Wandering around Cologne is a truly delightful experience. The architecture really is something to behold with tall, narrow, colourful buildings sitting alongside those more traditional and gothic. On a rather cold, grey, wintery day there could be no better place to stumble across than Peters Brauhaus. Located just of Alter Markt, Peters Brauhaus has a particularly inviting and grand entrance but once inside diners are transported to a warm, cosy and dark den consisting of six rooms, the one containing an enormous stained-glass ceiling light being the most impressive.
Although the restaurant and beer house boasts many tables and many long benches, diners feel anything but hemmed in. The staff may not speak English and the other clients may well be locals but the atmosphere is friendly. One could quite happily spend many an hour drinking the local Kölsch here.
However, the menu is particularly exciting for those seeking an authentic gastronomic experience. There are two menus, the Foodkaat and the speciality Speisekarten, the former offering slightly cheaper options, the latter showcasing the brauhaus’ first-class dishes. However, be warned, the portions are generous in both cases!
The Haxenfleish in Biersauce is served with fried potatoes and mixed salad (€13,90). Consisting of pork knuckle with a dark sauce, containing mushrooms is just what is needed to combat the cold winds of Cologne. The meat is tender, falling from the bone and the sauce soaks into the crispy potatoes. For those who would not normally opt for a beer sauce, this dish proves to be more than a pleasant surprise.
Although salad may not seem too tempting on a cold day, it is actually the perfect accompaniment, adding a touch of crunch, bitter and sweet to the overall meal. It is recommended to end one’s meal with a glass of schnapps, cleansing the palette and giving diners a hint of sweetness before continuing on a conquest through Cologne’s streets.
There is no way to better way to get into the festive spirit than by paying a visit to one of Europe’s many Christmas Markets; and boasting seven markets, each with a different theme, Cologne is easily the premiere winter destination. The city’s imposing gothic cathedral neighbours the most delightful Excelsior Hotel Ernst, the most desirable place to lay one’s head after a long day of festive merriment.
Carl Ernst, the royal restorer of the central station, was also the builder and owner of the Hotel Ernst. In 1871 the hotel was sold to the Kracht family who quickly integrated into the city’s high society and whose descendants remain its owners. During the hotel’s rich history it has hosted guests including the German Emperor William I, who, from his hotel window, observed the completion of Cologne Cathedral. Subsequent to World Wars I and II the hotel was renovated in 1926 and 1946 respectively, and continues to be maintained to a sublime, yet traditional standard. The lobby and spiral staircase is impressive, while the floors, covered with luxurious carpet, also have occasional ornate tiled features which mirror the style and design of the decorative stained glass windows.
This year the hotel has arguably achieved a pinnacle point in its history and success, receiving four notable awards in just three months: ‘Leaders Club Guest Recognition Award of Excellence’ as part of the ‘Leading Hotels of the World’ annual recognition awards; in addition to a treble win at the Busche Gala Awards where the hotel was named Hotel of the Year for Germany, as well as awarded Foreign restaurant of the Year for their Asian cuisine restaurant Taku and Hotelier of the Year for the hotel Managing Director, Mr. Wilhelm Luxem.
The hotel boasts 108 individually furnished single and double rooms, in addition to 34 luxurious suites, each with its own particular atmosphere, something which is sadly lacking in large chain hotels. Rooms are spacious, with dark wood contrasting with sumptuous fabrics.
Many rooms boast a walk-in-wardrobe which a girl could only dream of. While bathrooms, featuring Hans-Grohe fittings and marble in abundance, not to mention the most extraordinary mirrors, are reminiscent of a mythical heaven.
Although many hotels neglect guests’ gastronomic desires, Excelsior Hotel Ernst could not be accused of this. The hotel’s traditional European Hanse Stube restaurant is a cosy yet refined dining space with a menu to match. The menu changes with the seasons and at present the specialty of the cold season is Alsatian goose served with glazed chestnuts, red cabbage, braised raisin apples and Thuringia dumplings. The attentive and knowledgeable staff expertly carve the goose at diners’ tables. Guests are served a plate packed full of festive flavour and then another! The main course is preceded by a traditional amuse bouche with unusual twists. It is a struggle to get past the main course but if one succeeds there is a trolley adorned with rich cheeses, a number of exciting experimental desserts, coffee and truffles of unimaginable flavours to be enjoyed. The latter must not be missed, particularly the truffle with lebkuchen which has a pleasing flavour and spicy aroma.
The hotel’s other award-winning restaurant, Taku, is a world apart. A total contrast to Hanse Stube the décor is light, airy and almost futuristic. Diners walk across a glass river, under which coy carp swim. The kitchen and chefs are on show for guests to observe the delicate techniques required for constructing sushi. However, the Asian inspired menu has been given traditional European twists and even features foie gras. Nevertheless, delectable Beijing Duck, a staple of Chinese culture first recorded in the 12th Century, can also be sampled in an exquisite six courses.
The hotel also boasts a winter garden where food and drinks can be enjoyed, a piano bar and a wine bar; for those who seek a little activity, a fully-equipped health and sauna area located on the sixth floor. If one can somehow work up the inclination to leave this lavish haven of luxury (perhaps to work off one of the restaurants’ feasts) then there are many sights to be seen: the cathedral, the Lindt chocolate museum and factory, and from the end of November to the beginning of January a number of Christmas Markets which encapsulate everything good about winter.
Cologne Christmas Markets:
1. The Christmas Market at Cologne Cathedral is a trademark for the town of Cologne. Chosen by the specialist press as the most beautiful Christmas Market in Europe, millions of visitors descend each year specifically to visit this market. This market includes a Käthe Wohlfahrt which specialises in traditional festive decorations.
2. Angel’s Market at Nemarkt in the heart of the city is well worth a visit. It is one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Germany and immediately carries visitors into a kingdom of angels.
3. In the middle of the historic and idyllic old town stands the rustic Cologne Old Town “Home of Gnomes”. According to famous Cologne legend, this was also the home of the gnomes who were said to be particularly good craftspeople. Therefore, at this Christmas market one can find a particularly large number of handcraft stalls, where goods are still produced in the traditional way.
4. Just ten minutes walk from Neumarkt, the Fairytale Christmas Market is situated at Rudolfplatz. The inspiration of the sixty huts at the Hahnentorburg is the brother’s Grimm tales, making this market ideal for younger visitors.
5. From Europe’s largest floating Christmas market, Cologne Christmas Market Afloat, with over forty stalls, visitors get a truly dream-like view of the Cologne Old Town and the Cathedral.
6. The Medieval Christmas Market at the Chocolate Museum is a lovingly designed, cosy, medieval spectacle located on the Rhine. A totally unique experience, there is an exhibition of traditional handicrafts and a non-stop programme of concerts, theatres, jugglery and live nativity scene.
7. Finally, the Christmas Market at Stadtgarten has an idyllic village atmosphere with 60 exhibitors featuring modern creations, traditional handicraft and nostalgic paraphernalia as well as offering visitors culinary specialties.
Prepare yourself for Christmas with a quick trip to Cologne’s Christmas Markets and pre-empt holiday stresses and strains with a luxurious stay at the Excelsior Hotel Ernst!
Excelsior Hotel Ernst
Trankgasse 1-5 / Domplatz