Category Archives: city-break

Experience the extraordinary – the Oeschberghof in the southern Black Forrest

Extraordinary it is indeed, this jewel in the German Black Forrest. Build on its so-called 5 columns Living, Spa, Golf, Business and Event, this hotel offers something unique for any vacation wishes. No matter if you are looking for an active and sporty get-away, or just relaxation, or a surrounding, which makes creative reflection on a new business strategy possible – the Oeschberghof has it all!

It has been more than 7 years, since I first experienced the Oeschberghof myself; it was a nice gift from my mother for my birthday. She had been there before on a business trip and wanted to share the pleasant discovery with me. Nice treat, right?

Since 2008 I have become a regular visitor myself. I have given away birthday gifts to spend here, suggested the hotel for short honeymoons and brought along my best friend.

She calls this place “her own little oasis”, and is coming all the way from Italy to enjoy it.

I was contemplating for a long time, if I should actually take the Oeschberghof up in my portfolio and on my page, truly, because it is such a jewel, I didn’t want to share it with more than just my closest friends for the time being.

But now, I do believe it is time, as there is no comparable place for wellness and relax I have found in Europe so far.

Not even a one and a half hours drive from Zurich, the Oeschberghof lays close to Donaueschingen, the home of the Danube river well. It is fairly isolated though, which makes it perfect of course for the golf lovers who can currently play on 3×9 holes courses. The driving range offers 40 exercising spots, 10 of which are covered, as well as pitching and chipping surfaces and 2 putting greens to improve the short plays. There is also a 3-hole academy for beginners and the NGO association “Golffreunde Öschberghof” aims at making Golf accessible to children and youngsters to experience nature and develop concentration skills and stamina. Currently there are more than 100 young talents active.

The own Oeschberghof Golf Academy is one of 6 competitive golf-sports bases in Baden Württemberg. Even during winter time, the PGA Academy offers training possibilities in the indoor golf center or via the organized golf training trips. In case you are planning to obtain your “Platzerlaubnis” (licence to play on German courses), you can get it in only 5 days.

By 2017 there will be 2 additional 9 hole tracks and the driving range will also go through some enlargement and optimization by then.

Besides the golfing experience, there are two soccer fields available, not only frequented by amateurs. I have seen that the teams of FC Schalke 04, Werder Bremen, VfB Stuttgart and Eintracht Frankfurt have conducted their training camps here over the last years.

But golfing and soccer are definitely not the only reason you would come here. As secluded from noise, traffic and large crowds, the area around the Oeschberhof is also perfect for bike tours, hikes or simply enjoying nature.

However, personally once I have entered the main building area I will rarely leave it again. Why? – Two major reasons: the Spa and the Cuisine!

The spa of the hotel Oeschberghof is best described as 2500 square meters of “arrival, strengthening, relaxation and toning.” It deserves the name Dynamic Spa, developed together with the European Wellness Institute to strengthen body, mind and soul. This includes a large variety of treatments with la prairie, Horst Kirchberger or Ligne St. Barth products, as well as peelings, baths, wraps or massages. I have been pampered with Lomo-Lomi-Nui, Aroma, Hamam and Abhyanga massages so far and I couldn’t decide which the better, as they are all fantastic. Of course it is also the therapist that makes them special and I am strongly recommending Mrs. Lohr, as she has been my first choice over the last two years. All staff is excellent, but taste and needs are individual and therefore I guess you need to find your favorite therapist as well.

The beauty treatments are also very exquisite, and I was so glad to see that some of the staff have been there for years, specifically Ms. Zimmermann and Mrs. Lohr. This to me is a rather positive sign of a good working environment, which translates into the excellent service provided towards the customers.

Besides the spa treatments the wellness area also provides a 25×12.5m indoor swimming pool with Grander water, a sauna choice of 60 and 90 degrees, a steam bath, a laconium, Kneipp foot baths, holistic shower experiences as well as a snow iglu and a blockhouse sauna on the roof of the building.

There is also a Spa suite/ ladies spa including an infrared 50 degrees sauna, a sole steam bath and a Hamam with a own Hamam whirl bath.

From 12 am to 6pm you can help yourself at the Vital Bar with a choice of salads, deserts and snacks as well as drinks and coffee. One can relax on waterbeds, heat beds and hot stone loungers.

The gym offers a good choice of treadmills, cross trainers, bike ergometers and a power plate besides the kinesiswall. Courses like Aqua Fitness, Yoga etc. are being conducted daily, either in the dedicated course room on the sports terrace or the swimming pool area.

