Ever arrived at a five-star hotel, lights flashing, on the back of a tow truck?
A road trip to Germany with a family of five was always going to have its challenges.
But a car about to crack as we reached our holy grail of Hamburg? My conniptions went into overdrive.
Fiona Hardcastle describes The Fontenay (pictured) as a ‘curved structure of three overlapping circles so beautiful it’s more like a sculpture’
The Fontenay’s rooftop infinity pool, pictured above, offers stunning views of the Hamburg skyline
As if mirroring mutter’s mini-meltdown at the speed vater was doing on the autobahn, a back tyre of the Volvo XC90 had begun to show signs of distress. Closer inspection showed it was about to explode. Which made two of us.
And so it was that when, shortly before 10pm that night, we were finally deposited at the dazzling entrance of the Fontenay by Germany’s answer to the AA, I felt more than a pang of regret that our arrival had not been more distinguished.
‘I shan’t ask about your journey,’ demurred the man on reception, swiftly dispatching us to the rooftop bar, where with each tug of the crimson crescent moon our woes began to melt away.
One Fischbrotchen (‘fish sandwich’ will never do this delicacy justice) and a restorative glass of Eva Fricke Riesling and all was right in die welt.
As you would expect at the flawless Fontenay where failure to deliver a first-class experience is simply not an option.
Fiona notes that the building is ‘fantastically flamboyant’ and ‘flooded with light’ in the mornings
The reception area at The Fontenay, ‘where failure to deliver a first-class experience is simply not an option’, according to Fiona
The building itself – a curved structure of three overlapping circles so beautiful it’s more like a sculpture – takes its inspiration from the surrounding treetops. Fantastically flamboyant, as the new day dawned, it was also flooded with light.
As was our stunning suite, its curved walls in soothing taupe and cream the perfect backdrop for the elegant furniture and thoughtful finishing touches that make this hotel so special.
My architect husband was instantly in its thrall. ‘Every detail is unique,’ he marvelled. ‘They must have done enough drawings to wallpaper the entire building inside and out!’
The children were equally impressed – although for different reasons.
One of the guestrooms at The Fontenay. Describing her own suite, Fiona says: ‘Its curved walls in soothing taupe and cream are the perfect backdrop for the elegant furniture and thoughtful finishing touches that make this hotel so special’
Fiona’s architect husband was ‘instantly’ in thrall over the design of The Fontenay. Pictured on the left is the hotel’s spectacular Atrium Lounge. On the right is the library at The Fontenay. Fiona says her ‘woes began to melt away’ once she settled in to the hotel
‘There’s a disco in the bathroom!’ cried Rose, pointing out the flashing lights and music options inside the enormous walk-in shower.
‘The hairdryers are GHD!’ trilled Evie, already looking forward to the pre-dinner primping.
‘The Wi-Fi is great,’ approved Felix, naively under the impression he’d be spending any time on his Switch.
Hamburg was calling and the hotel bicycles were waiting for us.
Jan, the concierge, had mapped out the perfect day. Now all we had to do was pull it off.
Fiona enjoys a ‘Fischbrotchen’ and a restorative glass of Eva Fricke Riesling at the Fontenay Bar (pictured)
First, a family cycle around the lovely Lake Alster, a popular five-mile route for runners and rubberneckers, such as ourselves, eyeing up the picturesque houses that line the lake.
‘Which one do you want, Evie?’ asked Rose, saying what we were all thinking.
Our first morning in Hamburg and already we wanted to live here.
Yet for a city that boasts more millionaires per capita than any other in Germany, Hamburg is decidedly hip, as defined by its lakeside luxury real estate as its vibrant neighbourhoods and edgy urban architecture.
The view of Hamburg from an outdoor terrace at The Fontenay. Fiona describes the German city as ‘decidedly hip’
‘That building looks like a ship,’ cried Felix as we continued our cycle downtown, pointing at what resembled a giant glass ocean liner, its bow arching up into the sky.
But then Hamburg’s maritime spirit is everywhere. And embrace it, you must, my husband insisted, from the waters that made it ‘the gateway of the world.’
Parking our bikes at Landungsbrucken, the landing pier, he announced we would not be taking a tourist boat but would hop on public Ferry 62. The children were not convinced.
‘Do we HAVE to get on a boat?’ they complained, fearing yet another odyssey up their father’s sleeve. Shamefully, I shared their concerns. Visions of us being freighted out into the North Sea while he held forth with a potted history of The Hanseatic League was not what I’d hoped for the day.
The Fontenay Spa. During their stay at the hotel, Jan, the concierge, maps out the ‘perfect day’ for Fiona and her family
Happily, having sailed past the fish market and container terminal, we were on dry land again, jumping off at the historic fishing village at Ovelgonne, where we stopped for lunch at the buzzing Strandperle beach bar and felt the simple pleasures of sand between our toes and ice-cold beer in the parental throats.
Back to port and a mind-blowing view of the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg’s newly-minted concert hall, an extraordinary feat of glass and brick that juts out into the harbour like a post-modernist Blue Peter ship and simply screams for attention.
Where I was standing, it was becoming increasingly difficult to drown out the children’s screams for some pool time.
Bikes were pedalled with a new momentum as we headed back to the hotel for an early evening dip at the Fontenay’s rooftop infinity pool, its stunning views of the Hamburg skyline – appreciated by swimmers and sun loungers alike – ensuring family harmony was finally restored.
Fiona and her family enjoy a ‘fillet of sea bass, saddle of lamb and a trio of exceptional puddings’ at the hotel’s Parkview Restaurant, pictured
The Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg’s newly-minted concert hall, ‘an extraordinary feat of glass and brick that juts out into the harbour like a post-modernist Blue Peter ship’
Just in time for dinner, at the Parkview restaurant, where the outdoor space blended seamlessly into the surroundings, just as we sank thankfully into our seats.
Fillet of sea bass, saddle of lamb and a trio of exceptional puddings later, and our hunger was sated and hearts were full.
Hamburg, who knew? Well, we do now and we’ll be back.
Even if it takes another set of wheels.
Deluxe rooms at The Fontenay are priced from €425 (from £362) per room per night on a bed and breakfast basis, based on double occupancy. To book, visit www.thefontenay.com. For more information on Hamburg, visit www.hamburg-travel.com.
Fiona and her family used PCR tests from Boots. MyHealthChecked At-Home COVID-19 PCR Swab Test Kit (for General Use and Fit To Fly). A family bundle of four costs £234. Boots Advantage Points can be collected with the purchase.
Activate your kit online at www.myhealthchecked.com/activate-kit. Send your sample back the same day, ensuring you post it in a Royal Mail Priority Postbox. Within 24-48 hours from lab receipt, you will receive an email with a link to view your results online at www.myhealthchecked.com and download a Fit to Fly certificate.