, I work my way through each of these delectable nibbles. I leave the penguin until the very end. I apologize to him before I bite into him. He’s a creamy masterpiece filled with matcha cream wrapped in white chocolate. The flavors linger in my mouth—the sweetness of the chocolate and the bright citrus notes from a smattering of yuzu. I’m glad I didn’t succumb to the penguin’s cuteness and ate him. He was delicious.

Photo: Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam

Scones are coming next, but I take a walk first through the white marble lobby. You can feel the history of the 17th and 18th century palaces combined to create this intimate 98-room property. The high ceilings are adorned with white branches dotted with tiny twinkling lights, creating a magical feeling as soon as you enter the hotel. A private dining room off to the side of Peacock Alley looks ready to receive royalty. The table is set with exquisite silverware, dinnerware, glasses and holiday decorations.

Back at my table, freshly baked scones are waiting, alongside some clotted cream and fig jam. I’ve already been nibbling for well over an hour and a half. My tummy is starting to feel a bit full, but I just can’t miss out on sampling these perfect scones with a golden crust. They don’t disappoint. I examine their fluffy laminated layers with envy. I’ve tried to make scones many times at home and failed miserably. They don’t have the height and lightness created by the masterful bakers of the Waldorf Astoria. I guess I’ll just have to keep coming back for more.

Photo: Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam

Aside from its gorgeous afternoon tea, the hotel also offers a two-star Michelin experience at Spectrum (helmed by multi-award-winning Dutch chef Sidney Schutte, avant-garde cocktails crafted at the Vault Bar, a Guerlain spa and fitness center.

Photo: Dromoland Castle Hotel

Other festive teas not to be missed

If your travel plans don’t take you to Amsterdam over the holidays, you have some other options available at leading hotels. Consider these:

Nutcracker Afternoon Tea, Shangri-La Toronto, Canada

Until the end of December, this offering pays homage to The Nutcracker ballet. Savory bites include turkey pot pie and squash arancini, while the sweet stuff focuses on the flavors of a traditional yule log.

Festive Afternoon Tea, Dromoland Castle, Clare, Ireland

A classic approach to afternoon tea makes the experience a delight. Think finger sandwiches (like egg and scallion, cucumber and shrimp) and fruit scones, accompanied perhaps by a glass of Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve or a Marquess Martini, made with Irish vodka, Mozart white chocolate liqueur, whipped cream and gingerbread syrup.

Festive Afternoon Tea, The Peninsula Tokyo, Japan

Take a seat in the beautiful lobby and listen to live music as you enjoy picture-perfect pastries sweet and savory, paired with the hotel’s own signature black tea or organic, hand-blended teas by Art of Tea. For each afternoon tea ordered, a donation will go to the Make a Wish Foundation.

Frozen Festive Afternoon Tea, Fairmont Washington, D.C., USA

If you have youngsters who will appreciate an elevated tea experience, book a table for one centered on Disney’s Frozen. Kids receive a little Frozen-themed gift after they’ve eaten pastries inspired by favorite characters, like Olaf, Elsa and Reindeer Sven, in the Loggia lounge.

Afternoon tea at Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam is €65.

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