As I have come to know, there will be lots of changes and enlargements in the spa and fitness area starting in May 2016. The resort will stay open though and you might want to check for the variety of alternative offers. By the way, I can spill some of the new beans: there will be an infinity pool after the conversion.

The cuisine at the Öschberghof deserves a real thumbs up. Start with an aperitif at the Fair-Way bar or the Cheminée lounge before you have decided to dine at either the hotel restaurant, the restaurant Hexenweiher or the Övent hut.

The choice is between the romantic hotel restaurant, overlooking the golf course, serving a variety of fish, meat or vegetarian dishes, then the dolce vita experience at the Italian style Hexenweiher or the charming and naturalistic location of the Övent hut with a large outdoor deck and an interior that reminds me of a traditional hunter’s hut with lots of style. The Övent hut is also available to be booked for festivities and offers special events like “Weisswurst Breakfast”, Cigar nights, wine tastings, torch hikes etc.

Next to the main restaurant you will find an elegant vinoteque, some of the wine bottles on display are from 1955, the choice is immense either way. The two sommeliers can help you select the right wine from more than 450 local and international top quality wines.

After dinner, if you do like to enjoy an Absackerl (nightcap) accompanied by a cigar, the fireplace lounge is your place. More than 50 different cigars and cigarillos are available in the walk in humidor.

Concerning accommodation, the hotel offers 73 rooms, either in the main house or for pet lovers in the Dependance (the building is separately located between Golf course, parking and hotel). The rooms are 32 up to 48 square meters large. Rooms can also be connected for up to 6 persons with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.

Most of the rooms have a balcony or a terrace and are equipped with high standard bathrooms, LCD flat screens including cable and Sky TV as well as bathrobes and the most comfortable slippers I have ever used in a hotel. Wi-Fi is available for free in the whole hotel.

In case you do not bring your pet and want to use the wellness in winter, I am recommending you book a room in the main house. This way, you won’t have to walk between the houses with your slippers and bathrobe when it’s chilly outside.

For business events the Oeschberghof offers a decent amount of 9 rooms varying in size between16 square meters up to 282 square meters. One room even has an access for cars to be driven in, in case you are planning to present your prototype or similar. A team of over 5 people is supporting business events, it seems like there are no limits to what you can get. This includes modern technology, full and all day service and high quality catering.

I still hurt a bit to give away this secret bijou… All in all, should you choose to visit the Oeschberghof assure you that you will have an unforgettable stay! I hope you will cherish it just as much as I do…

Alpes et Caetera – the magic in the Valais

The Alpes et caetera opened shortly before Christmas in 2012, only 8 months after starting the construction and bringing home a newborn baby boy. It was a dear friend who actually recommended this 
little jewel to me and I am so very grateful for the tip. 



The Alpes et caetera in short:
She – Solveig, an interior designer with experience in communications and events.
He – Nicolas Reymondin, an architect who worked in events.
And then, their two little boys adding to the young men, who also call Nicolas their father.

Together they decided to combine forces and managed to create something, which can only be described as UNIQUE.
Located at the end of a small pathway in the mountain village of Vercorin on a private estate, the Alpes et caetera cabins are allotted around the main chalet, a renovated sheep barn. 
The large terrace overlooking the valley and presenting a magnificent view of the surrounding Alps is a perfect place to enjoy a glass of local wine after a day of hiking. The view from the outdoor Jacuzzi is quite spectacular as well, while a small sauna cabin (can be booked and is for private use only) is perfect to stretch sore muscles or just enjoy. Massages can also be booked via Solveig with local therapists.

High quality in every detail!

That is what best describes Nicolas & Solveig’s little paradise. 
Starting from the composition of the rooms, the pathways between the Mazots (chalets), 
the table settings for dinner and breakfast, the food bits served on slate platters, 
the fireplace in the main house, the music in the background, basically everything Solveig and Nicolas put together – is “magique”.
This place is perfect for a get-away from the noise, no matter if in your home , at work or simply in your head.
Some very original things complement your stay at the Alpes et Caetera. The key to your Mazot is an iPhone, including apps for newspapers, radio and TV, as well as a flashlight for evening walks. The sky above Vercorin during a clear night is just breath-taking, so I was very happy that cold, white street lamps didn’t ruin that. Families who bring along their
children but would like to enjoy a peaceful dinner for two at the main house, can do so by using the provided babyphone included in the room iPhone.
Also a nice idea, Solveig and Nicolas put their own music compilations on the Mazot iPhones including 
Apéro et caetera, Blues et caetera, Classique et caetera, Jazz and Lounge et caetera. Each Mazot has a little music box which can be connected via bluetooth to the iPhone.

