Althoff GrandHotel Schloss Bensberg
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As we arrive in Bergisch Gladback, half an hour outside Cologne, the morning mist lies thickly in the valleys of this rolling wine-growing district. High up on the slopes we glimpse the magnificent silhouette of Schloss Bensberg, an historic building dating back to the eighteenth century.
Jan Wellem was the man according to the history books who instigated the construction of the castle in 1705 as a hunting castle for himself and his Italian wife, Anna Maria Lovisa af Toscana. After her demise, the history of the castle was relatively varied. Among other things, the castle was used by the army which meant that it was no longer accessible to the civilian population. It was only in recent years, when the owners of the castle were bought out by a German insurance company in 1997, that the history of the castle could begin again. With a budget of 160 million D-marks, two years of intensive work together with Althoff Hotels resulted in the full restoration of the building to its original state. Together, they succeeded in creating one of Germany’s most lavish castle hotels. In 2000, the hotel opened its gates to the general public as the new Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg, a 5-star luxury hotel with unparalleled service.
“Schloss Bensberg is an extremely genuine hotel in the spirit of the old, traditional Grand Hotel,” says Kurt Wagner, General Manager for Schloss Bensberg. “A really luxurious hotel offering levels of service and comfort which once symbolised this historic building.”
He tells us that the interior designer, Peter Shilling, has done a truly outstanding job. “He has really succeeded in combining the feeling of the baroque with the modern techniques of today, a particularly difficult challenge which is reflected in the masterful detail of the work.”
With the help of hand-picked suppliers around the world, it was possible to source the most extraordinary materials and handmade articles, such as, specially imported oak parquet-flooring from France, selected marble from England and mountains of exclusive cloth from Scotland. “We have been really lucky and succeeded particularly well with the enchanting decorations- just take a look at these fantastic crystal chandeliers,” says Kurt and points to the magnificent lighting in the foyer.
Markus Lüpertz, one of the country’s most famous sculptors, was brought in to help create the right feeling in the castle. His amazing professional skills have added the final characteristic touch which is typical for the epoch of the castle. His true-to-life cherubs and wrought-iron work adorns the large rooms bringing a genuine baroque atmosphere to the palace.
“But a marvellous interior isn’t enough,” continues Kurt. “If our guests are to enjoy their stay, they require an exclusive kitchen serving real gourmet food.” And having said that, he introduced us to Joachim Wissler, one of Germany’s most famous chefs. “Joachim is one of the few chefs to receive the much coveted three star award in the Michelin Guide,” he adds.
Under Joachim’s leadership, the guest have been offered a masterly menu in the Vendôme restaurant which is located in the hotel's west wing. "The restaurant has become so extremely popular,” says Kurt while patting Joakim on the back, “that it is often necessary to make a table reservation one month in advance.” For those wishing to taste something other than the Vendôme´s French delicacies, there are two alternatives within the walls of the castle. Either you can visit Amran Kapitasi, head chef at the Restaurant Jan Wellem, a classic restaurant named after the castle’s founder. A varied menu offers dishes from all over the world and dishes which Amran has brought with him from his broad experience from top international hotels. Or you can choose the third alternative, the smaller and perhaps more personal restaurant, the Trattoria Enoteca, under the head chef Davide Leone. The restaurant is located in the cellar and is entered though the hotel’s renowned wine cellar. With the little extra privacy, the Mediterranean cuisine can be enjoyed in an unstrained atmosphere.
In addition to the superb facilities such as the gourmet restaurant, the jewellers, the clothes boutique, the library and the hairdressers, there is an extensive Beauty and Spa facility. All of 1,000 square metres has been dedicated to the creation of a complete Spa experience. The guests are pampered and revitalised, rounding off with exclusive products from La Prairie and Ligne St. Barth.
After a guided tour of the whole hotel, we sit down with Kurt in the beautiful lobby bar. Over a cup of coffee he tells us that the hotel has a total of 120 rooms of which 36 are suites. “Each suite has its own architecture and decoration,” he explains, “which means a pleasant stay for all, irrespective of whether you are here on business or here just to relax.” I take the opportunity to praise the extensive bathroom in our small penthouse. Double hand-basins are quite rare in combination with shower cabinets and bath-tubs. The shower cabinet surrounded by marble, especially together with a visible beams and gold-coloured taps, feels really exclusive. Otherwise the room is somewhat oddly planned with a small hall leading to a table with two stools, beside which there is a writing table with a fax. There is more room in the bedroom which in addition to a minibar and TV has a more than ample wardrobe. But best of all, the beds and bed linen are superb, something which one cannot always take for granted when travelling, whatever the class of hotel.
I, for my part, can guarantee that you will not feel home-sick when you sleep at the Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg. It is one of the best hotels I have ever visited.
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