The vibrant German city of Cologne is one of contradictions; a city where fascinating exposed Roman remains mix with post-war Art Deco buildings and quaint pastel-painted houses act as the foreground to breathtaking architectural feats such as the stunning cathedral which pierces the city’s skyline. It is at the foot of the cathedral that you will find the five-star Excelsior hotel boasting 19 luxurious suites and more than 100 rooms, as well as a sauna, steam room, gymnasium, two bars including a specialist Riesling wine lounge and two top-notch restaurants.
Gone are the days when German cuisine was heavy and bland. Over the last decade Cologne has been steadily developing its culinary scene and is now home to some of the best restaurants in the world. The Hotel Excelsior Ernst’s Asian restaurant Taku is currently Germany’s Foreign Restaurant of the Year. Its sleek, minimalist design features an underfloor river complete with goldfish swimming underfoot. I opted for the small tasting menu on my visit (€65) but it was anything but small; a steady flow of immaculately presented, creative dishes made their way to our table. As I tucked in to my fourth course my dining companion informed me that this was just the starter and the previous dishes were merely ‘greetings from the kitchen’; dangerous on the waistline but more dangerous on the liver given that each plate was matched with a different glass of wine, all of which were terrific. The little details like this make the hotel so special; the impressive array of handmade chocolate truffles that accompany coffee, the traditional dried fruit skewers that greet you in your room each evening and the variety of choice in everything from your milk at breakfast to the pillows you sleep on.
There are plenty of dining options beyond the hotel, too. A string of charming alfresco restaurants overlook the Rhine – and what better place to walk off lunch. For an afternoon caffeine kick, the popular Cafe Reichard is a stone’s throw from the hotel; this charming traditional German cafe has an enormous selection of cakes to die for and an blissful geranium-fringed patio with an uninterrupted view of the Cathedral. If you are in search of a less touristy café, I recommend Kleins cafe, tucked down an unassuming street on the fringes of the trendy Belgian quarter; it has a tranquil secret garden hidden away at the back.
I would also strongly recommend a visit to the hotel’s newest wine bar The Riesling Lounge. Having always been a new world wine kind of girl I was surprised to discover so many delicious German wines during my stay with the help of the knowledgeable sommelier. It is possible to pre-arrange wine tastings.
Not only is the five-star, family-run hotel a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, but it has also scooped the award for German Hotel of the Year. The hotel is elegantly decorated with a grand marble entrance lobby. My junior suite boasted a beautiful bathroom complete with a luxury bath, a walk-in rainforest shower and under-floor heating not to mention my mahogany clad dressing area and a bed fit for a king with an impressive selection of pillows to chose from, including lavender scented or heated. My room was close to the fitness area so I indulged in a pre-breakfast steam room each morning while I debated which of the five types of milk on offer I should opt for that day. It’s a hard life.
Out & About:
Not only is Cologne small enough to walk, but refreshingly it is impossible to get lost when the hotel resides in the shadows of the beautiful cathedral that towers over the city. If trendy cafes and independent shopping is your thing then waste no time in heading to the Belgian quarter where the young, cool Germans sip coffee and shop.
Romantics must buy a padlock; take your lover to Hohenzollern Bridge where thousands of visitors each year affix their personalised love locks to the bridge and together toss the key into the Rhine to symbolise their love.
From the usual suspects such as Bvlgari, Burberry and Louis Vuitton to more unusual independent designers such as Capelleria where you can commission a bespoke handmade designer hat for a special occasion or Manu Factum, an eclectic concept store selling clothing, beauty and homewares with a vintage twist. The Farina Fragrance Museum (entry €5) is an entertaining theatrical experience where you can learn about, and purchase the ‘official Colone from Cologne’ and don’t miss Schnieders, a second-hand designer clothes store selling immaculate items from Channel, Prada, YSL (channel shoes will set you back just €165, a Hermes coat €1,900).
The Ludwig Museum which has a relaxed, contemporary feel similar to the Saatchi and boasts a stunning collection of modern art from masters such as Picasso, Lichtenstein, Matisse and Mondrian.
Who Goes There?
During the week the hotel attracts a host of well-dressed business types from across the globe and at the weekend it is full of attractive, well-heeled couples in search of cutting-edge cuisine, fine wines and utter relaxation. On my trip however the entire city, was refreshingly free of tourists although clearly it is busier during key times such as summer or Christmas when Cologne is alive with festive markets selling seasonal food and handmade cards and gifts.
The Best Thing:
Under an hour’s flight from London, Cologne is the perfect weekend break and really does have something for everyone nestled around the historic Roman remains; good restaurants, a diverse array of designer and independent shops, a vibrant art scene and a museum for everything from perfume to chocolate. My favourite thing was walking out of the hotel first thing in the morning into the stillness of the main square and staring in awe at the cathedral through the morning mist – you know something is really beautiful when you can stand in front of Louis Vuitton and your eyes don’t stray towards it.
The Worst Thing:
Staying in such a perfectly located hotel means that I left Cologne with so many things still to do… A boat trip down the Rhine, visit the chocolate museum, eat calorific cupcakes at Madame Miam Miam, visit the city’s newest art gallery Kolumba, climb the cathedral steps… I could go on.