The mazots all have their own story and are called:

  • Le CH – the CH (dedicated to the Helvetic Confédératon (CH) with all its characteristics, objects and products)
.
  • Le e La – him and her – inspired by the Vaudoise writer Ella Maillart and dedicated to the Vaudoise literature.
  • Le BD – the comic (dedicated to the Swiss comic artist Cosey (Bernard Cosendai)
  • Le bis – the bis (bisses = historic irrigation channels of the Valais, delivering priceless water from mountain streams)
  • Le rouge et le verre – the red and the glass (as Solveig and Nicolas put it: The Valais and its wines are inseparable. This chalet is dedicated to the local produce, born from the earth, stone and hard work, and drenched in Valais sun)
  • Le pic – the peak  (Dedicated to the surrounding mountains and those who climb them)
  • Le roi – the king (The cows of the surrounding mountain areas, the Hérens are a very special race. They are known for their combative temperament and each year during a fight the winning cow is crowned queen.
this Mazot is therefore dedicated to this special cow race from the Val d’Hérens and it’s queens)
  • L’Etablis – The workshop (This Mazot has long been part of the estate and it is known that the former owner had turned it into his workshop while many of his tools still have their place there)

I can fully recommend all of them, the workshop though is quite special and sui generis in its set-up. 
The original Mazot is from the 1500 and the additional “younger” one from the 1900. With a lot of hard work and care 
the younger chalet ha been dismantled and build back into place close to the original Mazot. Quite an impressive job! The most impressive idea is however to attach the two Mazots via a bridge. The bridge out of wood, closed with glass and decorated with elegant curtains connects the old Mazot (the bedroom) to the new one (the bathroom).

The Alpes et caetera is not only a wonderful place to decelerate, but also perfect if you are looking for some quality and creative time, e.g. working on a new strategy with your team, celebrating your round birthdays etc.

For more info and wonderful support for any event you would like to have organized in Vercorin, Solveig is your person!

http://www.alpesetc.ch/en/

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Speicher7 – The reinvention of an industrial silo as a ‘nouvelle vague’ vintage hotel

It is strange to come back as a guest to the city I spent over 5 years at during my studies. A familiar air surrounds the “city of the squares” as Mannheim is commonly called in German (Quadratestadt). Among the familiar buildings, restaurants, cafés, and the university in the castle are areas still new and exciting, parts unknown and curious.

The opportunity to test the look and feel of the Speicher7 Hotel was provided by the invitation to the wedding of two dear friends. Based on where the navi system brought me it was hard to believe that I could find a place so interesting and beautiful. The waterfront area of the river Rhine in this part of Mannheim was no place to spend time during my university years. This has definitely changed today. The area still does not feel like a warm neighborhood, but it is a revitalized part of Mannheim with a fashionably industrial and posh feel.

The boutique hotel, designed and rebuilt by Schmucker and Partners on behalf of Jürgen Tekath and Thorsten Kraft, won the European Hotel Design Award for the category “Conversion of an Existing Non Hotel Building to Hotel Use” in 2013. The building, formerly a grain silo from the 1950s, had been unused for around 30 years before Jürgen Tekath took an interest in it. Tekath, already known well in Germany and Mannheim for his former projects Blumenladen Tekath, Café Flo, Mode Makassar and Café Lido had apparently been looking fore quite some time for a special location with his architect friend Thorsten Kraft to start a new project.

When speaking to the friendly receptionist Muhamed and hotel manager Annette (everyone is on first name basis here), I was told that Jürgen, an India and Yoga fan had travelled the world with his friend Thorsten to get ideas and inspiration for their hotel project.

When entering the hotel it is almost like entering a world unto itself. The lobby as well as restaurant and bar is in one large room surrounded by warm colors, ventilators on the ceilings, and leather sofas with lots of cushions. The walls are decorated with a large hodge-podge of items from all over the world. It has a rustic, industrial feel to it, but with the smoothness of a dreamy, oriental touch. You can spend days sitting in the lounge area and you will discover something new every minute. Even though it is full of things to see, it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

Each of the 20 rooms is individually designed and fitted with single elements that feel like they must have caught the eyes of the two designers on their world journeys. In our double room the desk was an old wooden workbench complete with the original vise grips and old wooden boxes for nightstands that gave the room warmth and a unique charm. The window was humongous, overlooking the street but no noise could be heard through the triple-glazed windows. The only downside was that you needed to put down the shades to prevent yourself from giving a free peepshow.

