Cologne is the fourth-largest city in Germany, renowned for the 12 Romanesque churches in its old town - you can barely turn your head in the city without seeing a church spire.
Cologne is my partner's hometown and we wanted to stay somewhere historic and beautiful for our first visit there together. Once we spot spotted The Qvest Hideway on booking.com, with a great rate of about $A200 for a double room, our hearts were set.
Fittingly given the city's religious bent, the hotel sits across a tranquil square from one of the 12 Romanesque churches, St Gereon's Basilica. It is hard to comprehend that the church was built around 350AD and had the largest dome in the western hemisphere for about nine centuries.
Qvest is in a quiet part of Cologne's old town but close enough to the main sites with the Cathedral only a 10-minute walk away.
Qvest has the look of a former church or convent, with its stone façade and decorative arched windows, but the building was actually Cologne's city archive, dating back to 1897. It has recently undergone a two-year transformation by Michael Kaune, an art collector and editor of a German magazine also called Qvest. Kaune's own collection of furniture and photographs furnish many parts of the hotel, modern design contrasting with the building's beautiful neo-Gothic bones.
The hotel has 34 rooms across six floors, but inside it's as quiet as the church square. We are lucky to be upgraded to junior suite on the ground floor, with grand proportions thanks to five-metre-high ceilings and a generous 35-square-metres of floor space. Light pours in through two huge windows, reflecting on the dark parquetry floors and highlighting the European-style queen bed with two quilts. Even more striking than the spaciousness of the suite is the design of the bathroom – it is behind a massive folding door so the bath canbe open to the room (happily the toilet is separate). There is no TV – a deliberate move by Kaune to instead have his guests focus on each room's generous pile of design and fashion publications.
Breakfast is included in our booking and it is one of the highlights of our stay in Cologne. . A three-tiered stand holds cheese and grapes on the top plate, cold meats, liverwurst, tomatoes and cucumbers on the middle, and croissants accompanied by honey, butter and jam on the bottom. By the bar area there are baskets of fresh bread rolls, yoghurt, cereals and juice. There is enough food to fuel a day of walking around Cologne, and we linger as long as possible to enjoy sitting in such a room of contrasts, from the vaulted ceilings held up by marble columns, to spectacular modern light fittings.
Don't leave the hotel before exploring its upper levels where you'll find a library and gallery space. Afterwards, head out towards the Rhine, via St Gereon's Basilica, to Cologne Cathedral. You can walk up 533 steps to the South Tower, or join the shuffling crowds in the main part of the church below. Photo panels outside the cathedral showed how close it came to destruction during World War II. Walk across the Hohenzollern Bridge for great photos back to the city and marvel at the two tonnes of "love padlocks" attached to each side. Chocoholics shouldn't miss the fascinating Museum of Chocolate. If you're still fuelled up by breakfast and chocolate, take the time to walk all the way down the Rhine to the Botanic Gardens which also has an excellent cafe where the crispy pretzels go perfectly with Kolsch beer. Nearby there is a cable car that does a round trip across the Rhine – including over the top of an outdoor spa where naked locals seemed oblivious to the tourists overhead. Only in Germany.
Qvest surpasses our every expectation – from the beautiful old building to the stylish interiors, and its quiet location outside the main tourist bustle. The breakfast is excellent, with generous portions served in a cool space. I would definitely return.
Room rates including breakfast start from €140 Euro for a double room, or €450 for a junior suite. See qvest-hotel.com
The junior suite for its soaring proportions and cool bathroom design.
Staff were not overly chatty – which suited us but might not suit everyone.
Monique Farmer travelled at her own expense.