Working full time as a lawyer, I always try to make the best of my weekends. Luckily Paris is located just in heart of Europe offering easy access to many interesting cities perfect for short trips. I have already explored many of them but still continue to discover new destinations, some of them overpassing my expectations! Cologne is one of my recent discoveries and I’m particularly proud of it.
If you love driving, you can reach this German city by car from Paris spending five hours at the wheel (like we did). Otherwise take a ticket and after three hours and a half in the train get off at the Cologne railway station. Whatever way of traveling you choose, I’ll recommend you to have a car in Cologne (rent it if you can). Why? Because there’re so many things to see around the city!
Let’s start by the basics: where to stay in Cologne?
If you love design hotels as much as I do, Maison Marsil will be the best choice. I saw a few photos of its interiors on Internet and immediately knew it was the right place for me. Located in a historical building in the quite district of Cologne just near the center, Maison Marsil welcomes the guests by the stunning art deco facade and beautiful lobby full of amazing vintage objects. Each room has a unique design and some of them feature a balcony with a view!
Maison Marsil is a family-run boutique hotel, homelike and friendly, with an individual approach to every guest. It’s a kind of place where you immediately feel at your ease and never want to leave. We stayed in the only suite of the hotel which consists of the living room, little kitchen, bedroom and – the most important detail! – large terrace offering a breathtaking view over the city! Traveling to Cologne in November, we were ready to any kind of weather, but finally it was just perfect, warm and sunny, so we could enjoy aperitif on our terrace watching the most picturesque sunset…
What can I say about out suit? Spacious, stylish, full of light. Excellent bedding, coffee machine, refrigerator. Very cozy, very comfortable, very photogenic! I felt just like at home there and it definitely had a big impact on the whole trip. If I enjoyed Cologne so much, it was in a big part thanks to Maison Marsil (which proves how important it is to choose the right place to stay when you travel).
A special mention should be made about breakfast. The variety of choices was impressive – there were veggies, different kinds of cheese, jams, muesli, yoghurt, fresh orange juice… Maison Marsil serves vegetarian breakfast, so no ham is available, but there’re so many others options that I’ve hardly noticed it. You can also order omelette or grilled eggs which were cooked just in front of your eyes. At last but not at least there were croissants and coffee, and I definitely have to tell a few words about them! Let’s be honest: we hardly find good croissants outside of France and once abroad, I usually choose other options for breakfast. At Maison Marsil the croissants were SO delicious that I asked hotel stuff where they bought them. “Our croissants are home-made”, was the answer and all I could say was “Wow bravo!” – before grabbing one more baked goodie from the buffet. And coffee! True cappuccino with perfect milk foam or layered latte macchiato – when you see the impressive professional coffee machine at the lobby, you know you’re at the coffee lovers’ paradise!
Well, I could go on and on with my stories about Maison Marsil but I think a few photos will be better:
Now let’s see what to do in Cologne (except cocooning at Maison Marsil). I can give you two most important pieces of advice: first, try to visit Cologne during carnival; second, explore the region.
The Cologne Carnival (the Crazy Days how they call it) is an annual event or rather period which starts at 11 minutes past 11am of the 11th November each year. For three next days, the whole city becomes a place of merrymaking ! Most of people have costumes and music is everywhere! Everyone is outside, having beer at the bars or just strolling around, dancing and singing. People drink a lot, too, but the atmosphere is really nice and friendly. The carnival celebrations are then suspended during December (the Christmas period) and start again after 6 January, with street festivals and performances. You can find the exact dates here: Cologne.de.
Cologne is mostly known by its famous cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site, so visiting this gothic masterpiece is must, as well as climbing 533 steps up to one of the cathedral’s towers to reach the best view point of the city. Unfortunately Cologne was gravely damaged during the World War II bombing, so its architecture is mostly modern, but I love this city for its atmosphere, great museums, excellent restaurants and cozy bars. If you want to see more of beautiful German architecture, take a car and go to explore the region…
1. Augustusburg and Falkenlust Castles in Brühl
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, these two castles are a masterpiece of German rococo. Augustusburg is usually referred as a palace and Falkenlust as a hunting lodge. Surrounded by the magnificent baroque garden Augustusburg was a favourite residence of Clemens August, Archbishop-Elector of Cologne. Both castles were built in the 18th century and represent today a precious mixture of culture and history. Augustusberg is still used as a place for concerts, mostly between May and August.