The bathroom is well equipped with bathrobes and slippers were provided by reception upon request. Rooms with cute names like “small storage” and “river room” are sized at 25m² to 37m² while the Nouvelle Vague and “harbor rooms” go up to 45m². Some bathrooms even have their own view over the Rhein. Apparently there are also rooms with the shapes maintained from the original building including a 12m high bathroom and a 6m high guestroom with a window of same height. The cooling and heating is provided by the photovoltaic-system on the southern façade and makes the hotel even more likable and environmentally friendly.

All rooms are furbished with COCO-MAT beds, which we already have come to like from the hotel we stayed at in Chania, Crete. The amenities include AESOP products and what I specifically liked was the fact that there is no unnecessary snick snack in the bathrooms.

The walls in the Speicher7 have remained in their original raw concrete state, but do not make you feel uncomfortably cool. Candles, flowers, Buddha pictures, and recycled items are thoughtfully placed in a mix that fully succeeds at making you feel relaxed and in the present moment. I guess it is the touch of yoga lover Jürgen. He couldn’t stop himself from including a yoga room and sauna for more deceleration and relaxation during the stay.

Breakfast is served in the big room (near reception) with an outdoor terrace overlooking the Rhein. The buffet offers standard choices, topped with a lovely arrangement. The lady serving breakfast, Gerlinde was so welcoming it was truly touching. She made it feel like she was a grande dame hosting you in her own home. It’s worth coming here for her treatment only.

http://www.speicher7.com/en/

 

Ithaki – Athens posh restaurant with a view

The opportunity to have dinner at the locally renowned beach restaurant Ithaki in Vouliagmeni came about through pure luck, chance and the help of a very charming Swiss International Airline agent at the Athens airport named Emmanuel. Due to an overbooked flight, we were offered the possibility of giving up our seats in exchange for a free overnight stay in Athens, a generous amount of pocket money, and a return flight the following day.

Once the possibility became reality, our guide Emmanuel took us on a tour through the secret passages and corridors of the airport to retrieve our luggage and to make arrangements for our hotel and return flight.

As an added bonus, he also recommended an exceptional place for dinner. From our hotel it was only a 30 minutes taxi ride to Vouliagmeni.

There, the Ithaki elegantly presented itself right on the Kavouri Beach with a strong vibe of poshness.

Our first impression included lots of wood and glass, white table cloths, smooth lightning, a live piano player, the sound of waves, and very intimate and private tables arranged along the terraces (all facing the sea).

All in all, maybe not the cheapest place to eat in the area, but definitely a must experience. The menu was not overwhelmingly long (a pleasant experience) offering traditional Greek dishes, fresh fish and meats, as well as Sushi and Sashimi. Surprisingly, some of the fish is actually frozen (typically indicated with an *). A pity since there are plenty of fresh fish options to choose by the kilo from the local area.

The wine menu presents a good choice of Greek and international wines. Service is very polite and attentive, almost blending into the surrounding.

As a starter we selected an eggplant/cheese dish and fresh mussels in a white wine sauce. The serving process for the main dish of fresh grouper was a unique experience of presentation (rolling cart and silver bell covers to keep the food warm) and preparation (surgical removal of the bones, fins, and heads from the fish prior to serving with fresh vegetables).

Tips:

  • Booking required if you are going to typical Greek dinner hours (between 22:00 – 24:00h).
  • If you take a taxi there consider arranging a return with the same driver. As the area is well liked be Athenians, it might be difficult to find a cab for the ride back to the city.

To Beef or Not to Beef

The Officina della Bistecca and Dario Cecchini’s
philosophy of butchering

To meet Dario Cecchini, the owner of the Antica Macelleria in Panzano in Chianti, is worth every kilometer on the windiest road in Tuscany. Following in the footsteps of 8 generations of Cecchini butchers, the Ulysses of meat, how he likes to call himself is the personification of the “divina cucina di carne”. Anyone who thought the Argentinians or Americans cook the best steaks, has never had a taste of Dario’s heavenly Florentine steaks.

The recommendation to get a seat at Dario Cecchini’s table came from a Florentine friend, but it also came with an expectation warning to not be disappointed if nothing is available since tables are booked weeks in advance. So, one day before our only chance to stop at this Tuscany institution our luck ran true in the form of a forecast for rain that turned into a sunny day and available seats on the outdoor terrace.

