Last Friday night I hopped on a BA flight from Heathrow to Munich with the plan to spend a weekend wandering around the city and making the most of its Christmas markets.
We arrived quite late so took a taxi from the airport to the Courtyard by Marriot City Center Munich hotel which was located just off the main ringroad of the city.
After a big breakfast at the hotel we spent the day wandering through the various Christmas markets and making the most of what the city had to offer.
First we headed to Marienplatz to see the Rathaus (Town Hall) and its famous Glockenspiel which shows two historic scenes: the first, the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V to Renata of Lorraine celebrated by knights on horseback jousting; the second, the coopers’ dance organised said to have taken place in 1517 to cheer up residents following a terrible plague.
After wandering around some of the stalls and looking at the decorations we headed over to Munich’s traditional food market. This is a great place to pick up schnitzel or haxe in a bun.
I was particularly taken with the local cheese shop.
We picked up a few traditional decorations before trying to find somewhere to sit down and warm up over a cup of tea and some traditional torte.
Finally, we came across Schuhbecks Orlando (not far from Maximilianstrasse, one of the city’s four royal avenues where you’ll find the likes of Dior and Bvlgari) a brasserie restaurant set up by Alfons Becks, a notable chef from Bavaria. This part of the city seemed to be a little bit like the equivalent of Padstow in Cornwall where Rick Stein has some sort of eatery at every turn, with several gastronomic outlets all under the Schuhbecks brand within just metres of each other.
I enjoyed a lovely jasmine tea and some of the best strudel I’ve ever eaten: poppy seed strudel with berries and pistachio ice cream. I was thoroughly blown away, this strudel was fantastic.
I’d recommend trying the Schweinhaxe, local beer and gluehwein in abundance. The Christmas tram (Christmaskindl Tram) is also worth a ride. It costs 2 Euros and can be picked up every 30 minutes outside the pink church by the Sendlinger Tor market.
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