When I was sixteen, I left the hot Australian summer behind and jetted off to Germany for an unforgettable six months as an exchange student. I have lots of wonderful memories and the very best are of the Christmas celebrations – think night-time Christmas markets, spicy cookies called Lebkuchen, delicious Glühwein (mulled wine) and cutting our tree whilst it was snowing.
If you’re also dreaming of a German Weihnachten (that’s Christmas), organise a stay at the Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg.
Situated on a mountain terrace with a breathtaking view of the cathedral city of Cologne, the Schloss Bensberg was built by Prince-Elector Johann Wilhelm II of Dusseldorf in the early 1700s to impress his new wife. Alas, the Prince died in 1716, before the couple had even moved in, and his widow returned to her home country of Italy. The palace was not properly finished and over time served as a military hospital, cadet school, boarding school and refugee centre.
After centuries of neglect, the palace was bought in 1997, restored and transformed into the regal, five star Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg. Apart from spectacular accommodation (there are eighty-four rooms and thirty-six suites), the hotel offers three Michelin-star dining and an exceptional day spa with various ‘wellness’ packages.
Should I be lucky enough to stay in this particular Baroque palace, I think I’d time my trip to take in the Christmas festivities. On Christmas Eve, children are invited to decorate the Christmas tree and bake delicious biscuits in the patisserie. While they are busy with that, parents can relax with a champagne aperitif in the hotel lounge (a stark contrast to what I’m ordinarily doing on Christmas Eve, which is running around like a mad woman to get everything done).
Late in the afternoon, there’s a visit from Father Christmas, caroling and then a sumptuous dinner in one of the hotel’s two restaurants. The evening finishes with a torchlight procession to the nearby church for Christmas Mass.
Of course, with the centre of Cologne just a five minute walk away, you will also be able to enjoy the Christmas markets and other festive activities.
Suites at the hotel can accommodate two adults and up to three children. A Junior Suite is approximately 290€ per night over Christmas. Bookings can be made online at Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg and flights to Germany can be organised through Goldman Holidays.