Not really knowing what to expect (except for the best meat in the region) what we received exceeded anything we could have imagined. To call a meal at the Officina della Bistecca lunch or dinner would be an insult to the “foodtainment” we experienced. I am not sure we will ever be able to replicate the conditions of our first visit. The date was April 25th, which in Italy is their WWII Liberation Day. All two of the main streets of Panzano were packed with cars and people. If it wasn’t for all the Hells Angels of Chianti, we might have missed the Antica Macelleria Cecchini.

outsideThe simple entrance of the Macelleria on the street level is split into a small dinning area and a full service meat counter with it’s own bar playing heavy metal music. At first, we didn’t know where to enter past the bustling crowd or even who to ask about our miracle reservation. We finally settled on asking the butcher at the counter who directed us to the back of the shop where we could only see a door to the meat locker. Squeezing past more of the Chianti Chapter Angels rocking out to Guns n’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine while eating and drinking some Chianti red, we noticed a plain sliding door tucked in the back left corner of the room. The gatekeeper behind the door checked us off the list, admitted us up a narrow flight of stairs past the indoor dinning area to the outdoor terrace. Yeah!

Set up like an Italian wedding from the 50’s were two long tables that would have been at home in any beer hall complete with place mats describing the table setvarious cuts of meat on a cow and not one-centimeter spare distance between you and your neighbor – this was our final destination.

Being a bit early to the feast, we had our choice of where to sit and choose a comfortable place at the far end of the table. There were bowls filled with carrots, celery and red onion rings, a simple bean soup, baked potatoes and bread for sides. Even the salt was special consisting of Cecchini’s own mix of salt and herbs perfect for everything on the table. With the table menuset, we were about to begin.

The opening act was a Chianti crudo, apparently one of Dario’s signature dishes. Even if you don’t like raw meat, I can guarantee you, it’s the best beef tartar you will ever try. Next up was the Carpaccio di culo (bum cut) quickly followed by the third course of Costata alla Fiorentina (Bone-in Rib eye or Strip steak). This was followed by my personal favorite, the Bistecca Panzanese.

“Ladies and gentleman, I gave you the Chianti Tuna, not sushi of the fish, but the sushi del Chianti, and now…. I am presenting to you… her majesty, the Biiiiistecca alla Fiorentinaaaaaa!”

Just when you think it cannot get any better, Angelo, the master of grill, stepped out onto the terrace and lifted his hands, holding two big chucks of meat in serviettes, yelling to the crowed:

DSC00213… and that is the moment, when you can feel the never ending wine, the comfortable and friendly atmosphere, that the friends (strangers no more) who with you share this unforgettable meal go absolutely ballistic! It somehow manages to get even louder when Dario Cecchini comes out to take his bow, blowing a loud horn, giving hugs, kisses, shaking hands and posing for pictures.

The meat seems to be never ending, but when it finally stops coming to the table, the meal is finished off with an extraordinary olive oil cake (sounds much stranger than it is – a real must try), coffee and grappa. All of this you get for 50 Euro a person – a simply unbeatable value for the price.

Dario is indeed a butcher extraordinaire, a theatrical host and an artist who butchers animals to the sound of heavy metal rock music (maybe this helps to explain the Hells Angels on the day of our visit), and has developed a stage act where he butchers an entire carcass while quoting from the works of Dante. Dario is a true example of how a career with a heart, passion for ones work, for food and for the animals can result in tastes and flavors that are not only authentic, but truly poetic.

Tips:
Dario Cecchini has three restaurants in Panzano.

Make your reservation long enough in advance.

Follow the Medicis’ steps – Ponte Vecchio Suites Florence

It is no surprise that the Ponte Vecchio Suites, in the heart of old Florence, are only a few steps away from the famous Ponte Vecchio itself. Opened in 2008 by manageress Valeria Raspini, the nine available Ponte Vecchio Suites offer apartment like rooms of different sizes, including all the comforts and luxury you would expect from a high-class hotel, without feeling overloaded and too busy.

Strategically located only a short walk from the name giving Ponte Vecchio, it also provides easy access to the Piazza Signoria and Uffizzi, the Duomo, Palazzo Pitti (with it’s magnificent gardens), and the Borgo San Jacopo. You can enjoy the nearness to all the main sights, but also experience the relaxation offered by the boutique suites only a short walk away.

