By Heather Bryce
Of course I’d heard of the Burj Al Arab, the iconic sail-shaped hotel rising 56 stories above Dubai. Repeatedly voted the world’s most luxurious hotel, it is the jewel in the crown of the Jumeirah hotel chain. Little did I know Jumeirah, which was founded in 1997 with the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in the United Arab Emirates, operates 22 hotels and resorts in nine countries from the Far East (Shanghai) to Europe (London) – each one unique. I was soon to experience the brand’s legendary luxury at Jumeirah Frankfurt, its first in Central Europe.
They know how to spoil you at Jumeirah Frankfurt. The spacious rooms and suites boast fabulous city views along with oversize bathtubs (some of which overlook the bed) and showers clad in a tasteful shimmering mosaic of tiles and brimming with toiletries from upscale beauty line Joop.
There’s a complimentary minibar, espresso machine, business desk, and pillow menu. Pets are allowed and even get their own beds. Every evening the pastry chef sends such treats as a kind of apple crumble layered with chocolate. Who knew that apples and chocolate married so well?
The lobby is distinguished by a long snake-like chandelier undulating with thousands of glittering crystals. Public areas are festooned with more than 200 paintings commissioned for the hotel from renowned contemporary artist Hartwig Ebersbach, who paints his highly expressive, impasto-rich canvases with both his hands and feet.
The clientele ranges from suit-clad business people to middle easterners, many of whom, were escaping the desert heat when we visited in the fall. The Arab women were dressed in typical black garb to colorful raiment, from dowdy to chic, but always with some sort of headdress.
City of Contrasts
Jumeirah Frankfurt, which opened five years ago, is the only five-star hotel in the heart of a city that can certainly support such opulence. After all, Frankfurt is one of the world’s leading financial cities and the headquarters for Germany’s stock exchange, an exquisite building a short walk from the hotel. Known as the “city of contrasts,” Frankfurt embodies a stunning juxtaposition of old and new. Ancient half-timber houses and newer (early 19th-century) yellow sandstone buildings hold their own among the glass and steel towers.
The hotel is one of the city’s glass skyscrapers and, true to form, soars above the princely Thurn and Taxis palace next door, an 18th-century confection that was restored after being bombed in the Second World War (like much of Frankfurt), its domes directly across from the function rooms. The hotel also borders Old Town with its steep-roofed buildings with tiny dormers and a tower that once was one of many guarding the ancient city. In between all the Hansel and Gretel houses are a profusion of shops from local boutiques to such chain stores as Esprit and MaxMara.
Frankfurt is an eminently walk-able city. Almost everything from bakeries piled high with kuchen to shops and restaurants is accessible by foot. It is laced with greenery, alive with more than 40 parks and 160,000 trees. A stroll across one of the bridges that straddle the Main River takes you to the Museum Quarter embankment, where many grand old houses have been converted into museums and galleries.
Art and Soul
The Städel Museum is a must-see, having begun two centuries ago with the bequest of an important benefactor’s collection. Today its collection represents works from the 14th century to the present, with focuses on the Renaissance to early Modern art, from Boticelli to Picasso. Don’t miss either of two portraits of Frankfurt’s native son, the philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the first rendered by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein in 1787, the second by Andy Warhol, his own rendition of the original.
Frankfurt is also the cider capital of Germany, and the hotel’s concierge made sure we visited Dauth-Schneider, a traditional apple wine restaurant. We were seated outside on cobblestones under a canopy of trees and umbrellas. Thirsty, we quickly downed a refreshing glass of apple wine made with sour apples and mixed with sparkling water. Then we ordered another. Fortunately the wine is only circa five-percent alcohol. Then we feasted on local favorites such as sour milk cheese, liver dumplings, pickled pork in aspic, and of course sausages (in this case bratwurst) with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. We loved the sumptuous herbal green sauce traditionally served with meats, fish and potatoes.
