Cologne’s new breed of design hotels are a mix of historic, modern and retro-futuristic elements, often set in historic or repurposed buildings. As such, they perfectly mimic their city, whose roots reach back to the first century BCE — all while offering affordable, doorstep access to its star attractions and buzziest neighbourhoods.
1. Legend Hotel
Come to Legend Hotel and the first thing you’ll notice is the late-medieval tower next door. Thanks to painstaking restoration after the Second World War, the City Hall’s Ratsturm (council tower) crawls with vivid, sometimes shocking carvings; the acts of self-gratification performed beneath one archbishop, among emperors and other dignitaries, shine a light on to the irreverent spirit of this city.
Opened last year, Legend Hotel pays tribute to its neighbour while remaining pin-sharp in design. The Rastrum’s colours are mimicked in the bedrooms, from slate grey walls to sandstoney browns for the upholstered headboards. At 23sq m, the classic doubles make the most of the space with clever touches such as over-your-shoulder bedside lights and desks that hug the end of the bed. Their windows frame the ancient tower, but for the best sights, head to the rooftop terrace, with views of Cologne Cathedral’s reach-for-the-sky spires.
Even the hotel’s Puls restaurant nods to the past of the city — founded as a Roman colony — taking its name from a cereal stew popular in ancient Rome. Two-star chef and patron Daniel Gottschlich’s ‘have it your way’ menu allows guests to mix bar snacks with gastronomic fare, be it mini-Rossini burgers or a pink veal fillet with Parma ham jus, baked sage and a cream of green beans.
Yet, with a location as brilliant as the old town, you’ll hardly spend time indoors. Around the hotel, beer halls brim with Kölsch. And if you catch the metro to Ehrenfeld, you’ll see the street-art memorial to the Edelweiss Pirates: young rebels against the Nazis. It’s further evidence this city’s feisty spirit has endured. From €100 (£86).
2. Ruby Ella
‘Lean luxury’ are the watchwords of the Munich-based Ruby chain, and its Cologne outpost perfectly exemplifies the concept. Raw concrete walls are the main spartan feature, but a sense of style and comfort is built up with thoughtful touches. In the rooms, mirrors studded with lights echo the site’s former role as a TV studio, while extra-long beds invite decadent lie-ins. Best of all is the setting, less than five minutes’ walk from the Belgian Quarter’s bars and restaurants. From €139 (£119).
3. The Circle
This scion of German hotel group 25 Hours, The Circle takes its cue from the futuristic, 1950s building where it’s set — formerly home to an insurance company — then sticks its tongue firmly in its cheek.
The circular lobby is littered with kooky Barbarella chairs and other space-age memorabilia, while the rooms are straight out of a late-1960s look book — think potted plants, landline phones and spindly legged furniture. Yet, there’s nothing irreverent about the top-floor bar and restaurant, which gazes rapturously across the skyline. From €130 (£112).
4. The Qvest
Pared-back, monochromatic minimalism sets the tone at this 34-room hotel, and with good reason. By taking a step back, the designers have put the spotlight on the wonders of this 19th-century building, the former home of the city archives.
High ceilings and soaring gothic windows frame contemporary paintings and designer armchairs, creating a look that could feature in Qvest, the chic German travel and design magazine that owns the homonymous hotel. Just opposite, 12th-century St Gereon, one of Cologne’s famous Romanesque churches, deepens the architectural interest. From €150 (£129).
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