The suite we stayed in on the first floor had two separate rooms for the bedroom and living area. The living area included a sofa, dinner table, and small kitchenette equipped with basic utensils and dishes as well as a Nespresso machine. The only downside was the fact that you had to pay for the coffee capsules and sugar was from Mc Donald’s, but the nice fruit basket made up for that small inconvenience. Breakfast, ordered in advance, is served directly to the room from a nearby bar. As an alternative, you can decide to take the short walk to the bar itself and eat there.

The spa and gym at the Ponte Vecchio is in the basement and has to be booked in advance, as it is for exclusive use. It is rather small and cold, but probably very comfortable after a hot day in the city. You can also book a massage if you desire. Highly recommended is Alessandro (+39 303 76 278) who is an experienced therapist. Beauty treatments are available as well, but need to be booked in advance as the person is external. Not sure if I would recommend the beauty service, so beware when you book it.

The excellent booking service provided by Larisa, and the very friendly personnel Elena and Tatiana at reception deserve a special mention. All three ladies went the extra mile to make sure that you feel at home, gave good recommendations for restaurants, and made any requested bookings with a smile. They were very helpful regardless of the request.

In addition to the room, we also booked a private tour through the hotel with a local guide named Paola. While her tour of Firenze was informative and provided a local view on Firenze, the one we would really recommend was the one we booked (with Paola’s help) the following day. The tour was through via florencepass.com, and Maurizio (the company’s founder) was an extraordinary tour guide. He is passionate about Firenze’s history and arts and we could have listened to him for days. In addition, he has a delightful sense of humor. On our private tour we did the Uffizi, accessed by a side entrance that saved us a ton of time avoiding the normal entrance lines. The Uffizi is great on it’s own, but with Maurizio, who knows where to go and what to look for, it became an exceptional experience.

The Vasari Corridor though was the icing on the cake. The corridor tour is private and not something you can buy a ticket for at a ticket office. It’s very limited and we felt special having the opportunity to pass beyond the locked doors into the corridor while everyone in the Uffizi looked on and wondered why we were allowed in there. It was incredible to see all the artwork hidden behind the doors that most people will never see in addition to walking the exact path that the Medici family walked from the town hall to their palace.

Tipps:
Book a private tour with Maurizio: www.florencepass.com
Park your car at Garage Lungarno, but make sure you call in advance because spaces are limited. The hotel staff will help you with that.

Garage Lungarno
Borgo San Jacopo 10/R – 50123 Firenze (FI) – Italy
Tel: +39 055 28 25 42

www.pontevecchiosuites.com

L’épicier Grand Cru – Cheese library of Strasbourg

You might plan to eat lots of “Tarte flambée” in Strasbourg, which I can definitely recommend, but if you want a truly unique experience, in a rather uncommon place – you have your lunch or snack at the L’épicier Grand Cru.

Strolling through the charming streets near the “little Paris” area in Strasbourg, we came across a shop that was decorated with lots of happy birthday snick snack and preparing to host a party.  Looking through the window we were drawn in by the cheese room in the back protected by a glass sliding door. What followed was something you cannot plan, but just “happens” whenever you allow yourself to dive in and just take things as they come.

Our adventure began with the very friendly staff giving us a short explanation (in English) of the different wines, meats and cheeses available as well as our options for how to combine them all into our very own lunch tasting.  The store also carries a large choice of teas, honey, traditionally made jams and marmalades, a very special, medieval cooked wine with pepper (you should definitely try this), snacks, spices and other assorted treats.

We asked for whatever they recommend, tried at least 5 wines and were happy when the surprise platter with local cheeses, dried fruits, nuts and spices with fresh bread arrived.  Each glass of wine increased the chances that I would begin singing in a short while. The cheeses on our platter included a Munster accompanied by cumin powder (even if you normally don’t touch cumin – you’ll love this), a local brie with jams, Roquefort, and was accompanied by salami, dried hams, salad, and fresh bread.  What a feast!

I really have to comment again that the Munster with cumin is a must.  The wines are all delicious, but you will need to find your own way regarding the taste that suits you best.

We also really enjoyed the “cheese library”. Literally set-up as a library, behind the sliding door, it was kept so nice and cold that you had to put your jacket on to go in.  Each cheese was carefully labeled and presented making this a small, but great cheese lovers paradise.

The service, modern décor, and variety of French foods from local providers (each with their own background story) are worth the investment of 2 hours of your Strasbourg visit.  Beware, you might spend a lot of money here, but you’ll love every cent you spend – I promise.