In the low season the garden was delightfully empty and calm. We caught the last days of autumn colors and the views were splendid! The visit of the castles in only possible with a guided tour, so be sure to check the timetable on the website: https://www.schlossbruehl.de/en/
2. Ahr Valley
Just one hour of driving from Cologne – and you’re in the Ahr Valley famous by its vineyards and breathtaking views. It’s a great destination for those who love hiking, good wine and hearty German cuisine. Rotweinwanderweg, the red wine trail, leads the travelers from one pretty village to another, offering the amazing views over the cascades of vineyard terraces. November is an excellent month to visit this area – the crowds of tourists have already gone but the colors of fall are still there and if you’re lucky with the weather, your trip will be pure pleasure!
We started by Altenahr, a lovely little village, then drove in the direction of Dernau, stopping here and there, walking some parts of Rotweinwanderweg, taking tons of photos and enjoying the sunshine. The landscapes reminded me the Douro Valley in Portugal, less sleepy though.
Of course wine tasting is a necessary part of your visit to the Ahr Valley and there’re hundreds of wine shops and bars in the area. The winery we chose for our wine experience was quite unique though: Kloster Marienthal is located in the ruins of the monastery and the tables are installed in its courtyard. Sitting in that historical place, sipping excellent Ahr Spatburgunder and watching the last rays of sun shining through the arc windows in the ancient walls gave us a strong feeling of being lost in another century, so far away from the rest of the world…
3. Eltz Castle
This place is the furthest from Cologne, one and a half hour of driving, but it definitely worth a visit. One of the most picturesque castles of Germany, became famous thanks to numerous posts on Instagram, Eltz looks like an illustration for the fairytale book and your imagination draws a dragon over it or a princess watching through the window. Not only its architecture is the quintessence of a typical knight castle but also its unique location in the middle of the forest and hills make this Eltz very special.
If you’d love visit the interior of Eltz castle, notice that it’s open from 25 March to 1st November. Since I just wanted to see the scenery, I didn’t mind coming there out of the opening period. Another important notice: you have to leave the car at the parking and walk around 20 minutes to reach the castle. In summer season there’s a shuttle which brings the visitors from the parking to the castle and back, but in winter it doesn’t work so be ready for a short but quite slippery track in the forest.
We reached Eltz just before the sunset. The day was cold and foggy, and the castle looked majestic and mysterious surrounded by reddish autumn forest. Despite the low season and cold weather there were some bloggers taking photos on the famous bridge leading to the castle – I can imagine that in the high season this place is super crowded (thank you Instagram!) We were happy to be there in November when the magic of Eltz wasn’t spoiled by the crowds. Fascinated, we stayed there until the twilights haven’t hidden the castle…
After a day of exploring, it’s nice to spend the evening at the spa in Cologne (it is also a perfect plan B for a rainy day). German people adore saunas and thermal spa, so everywhere in Germany you will find amazing spa centers, beautifully decorated and perfectly equipped. In Cologne we visited Neptunbad, an enormous spa center including the inner part with all kinds of hammam, pools and relax areas, and the Japanese style garden with steam baths and herbal saunas. There’s also a restaurant and massage cabinets. Neptunbad is open until midnight and you can buy a 2- or 4-hours pass. Don’t forget that all German spa are nudist and swimsuits are not allowed inside.
As you could already notice, there’re so many things to do in Cologne and around it that one weekend might be not enough. To be honest, I’m already planning my next trip to this city and will surely discover some new hidden gems.
At the end of this article, I’d love to share with you where to eat and drink in Cologne – all these addresses are tested and approved by myself.
Henne wine bar : excellent place for fine dining in Cologne. Creative cuisine, local and seasonal ingredients, large choice of wines and stylish minimalistic interiors – everything I like! Open kitchen is a bonus – it’s always nice to observe the food cooking process.
Café Feynsinn: quite famous coffee shop in Cologne, perfect for breakfast, lunch, brunch or just a coffee break. Gorgeous vintage interior, lovely terrace and really good coffee are the serious arguments to visit this place.
MachKaffee: a tiny coffee shop in the center of the city with a typically hipster menu including avocado toasts and granola. Nice place for having a glass of hot cacao and warming up after a long stroll in a chilly day.
Little Link bar: really large choice of cool and creative cocktails. The only disadvantage – very crowded on the weekends.
Are you already packing your luggage to leave for Cologne? You’re right, better to see it with your eyes! And don’t forget: Maison Marsil is waiting for you 🙂
phone: +49 (0)221 – 46 909 60