|Cologne’s iconic twin-spired cathedral dominates this view from across the Rhine.|
Cologne, known as “Koln” to the Germans, is a surprisingly large city. It is Germany’s fourth largest with a million residents, yet easily negotiable on foot. In the course of a city walking tour, visitors can learn about the 1810 creation of Eau de Cologne during the city’s French occupation, and see the history of the Jewish quarter with its partially excavated synagogue and ritual baths dating to the ninth century. Archeological excavations are ongoing around the city’s fascinating Rathaus Square, where our guide, the local architectural historian Dr. Stephan Rath, described the history of Cologne’s war mongering prince bishops.
A must-see is Cologne’s twin-spired Catholic cathedral. Started in 1280, this “parish church,” the largest in Germany, is the site of the burial relics, including an ornate golden coffin behind the main altar, of the Three Magi. The cathedral is Germany’s second most visited tourist attraction, according to Dr. Rath.
There are too many art and architectural revelations in and around Cologne Cathedral to mention them all here, but for clients who visit and want detailed guidance, consider contacting or putting them in touch with Cologne Tourism for information on hiring a city guide. Several of them have advanced academic degrees. Hiring for a small group of fellow travelers can make this an affordable, enlightening experience.
A filling lunch is available near the cathedral in the Colner Hofbrau Fruh, the city’s oldest brauhaus, or beer hall, dating to the 17th century. The decor is the half-timbered German atmosphere straight from storybook illustrations, and the local Kolsch beer keeps coming in traditional seven-ounce glasses until you decline a refill.
Cultures of the World Museum
Travelers to Cologne can opt for a fascinating two-hour walk around the world in the intriguing Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, aka the Cultures of the World Museum, about a 15-minute walk from the city center at 29 Cacilienstrasse. The collections of Middle Eastern and pan-Asian artifacts are the lifetime work of Cologne-born world travelers Wilhelm Joest, an ethnographer who made frequent visits to Asia and the Pacific in the late 1800s, and Max von Oppenheim, a German Consulate correspondent and archeologist who spent World War I and its aftermath stationed in Cairo.
The museum’s life-size, artifact-filled dioramas include a Bedouin tent camp from the Sahara; a village longhouse from New Guinea; a wedding cere-mony and garments from Turkey; royal robes worn by King Kamehameha II from Hawaii; a funeral pyre and cremation ceremony from Bali, Indonesia; and a Day of the Dead cemetery celebration from Mexico. Multiple streaming videos accompany each display, bringing more detailed information to the viewer, with inexpensive audio self-guides available in English. The $8 admission price was money well spent.
The opportunity to stay in a schloss (a castle hotel) is surprisingly affordable within 25 minutes of Cologne in the suburb of Bergisch Gladbach, thanks to a pair of Althoff Hotel & Gourmet Collection properties. The lavish 120-room Schloss Bensberg, built in 1703 as a hunting lodge by Prince Johann Wilhelm II of Dusseldorf for his wife Maria Luisa Medici, was never used by the royal couple after the prince died prematurely.
Today this member of The Leading Hotels of the World hosts pop stars such as Lady Gaga, Jon Bon Jovi and Lionel Richie, who all stay for its proximity to Cologne’s concert venues. They also like its Michelin three-star Restaurant Vendome, situated in an annex building at the front of the castle gardens overlooking the distant Cologne skyline. Vendome has a display kitchen where German celebrity Chef Joachim Wissler serves up multicourse prix fixe menus starting at about $270 per person with wines from $125 per bottle. Nightly rates at the hotel start at around $270 single, $325 double.
Nearby in Bergisch Gladbach, Althoff operates the 54-room Schloss Lerbach, a member of Relais & Chateaux. The property has the more residential feel of a country villa, a cooking school and two main restaurants, including the Michelin two-star Restaurant Lerbach with Chef Nils Henkel. Our meal was in the hotel’s Coq au Vin restaurant, where the namesake chicken dish is the featured menu item that is more a tasty family-style presentation than lavish gourmet. Rooms at the Lerbach start at about $225 single, $335 double. A cooking class with the master chef is $394 per person in a 15-person, half-day class. Combination cooking class, gourmet dinner and overnight stay packages are available.
Our optimal gourmet experience in Cologne was at the Michelin two-star La Vision restaurant on the 11th floor of the Hotel im Wasserturm, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Situated near Cologne’s University, the bonus here for diners is the 360-degree panoramic balcony view of the Cologne city skyline as the sun sets over the city. In summer, cocktails at La Vision are outdoors; dining is inside, with five-course meals beginning at about $140.