A magical journey through time – Cour du Corbeau Strasbourg

The Germanic name for Strasbourg, “the city of the roads”, captures the essence of a city that is worth the relatively short drive to get there.  Geographically closer to Zurich and Milano than to Paris, Strasbourg offers an diverse selection of monuments and sights within its complex maze of streets making it perfect for a weekend get away. Even though it hosts the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament it is metropolitan, without being in the least bit overwhelming. The chosen hotel, Cour du Corbeau fits perfectly into the Carrefour de l’Europe (crossroads of Europe).

Located only a short walking distance from the heart of the city (near to the cathedral and Place Kléber) the Cour de Corbeau invites you to feel the magic of past times. The hotel belongs to the MGallery Hotel Group (memorable hotels by Accor – whose ambassador is Kristin Scott Thomas).

Led by our navigation system, we arrived at the hotel only to find the entrance to the street blocked by an electronically controlled pole.  Luckily, a nice man asked us where we were going, directed me to drive up to the barrier, buzzed the hotel (explaining the situation in French) and magically the pole disappeared allowing us access to the hotel entrance.  Thierry, a valet came out right away and opened my door, making me feel like I was a celebrity.  After asking where we planned to park, he offered to manage the car for us directly, took the keys, and drove off to I don’t know where leaving me with a trusting feeling that everything was in order.  The first impression of the Cour du Corbeau was magnificent. The décor was serene combining old with new, luxurious with Neo-Baroque. The welcome at the reception desk by Gregoire was very pleasant and included a surprise that we were upgraded to a junior suite. He informed us about breakfast and that the hotel didn’t have it’s own restaurant, but was happy to provide a 24 hour room service, delivered by a nearby restaurant. We asked for a recommendation for dinner in the town (a place where locals would dine) and were rewarded with an excellent choice, the Restaurant L’éveil des sens.

The hotel was renovated in 2009 after spending a number of years as a vacant building.  The “before and after” pictures in the hotel were marvelous and really highlighted the accomplishments of what the builders were able to manage.  The hotel features 57 rooms, including 19 suites. The rooms are simple, with wooden floors and a post and beam construction that exposed much of the original structure – a wonderful blend of old and new. The bathrooms contain natural stone floors and romantically styled sinks in the form of a shell.  The lighting in the room played up the violet hues and taupe colored fabrics giving everything a warm feeling while still being chic and simple, not the usual overwhelming feeling of many historical places. In short, the suite was beautiful and contained the additional surprise of a complimentary bottle of white wine (from the region Alsace) as well as a somewhat hidden door (or at least not very obvious) that led to a long, wooden porch running along the inner courtyard of the building.  Simply charming!

The staff was discrete and very attentive, and the turn down service even left a rose on our bed, as it was women’s day.  There was also a hand-written weather prediction for the following day and breakfast info placed by the night stand.  The towels in the bathroom were even replaced with fresh ones, something I really appreciate, but wouldn’t have expected at a four star hotel.

I read another review that stated the breakfast is “not to be missed” and judging by the little tables in the gallery I am sure would make an exquisite start to any day. We chose to walk across the canal into town to have fresh pain au chocolat from the local Boulangerie, which was definitely worth every minute of the wait. Before leaving the area we stopped at “Les mains dans la farine” the Boulangerie in 16, rue du 22-Novembre to load up on supplies.  The selection was excellent and we ended up with bread and pastries for a whole week.

Check out at 12:00h is very generous at the Cour du Corbeau, which allowed even more time for a stroll through the town before leaving.  The receptionist Carol was so lovely, and Anne Gerber, the manager of the hotel was also very attentive and didn’t mind helping guests with information, check in and out.

With bags in hand we called for our car which was retrieved by Sebastién, who placed a bottle of water in the center console along with a note on how to exit the area through the one way streets and around the Pl. de Austerliz and wishing us a pleasant journey home. This last little surprise was perfect and really impressed me.  Many times it is the small things that make an experience special and this was a perfect example.  All in all it was just a lovely stay at the hotel.

White Turfing in St. Moritz

My first exposure to St. Moritz was extra special due to an annual event started in 1907: the White Turf.  While St. Moritz is well know for skiing, bobsleds, shopping and celebrities it also hosts a unique, exclusive, top-class (with lots of fur and jewels) event with exciting horse-racing, gourmet catering, live music, and exhibitions all of which takes place on a frozen lake surrounded by stunningly beautiful, snow-capped mountains.

The best location to stay if you want to experience all of within walking distance (no taxi needed) is the La Margna Hotel. A traditional superior hotel with excellent views of the mountains and the lake, the La Margna is well-managed by the young and attentive manager, Nina Stockburger, and offers a uniquely pleasant and peaceful environment, despite the proximity to the main train station on the south-facing slope of the hotel.

