Arriving on the grounds of Althoff Grand Hotel, past the iron gates at dusk and you hear the surface beneath the car has changed to worn cobblestones as you gently drive onto the estate and marvel at the beauty and grandeur of the building. Everything is lit and Christmas is still in the air at Althoff. I’m so excited about staying here but I have enough sense and pull my giddy school-girl demeanor in and stand tall like arriving in a castle to stay a few days is a normal state of affairs for me.
Sitting high in the village of Bensberg with incredible views of Cologne in the distance. This castle took some inspiration from Versailles. It’s amazing what affection for a wife can create, the husband of Italian Maria-Luisa of the Medici family, Johann Wilhem II of Dusseldorf. The Prince-Elector died in 1716 before the completion of the castle. Maria-Luisa took the artists, plasterers and painters back to Italy leaving the baroque, initially planned to be a hunting lodge, unfinished and unused. Through the years, this 18th century building was used for less glamorous purposes, unloved until an insurance company invested 75 million euros to remodel it to the grand hotel it is today.
Walking through the unassuming doors of the hotel onto the plush carpets in the reception hall you immediately feel, although large in scale, this is a boutique hotel with a more intimate atmosphere. With 84 rooms and 36 suites this “simple” hunting lodge fashioned after Versailles has a lot to offer making me think, I might not see too much of the surrounding area because I don’t want to leave…totally unlike me to stay indoors but these “indoors” are too special to miss.
Reason kicks in and I spend the next day on the autobahn and on the country roads in search of a 13th century castle on the way to Dusseldorf but my mind hasn’t left my gorgeous room overlooking the inner courtyard of the estate in the beautiful castle on top of a hill. Can you tell, I am totally smitten by this place.
A quick visit to Count Engelbert II of Berg’s 13th century medieval castle. A fortified castle built to withstand battles with little windows, thick tall walls of dark stone. Today this castle is filled with war implements dating from the 12th century and onward. Armor, shields, helmets, swords, daggers, lances and all sorts of horrible pain inducing metal war gear to smooth designed, inlaid wood and steel guns of the 16th century. This place represents a time of true warfare, hand-to-hand battle, looking into your opponents eyes before giving or taking a fatal blow. As I have a very rich imagination, I could almost see and hear the people who once lived, worked and battled here. Count Engelbert II, who was loved by his people but abhorred by his family and the nobility, died violently, enroute to Cologne by the hands of his family so the story goes.
Shopping time! Off to Dusseldorf and I intend to do a bit of shopping. All the shops I know and love are here. The city feels grand particularly in Konigsallee where there’s a landscaped canal in the center of the boulevard and on either side of the canal, inviting storefronts, guarded by well dressed men wearing discreet communication devices on their ear and talking into the sleeve of their well cut suits. All absolutely tempting me to spend, spend, spend. I failed today, I left the city empty handed, feeling wet, cold and definitely feeling unwell…total bummer. I try to convince myself that I can overcome the nausea I’ve been fighting all day, I realize the main reason for staying at the Althoff – to dine at the Vendôme might not happen, especially if I want to enjoy the food and atmosphere at full capacity. I am defeated.
I can’t eat and want to stay in bed. I cancel my reservation to the Vendôme and luckily, I am able to reschedule for tomorrow. My body is weak, my stomach is giving me grief but my spirit is high as tomorrow will bring more luxury and a dining experience that I just know won’t disappoint me.
Side Note: This isn’t a bad place to be when you are feeling poorly. Room service was exceptional with a caring gentleman unobtrusively making sure I was fed and happy setting up a lovely dining table in front of the window of my room. Every detail thought of.