But it must have provided the framework for my love of hotels. There are few things in life I like as much as staying in hotels. It is that special feeling, being pampered by anonymous people, the usually lovely beds, and when you wake up you know their will be a rich breakfast buffet that can keep you going for most of the day. The breakfast at the Kurhaus Hotel in Bad Bentheim, where I stayed for two nights last December, was one of the best ever. If you wished, there was even a glass of sekt for you to start the day. Sekt - Germany’s sparkling wine, a kind of champagne, at breakfast was however a bit too hedonistic for this modest Dutch guy.
The Kurhaus Hotel, Bad Bentheim, Germany.
There are good hotels, mediocre hotels and downright bad hotels of course – but these days, thanks to the internet, it is difficult to go wrong. Many hotels in Germany, Austria or Switzerland also offer you a pool and a sauna. What else can you wish for? Well, actually, a nice bar would be great, but not all hotels see the necessity for that evening hideaway. Still, sometimes you are still surprised. One of the best hotels I had the pleasure to stay in was a modest looking building, but offered beautiful rooms with a big balcony overlooking a small town and mountains in Germany’s Black Forest. I fondly remember the evenings, relaxing on the balcony, seeing the day changing into evening, and watching hikers, farmers with their tractors, people walking the dog or just cars on the narrow one lane roads through the fields on the mountain slope. A kitchen halfway down the corridor provided a big fridge for your drinks and snacks, while free coffee and tea was available. Best of all – a room only set you back 22 Euros per night per person, including a sumptuous breakfast with locally bought ham, eggs, cheese, jams and buns.
A room with a view - from the Sauerland Stern Hotel in Willingen, Germany.
Now, if you get the impression I am spending my vacations in five star hotels, I’ll have to set the record straight: I don’t. In my lifetime I only stayed in real luxurious hotels in Morocco, where the rugs were so thick, that your feet sank into it. And the American Hampton Inns are very comfortable too. Related to the Hiltons, they offer the best beds you can imagine, and only the question of your stay is financing Paris Hilton might keep you awake. Great beds notwithstanding, something is not right there, just as in most American hotels. When you come down for breakfast, you are reminded every morning that the Americans still do not know how to offer a great breakfast to their guests. Granted, in the 1990s there was no breakfast at all, and you had to go out to start your day with bagels, waffles or eggs - scrambled, omelette, no cholesterol, you name, they do everything with eggs. But Europeans want breakfast in their hotel, and they do not want those greasy options. Luckily, many business men have no time to look for diner outside, so offering a breakfast has become a requirement in the USA as well. But what kind of breakfast… even the Hampton Inn directs you to room that look more like a cantina then as the breakfast room of a $120 hotel. Coffee comes from big pots with a Starbucks label, and your choice is bagel, waffle, cereal, toast. Of course, all self service and plastic plates. Pathetic is the only word to describe this. What will Americans think when they experience a European breakfast buffet, with their own China coffee pots on their table?
Fontana Village Resort Hotel, Great Smokie Mountains, North Carolina.
The best hotels in the USA are the motels in the mountains, privately owned and not part of the big uniform chains. I fondly remember the beautiful Junge’s Motel in North Conway in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Their rooms look like luxury bungalows. But a modest looking motel near the Great Smokies National park, offering a rocking chair on a porch and a vast garden with big trees that stretched out to a streaming river, with barbecues, picnic tables and solitude not even a nature campsite could offer. And do not get me started about the Sky River Valley Inn in Skykomish, Washington… You hear the Skykomish River streaming close to your spacious room with fridge and kitchenette, and sliding doors bring you from your room directly in the riverside garden. But alas, it is deconstructed right now, and it is anybody’s guess if the owners will build it up again. Lovely quiet Skykomish in the Cascades is undergoing a massive oil spill removal, caused by the Burlington Northern and BNSF railroads, and most of the soil is removed – including many structures. And one of them is my beloved motel.
One of the most bizarre hotels I know, brought me back to my childhood just a few years ago. Hotel Zum Türken in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, is an old style establishment. Rooms with high ceilings and without bathroom, and once again I had to cross a cold looking tiled corridor at night. And I could hear the hollow sound of soldier boots in my imagination. Soldier boots, you say? Yes, because Hotel Zum Türken has a sinister history. It is located on the Obersalzberg, and anyone with interest in the Second World War will understand what I am hinting at. This is the location where Mr. Hitler used to spend his summer and winter vacations. Maybe just 50 meters away from the hotel Hitler had his Berghof built, and guests of the Hotel Zum Türken have pretty much the same view the Führer enjoyed. There is not much left of the Berghof – only a part of the stairs leading to the main entrance can be found, and under the hotel in the mountain are the rooms and corridors where Hitler and Eva Braun could seek shelter in case the allied forces would bomb the Berghof. Except for their private underground rooms, the labyrinth of corridors and rooms is open to the public. I was a grown man when I stayed here. For the six year old boy it would probably have been too scary.