The La Margna was built in 1907 (the same year that the White Turf started) in typical Graubünden style and has preserved its charm to this day. The nostalgia is especially felt in the heart of the building, the unchanged hotel lobby in the Jugendstil, with its original cast-iron chandeliers.

Some might find the room furnishing quite old, the bathrooms rather simple and antique, but it is very clean and the room service provided a really touching surprise.  As part of the turn down service, the towels were exchanged, a little chocolate placed on the pillows, and the foot towel put in front of the bed (with a nighttime wish and morning greeting).  But the touching surprise was the lovely set-up of the pajamas on the bed that was simple, thoughtful and heartwarming.
Highlights:

  • The staff, including manager Nina Stockburger were attentive, very friendly and extremely professional.
  • The original Hotel Lobby and Bar was delightful with impressive arched ceiling and granite pillars, original chandeliers and forged iron fireplace
  • The proximity was close to the lake, St. Moritz town, and train station
  • Dinner at the in house Stüvetta restaurant, offering traditional Engadin specialties, fondue and Mediterranean dishes
  • Breakfast choices including Gipfeli that were better than an original French croissant

The only downside is that the La Margna will be closed at the end of the 13/14 season and will reopen in 2015 as the Grace St. Moritz. On completion of renovations the hotel will comprise 36 rooms and suites plus several serviced apartments. It will have three restaurants – the premier restaurant being an all-new internationally branded fine dining experience. There will also be a classic Swiss restaurant specializing in local cuisine and a more casual restaurant offering all-day dining, plus a new martini and cigar bar.

We can only hope that the future hotel manager and staff will be as good as the current ones.

High-end design and Swiss authenticity for desk-huggers

It is ironic to think that Switzerland needs three Welshman to bring out the Swissness of the Cambrian Hotel on the noble grounds of Adelboden. Hotelliers Chris Nott, Grant and Craig Maunder managed to create a strikingly trendy hotel with the help of Designer Peter Silling in 2007, when they renovated the historic establishment from the last century.

big_157Set amid the breathtaking scenery of Adelboden’s Alps, the Cambrian combines sleek, modern design with innovative uses of natural, local materials and the Welsh touch of contemporary original paintings.

We stayed at the Cambrian during a rather special point in time, the first weekend in June, right after their spring break re-opening. It did feel a little bit like the staff hadn’t arrived yet mentally, but it only made the place more likable and less stiff. I wondered how cool and stiff the Cambrian would actually get during mid season considering the regular prices for the rooms and suites. But I do believe, that the unique mix of wooden materials and the coziness of the lounge, restaurant and rooms will bring out the harmony in most people.

The Cambrian offers 71 rooms divided into North and South facing views, with the more magnificent views to the South. The rooms and suites are stylishly furnished, combining steel, leather and wood, with white and red bed sheets, state of the art technology flat screen TVs, as well as Wi-Fi-access. The bathrooms are modern with only one downside – no ventilation system. As a consequence, we needed to vent the room using the balcony door in order to remove the steam and extra moisture. thecambrian_library1

The lounge area features a fireplace and pool table where you can take your Cambrian afternoon tea. Scott’s Bar offers a wide range of drinks and snacks and comes with the same beautiful Southern view. As a last result in case of boredom, you can always try the playroom with both a Play Station and Wii console.

The restaurant, headed by 26-year–old Austrian chef Martin Wagner offers a decent variety of dishes, combining local meats (from Simmental), and regional greens. The meat I tasted was delicious; the accompanying wine made for a great dinner experience. What I really liked about the menu is the fact that it describes the provenance of the products, most of which are local. The Cambrian is truly proud of their metric for “zero food miles”.
Breakfast is served in the restaurant, overlooking the outdoor pool and the surrounding mountains. The choice and variety is great. Options include freshly prepared eggs, fruits, marmalades, muesli, and fantastic breads. If you don’t find what you want just ask the sous chef who will try to make your wishes come true, even if it means leaving the buffet to prepare something special.

thecambrian_indoorpoolThe luxurious Spa facilities of 750m2 include a sauna, steam bath, experience shower, Kneipp pool, indoor and outdoor heated pools and relaxation area. Yoga treatments, massages, facials, and anything else you can think of in terms of beauty treatments you can get.

My personal highlights include the outdoors infinity pool and the stars on the indoor pool ceiling. You really need to experience that one for yourself.

The only thing left to wish for when staying at the Cambrian is good weather for the views.