The best of our Frankfurt culinary experience was yet to come – and right at our hotel. Breakfast at Jumeirah Frankfurt is a sumptuous feast worthy of an emir. The sophisticated menu features everything a westerner could desire along with a selection of Middle Eastern dishes. Though menus change regularly, typical breakfast offerings include such items as Foul Medammas, a tasty Lebanese bean stew swimming in fragrant olive oil and Shouka – stewed tomatoes and crunchy onion stirred with eggs. Both are served with crispy or soft Arabic bread to use for dipping rather than eating with utensils. There is also a cornucopia of fruits (dates and apricots), gluten-free breads, a dazzling assortment of meats (this is Germany, after all), cheeses, smoked fish, egg dishes ad baked goods. Even such delicacies as tiny pickled quail eggs, stuffed grape leaves and marinated artichoke hearts tempt. The centerpiece is a honeycomb from which you can scoop the amber nectar, fresh from the hives on the 28th-floor roof.
We could have dined at El Rayyan, a Lebanese eatery on the ground floor, but we chose the hotels’ main restaurant, Max on One, named after Kaiser Maximilian, where we overlooked the show kitchen replete with shiny pots and pans. We transitioned into the evening with an aperitif of sparkling wine doused with a lush dram of elderflower syrup.
To start, we ordered lobster “essence,” which was just that – a broth perfumed with essence of unadulterated lobster, spiked with a swirling tab of butter. For the entrees, you are given a choice of sauces and side dishes. Chef Frank Harting was very proud of his gleaming grill, so we chose grilled wild prawns, with a lemon-caper-butter sauce and baked potato with truffle sour cream. Cuisine themes change by month. Think: lots of mushrooms and pumpkin in October and a four-course meal based on goose during the holidays. Our wine was a deliciously tart Spreitzer Reisling from the local Rheingau region. We saved room for a digestif to be sipped while enjoying the live après-dinner entertainment in the Ember Lounge.
At the hotel’s Talise Spa, it was a toss up between an apple facial (in honor of the apple wine for which the city is famous) and the honey scrub (using honey from the hotel roof). To make the decision easier I consulted my Balinese facialist, the lovely Yuliani, who advised me that my flight from New York was dehydrating and that a facial was in order. However, my mature skin didn’t require the Vitamin-C packed, pigment-reducing apple facial as much as a rehydrating iris facial. With hands soft as butterfly wings, Yuliani delicately patted and stroked my face, applying a peel, scrub and hydrating mask using an assortment of nourishing herbal infusions. The result: glistening skin.
Storybook Day Trip
Frankfurt might be more of a business than tourist destination, but it’s also the gateway to the Rhine Valley, a fairyland of vineyards, storybook villages and medieval castles. We took a short train ride to a village that is the definition of quaint, smack in the heart of one of the most distinguished wine regions in the world. Known for its half-timbered buildings and cobblestone lanes, Rüdesheim is lined with cozy wine taverns and bustling restaurants.
We rode a cable car to a mountaintop from where we hiked to another cable car (this one so vertiginous that one of our party almost took a taxi instead) for our ride back down. We landed at another quaint village, Assmannshausen, which is known as a “red wine town” because the conditions there are perfect for producing pinot noir – rare in an area known for producing 80 percent white wine. We lunched at Berg’s Alte Bauernschänke , an inn dating from 1408.
After a visit to Reinstein Castle – right out of a fairytale – we returned to Rüdesheim where we dined in the grape vine-hung courtyard of Breuer’s Rüdesheimer Schloss on a cornucopia of delicacies including slices of wild boar and duck breast and marinated cheeses and mushrooms, followed by such memorable entrees as wild boar goulash, porcini with bread dumplings, and trout with freshly shaved horse radish. An oompah band played Neil Diamond as Americans from a Viking Cruise ship danced in a conga line. It was so corny it was great.
While honeybees are dying off worldwide, 40,000 have a home atop the roof of the Jumeirah Frankfurt. With gleaming European bank towers as a backdrop, the busy bees go about their business collecting nectar from the nearly 10,000 acres of greenbelt that meanders through the city. The honey shows up presented in a honeycomb at the breakfast buffet, in spa treatments, and in the pastry chef’s delightful inventions. The hotel is so proud of its beekeeping that it has created a bee mascot, which finds itself photographed in far-flung places around the globe.