The Fontenay, Hamburg
By Ruth J. Katz
Legends take time to accumulate the burnished patina that renders them mythic. The glorious Fontenay Hotel is scarcely a year old, yet this shrine to the ultimate in lodging was the talk of le tout Hamburg before the front door was even unlocked. Touted to be the most luxurious auberge to grace this Hanseatic city on Lake Alster, the hapless Fontenay suffered countless fits and starts, construction delays, and even a flood, constantly pushing the opening date further ahead in the calendar. Finally, in March of this year, the much-anticipated, five-star grande dame was ready to pamper guests.
The 130-room property (with a total footprint of 150,000 square feet), designed by Hamburg-born Jan Störmer, is a bold and visionary structure, with an exterior shell cloaked in thousands of white porcelain tiles, reflecting the adjacent lake. Constructed in the form of undulating, intertwining circles, there are scarcely two parallel walls in the organic-shaped structure; and with the exception of the walls that separate guest rooms, there are no straight walls within the edifice, either. Corridors curve and arc around two towering atria, one of which is home to an imposing sitting room and lounge, where afternoon tea is served. Adjacent to this cavernous space is an intimate library for quiet reading.
Every detail, down to the earthy, felt covers for the obligatory, in-room note pads—has been carefully curated and edited. The design team was able to include a must-have for all of us who are technology-subjugated by phones, iPads, e-readers, computers, and so on: Hidden under a flip-up cover on each of the two nightstands adjacent to the bed, are wells for plugs and USB ports—plenty of them. Hallelujah!
Furnishings are all custom-crafted, to fit the unique architecture, and are served up in a muted, tranquil palette, with shots of unexpected turquoise, a cunning nod to the nearby lake. Even the extra-long beds are specially crafted for the hotel, by German artisans at Schramm Werkstätten. The flooring comes, not incidentally, from the Abbey of Fontenay in France. Another welcome plus: All rooms have a balcony overlooking the verdant park or the shimmering water.
The rooftop, wraparound bar is a true destination for locals and guests and the Lakeside restaurant, presided over by executive chef Cornelius Speinle (whose own eatery, Dreizehn Sinne, in Schlattingen, earned a Michelin star in a year), is second to none in town. Expect to sup regally at Lakeside, savoring a five- or eight-course tasting menu, that might include venison simmering with mushrooms, celery, and cabbage, or Norwegian lobster with bok choy, cauliflower, and pine nuts, or pigeon with sweetbreads, cranberries, and beetroot.
The Parkview restaurant on the ground level, with an outdoor terrace, is also a magnet for neighborhood residents. Each morning at breakfast, I got to play with a local’s frisky dog, and there were native Hamburgers who told me they walk over to the restaurant each day to sit lakeside, savoring cappuccino and croissants for a mid-morning respite, followed by a romp in the park. The best aspect of the Parkview, though, was my waiter, Dennis Boller. Why? Because when he came to wait on me my second morning there, he had remembered everything I had ordered—quirks and all—and was happy to reprise the meal. When we had a fire drill (!) in the middle of breakfast, Dennis made sure to keep my breakfast hot and rewarmed anything that needed a touch of fire.
The spa is another delight, with nearly 11,000 square feet on the sixth floor, all devoted to cosseting guests, with a diverse menu of treatments, including holistic therapies, for body and face, including two tempting ones, that could just as easily have been items on the restaurant’s menu—a salt-sugar-coffee peeling and a miracle broth facial. Additionally, there is an infinity pool, Vichy bed, sauna, an aroma-quartzite steam room, relaxation chamber, ice fountain, and five treatment rooms.
It may have taken a while to get to the finish line, but the wait was worth it and the Fontenay has crossed that finish line as an all-around, victorious champion. It is the ideal place to hang your (Miesbacher) hat when in Hamburg.
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The author of five books, Ruth J. Katz was the style/travel editor of Promenade magazine for eight years. She has written extensively for both The New York Times and New York magazine and has served as an editor or contributing editor at numerous magazines, including Redbook, Classic Home, Golf Connoisseur, and The Modern Estate. She has visited over 80 countries (and counting).