I had known Munich only in winter. It can be a magical time of year — especially if snow has just fallen and the moon is shining on the newly iced Baroque buildings. But summer here was a revelation: the city, with its sun-drenched pastel façades, open-air cafés, and surprisingly laid-back people, seemed more Tuscan than Teutonic. I found myself captivated by this sultry, practically Mediterranean Munich. To make a good thing even better, I had come to sample three of the city's best hotels — two of them with histories stretching back to the mid 1800's, the other a newer gem that had just changed hands — all of them classics. In any season.
MANDARIN ORIENTAL, MUNICH
I thought I'd start with the best: the elegant 73-room hotel formerly known as the Rafael, acquired last year by the Mandarin Oriental group of Hong Kong. The creation of German hotelier George Rafael, Munich's first luxury boutique hotel opened in 1990 in a handsome, wedge-shaped 1880's building just outside the walls of the medieval city. The Rafael was a dream of Portuguese marble, Biedermeier furnishings, and contemporary art. Having stayed there three years ago, I remember fondly my junior suite with its Empire chairs and mirrors, huge desk, lavish bathroom and dressing room, and complimentary mini-bar. And I remember going up to the hotel roof on my last night, taking in the floodlit views of the Old Town, and vowing to return in summer to enjoy the scene from the little swimming pool there. So here I am, on the hottest day of the year no less, ready to keep my date.
Arriving at 2 p.m., the official check-in time, I'm surprised that my room isn't ready. Could I sit in the lobby and wait for a few minutes?Since it's a lovely lobby, no problem. But 20 minutes later, still no room, no explanation. I am fast slipping into a make-my-stay kind of mood. Two-thirty and I'm finally shown to my room, which is a virtual double of the one I stayed in before, and every bit as luxurious. The main difference: the TV now has a wireless keyboard for surfing the Internet.
In the evening, my dinner at Mark's, the hotel's mezzanine restaurant, is superb. Amid blazing candelabra and extravagantly spaced tables covered in starched pink linen, I am looked after by four friendly young men and women. They bring frequent, unexpected "gifts from the chef" (such as ravioli of artichokes and wild thyme), and present my steamed loup with caviar and potato blini with great style, precisely snapping off the covers of the silver serving dishes.
There are glitches to come, however. The next morning, my requested newspaper fails to appear, and my expensive room-service breakfast includes undrinkable, preservative-ridden orange juice. I make my way to the pool and find it as enchanting as I'd remembered, with views of red-tiled roofs and weathered green domes. But as I stretch out on a chaise and ask the attendant for a cappuccino, he instructs me to dial "1-4" on the house phone at the far end of the roof, and then allows another guest, himself in need of a coffee and familiar with the drill, to get up and play waiter for me.
Perhaps what I've experienced is simply an unfortunate breakdown in the chain of command, brought on by the recent shift in management. That problem should remedy itself in time, particularly given Mandarin Oriental's reputation for service. Or maybe the hotel was just having a bad day. Either way, the Mandarin Oriental Munich remains one of the most beautiful hotels in town, one that should, with some tweaking, soon have consistent service to match. 1 Neuturmstrasse; 800/526-6566 or 49-89/290-980, fax 49-89/222-539; doubles from $325.