A weekend in Cologne
by Karen Jones
Who wouldn’t enjoy a city break that promises something for those who love theatre, arts, chocolate and shopping? But would you be surprised to hear that city is Cologne?
It might not always be first choice for tourists looking for a European city break, but that’s a shame because it has such a lot to offer.
It is an incredibly lively and vibrant city and there are no pretensions here, so it is easy to relax, immerse yourself in street café life and enjoy exploring the city that is more than 2,000 years old.
For culture vultures, there is plenty to see: 36 museums and 100 galleries with collections from all eras, which bear witness to Cologne’s reputation as a centre for art and culture.
It also has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to its stage and theatre scene. There are no fewer than 30 stages, with four that cater purely for cabaret and 14 venues that provide entertainment for children and young people. It celebrates a diverse cultural programme, with myriad operas, theatre productions, as well as literature and film events, while international stars such as Chris de Burgh, Elton John and David Garrett to name but a few, have guaranteed full houses at the Lanxness Arena this year.
One of the main tourist attractions in the city is Cologne Cathedral, a World Heritage Site that attracts more than six million tourists a year. This imposing Gothic cathedral houses the Shrine to the Three Magi, making it one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Europe.
Since 2007, the window by the Cologne artist Gerhard Richter has added a further attraction to the cathedral, with its dazzling display of coloured squares.
Rather less spiritual, but satisfying nevertheless, is Cologne’s wonderful shopping scene, with the frankly divine Schildergasse offering some of the best retail therapy in Europe, it is little wonder that it is the most visited shopping boulevard in Germany. Just like the neighbouring Hohe Strasse, it accommodates large department stores, but you can also find exclusive designer and jewellery shops on Mittelstrasse and Pfeilstrasse.
When you need a breather or somewhere to put down your bags, however, there are many cafes, bars and restaurants in which you can indulge in some people watching. If you try one new drink while in Cologne, it has to be its local drink of choice Koelsch. This beer, which can only be brewed in Cologne and the surrounding area, is best experienced in either the old town district, just a few feet away from the Cathedral, or in one of the many brewery taverns.
There are 26 different brands of Koelsch, so there are plenty of opportunities to sample this special brew and enjoy German hospitality.
Another liquid for which Cologne is famed is, of course, Eau de Cologne. Farina and 4711 were the first brands of fragrance that Cologne has made famous across the world. If you have time, take in a taster session to the fragrance museum Farina or a visit to the 4711 house, where you can learn all about the history of this most alluring of fragrances.
Another olfactory experience can be enjoyed at the fabulous Chocolate Museum, which is another must-do, but especially for all chocoholics. The guided tour was fascinating, but most importantly you get to try out some free samples.
One must-see is the newly designed Rheinauhafen, in the historic harbour district of Cologne. Combining old and new, this boulevard focuses on the spectacular and renowned ‘Crane Houses’ designed by Hamburg architects Bothe Richter Teherani. The impressive Rhine gives the visitor a chance to explore the city by water. There are many options available and from the water, you take in some superb views of Cologne’s landmarks and can enjoy a glimpse of the old town.
With so much to see and do, you might want to take advantage of some much needed rest and relaxation and treat yourself to a spa, such as the Neptunbad, the historic Art Noveau or Claudius thermals, one of the most beautiful spas in Europe.
I’ve discovered that you don’t really need an excuse to visit Cologne, but if you do, there are plenty of reasons to pack your bags and head over to Germany’s fourth biggest city.
Fine arts and antiques lovers should take advantage of the Cologne Fine Arts and Antiques Fair being held from 16th – 20th November 2011. This is an event that allows the city to live up to its reputation as a city of culture. This increasingly international Art Fair boasts some very high quality products and has become a port of call for old and more modern art.
In November and December, it glows in pre Christmas splendour and visitors can experience the fabulous Christmas markets, festive concerts and atmospheric boat rides on the Rhine during advent and nativity. The build up to Christmas this year starts around 22nd November and continues until 23rd December 2011.
If you love a carnival then consider a trip to Cologne in February 2012, when carnival revellers will line the streets between 16th and 22nd February 2012. Here you can enjoy the carnival as well as explore the city.
Any excuse for a party!
If you visit near Christmas time, head for the feet of the great Cathedral where you’ll find a choice of six Christmas markets. The markets offer 150 stalls and the largest Christmas tree in Rhineland. Be prepared for crowds though, the markets attract over ¾ million people every Saturday in the run up to the big day.
Excelsior Hotel Ernst
When in Cologne we stayed at the fabulous Excelsior Hotel Ernst, the hotel is a member of the Leading Hotel’s of the World group and features two-award winning restaurants. Their restaurant Taku specialises in fine Asian cuisine whilst their restaurant Hans Stube merges innovative French cooking with regional influences. The hotel also features a charming Piano Bar where guests can enjoy the Excelsior Hotel Ernst’s High Tea experience whilst listening to the harmonic classical music. In the Riesling Lounge guests can experience the dark, sultry ambience and enjoy fine examples of a variety of German wines. The hotel is proud of the many awards it has acquired, ‘Busche Gala Hotel for the Year for Germany 2010’, ‘Foreign Restaurant of the year for Germany 2010’ and ‘Germany’s Hotelier of the Year in October 2009.
Situated in the heart of Cologne this hotel offers its guests an ideal central base from which to explore the city. The hotel is situated opposite the magnificent Cologne Cathedral and within easy reach of the museums, the old town, the opera and the shopping areas.
This hotel combines timeless elegance and tradition with excellent service and comfort. The 142 bedrooms are beautifully styled, each with their own character and charm, I was lucky enough to have a room overlooking the Cathedral. The staff here also deserve a special mention because nothing was too much trouble for them. Courteous and discreet, they were a credit to the hotel.
We dined in the hotel’s multiple-award winning gourmet restaurant Hanse Stube. Serving traditional French cuisine, the Hanse Strube is well-known for its elegance. If you stay at the Excelsior Hotel Ernst I would highly recommend that you dine here at least once to savour the exquisite dishes on offer. We also ate in the Asian restaurant Taku. The Thai and Vietnamese dishes I enjoyed at lunch were fragrant, spicy and utterly delicious.
Afternoon tea might seem quintessentially British, but it was perfect. Choose from 35 different teas and savour the bite-sized savoury and sweet delights, all of which were beautifully presented. It was the ideal treat between lunch and dinner.
This was a fabulous weekend, when considering the options for a weekend away put this one on your list, you will not be disappointed.
For details about Hotel Excelsior Ernst, visit www.excelsiorhotelernst.com
This is Germany’s largest and most visited church. On completion in the 1800s, its towers were the highest in the world. The cathedral is really the landmark of Cologne.
Some of the buildings in this area date from the Middle ages..There are lots of cafes and bars near the river where you can watch the world go by
Imhoff-Stollwerck Chocolate Museum
For any chocolate fan, this is a must visit exhibit in Cologne.