THE RAPHAEL HOTEL WÄLDERHAUS, HAMBURG
My husband and I spent two lovely nights at the Raphael Hotel WälderhausRaphael Hotel Wälderhaus (meaning The Forest House) while we were exploring Hamburg last week. Hotels are usually basic affairs. You expect a lobby, maybe a bar and restaurant, then a room with a bed. So we were delighted to discover that the Walderhaus had so much more! Embracing sustainability in every aspect, from geothermal heating and solar panels to mainly organic food and organic sheets, the hotel stands by its eco credentials.
The 82 room hotel is located in modern Wilhelmsburg, just outside the city centre, on an island in the River Elbe surrounded by forest. It’s and affordable hotel rated 3 star superior and has won a number of accolades. Not just a hotel, it houses art exhibits, a small shop of eco-goods, conference facilities, an ecological science centre and restaurant.
The beautiful wood and concrete design provides a lovely natural contrast, but it was borne of necessity. Originally the architects wanted it to be all wooden, but due to legislation and fire regulations they had to change the design. Instead, the first two floors are built in reinforced concrete while the upper three floors are built of solid wood. The building uses certified European spruce from Germany, Austria and 20% from Finland, plus untreated European larch for the façade. The hotel is mainly off-grid providing the majority of its energy from geothermal ground source heat pumps and photovoltaic panels on the roof.
A whopping near 10,000 bushes and trees were planted on the living roof – providing heat and sound insulation for the building, act as a wildlife habitat and reduce air pollution. I would have loved to have seen the roof, but unfortunately it’s not accessible. However, the hotel is such a success that they’ll soon be constructing a new building nearby for more rooms, linked by underground tunnel. Hopefully that one will allow us to see that living roof forest! Both the roof and exterior are designed to provide habitat for plants, insects and small animals.
Walking up to the Raphael Hotel Walderhaus, you know you’re onto something special. The geometric wood-clad building is really spectacular. Then, you enter the lobby to be met with a scene of wood-meets-concrete-meets-industrial chic. It’s natural and full of nature. We were lucky to visit while a tree sculpture from world-renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei dominated the lobby. Made of pieces of different trees bolted together (from his ‘Trees’ series), it perfectly fits with the decor and theme of the hotel.
Although the hotel isn’t right in the centre of town, it’s only a five minute walk to the S-Bahn station and from there less than 10 minutes (three stops) to the central station Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. Don’t be put off by having to take transport – it is soooo easy to use. Grab yourself a Hamburg Card and hop on and off it whenever you like. It’s far more user-friendly than the London underground. And if you do need directions, don’t worry, everyone we encountered spoke perfect English.
The rooms at the Raphael Hotel Walderhaus are sleekly styled with lovely eco touches. The bare wood panelling gave the rooms a warm feeling and lovely texture. We loved the modern minimalist furniture and the comfy beds.
The rooms are all charmingly named after different types of trees, complete with photos of that tree at different times of year, with notes (in German) about the tree. There is even a large branch of the room’s tree in each room.
We loved the elegant and comfy rooms. Ours overlooked a large park with views of the very nearby forest just beyond. The rooms don’t have a kettle, as most Brits like to expect, but we had breakfast at the hotel so were able to just pop downstairs for our caffeine fix. There is however phone, tv, desk, safe, wardrobe, sparkling water, low energy hair dryer and free wifi.
Our room didn’t have double beds, but the hotel pushes two twins together for couples. Since the hotel is often used for big conferences (usually by eco and ethical companies), this setup makes sense. We found the beds to be very comfortable and had organic cotton sheets.
I liked the carpet that is used throughout the rooms and hallways. The random leaf pattern swirls around, with the leaves collecting at the higher traffic parts of the room and corridors.
In keeping with the hotel’s environmentally conscious theme, there were little reminders to be more eco-aware. The rooms have soaps that smelled amazing and came in reusable bottles with a reminder to conserve water.
There aren’t tea-making facilities in the rooms, as Brits come to expect, but it’s easy enough to pop downstairs to breakfast for a caffeine fix. The hotel doesn’t have gym facilities, but across there are plenty of adventure activities, from a swimming pool to a large climbing wall.
It was nice to see that the Walderhaus restaurant is decorated in the same natural textures and industrial chic of the rest of the hotel. There are lovely touches like the branches decorating the ceiling and pretty twig-clad candles. We had our breakfast there each morning and lunch one afternoon. Returning to the hotel in the evenings we saw the candlelit restaurant busy and buzzing.
The buffet breakfast was lovely – catering for all diets, including gluten-free and vegan options alongside the typical cooked breakfast and continental breakfast options. My husband tried the eggs, meats and cheeses, while I plumped for the array of muesli with seeds and dried fruits.
At the hotel we were introduced to Franz-brotchen, which we were told is a typical Hamburg food that can be found in every bakery and cafe. We fell in love with the rolled pastry filled with cinnamon and sometimes also marzipan or chocolate spread. It’s a distinctly Hamburg delicacy and isn’t generally found outside of the city. We tried it at the hotel for breakfast and it was delicious!
You can see our lovely breakfast above! It was a great way to start the day. For our lunch, my husband had pork with celeriac and rosemary roasted new potatoes. I went for a sweet and sour slow roasted peppers with a delicious crispy roasted polenta. We both loved our meals and the service was fantastic. Most of the food is organic and the menu has a daily vegan or vegetarian option.
What really sets this hotel apart is the ecological science centre. It is such a great touch and really brings together the environmental ethos. Tall trees, dim lighting, birdsong and a floor of wood chipping suddenly greeted us as we entered the science centre.
Although the descriptions are currently in German, there is still a lot to learn from wandering around the two floors of exhibits. We discovered cases filled with mushrooms, a tree cutting showing hundreds of years of rings and and earpiece to listen to the sounds of a forest. There are rooms geared towards groups of children, but there is also a lot for adults to look at.
We really enjoyed our stay at the Raphael Hotel Walderhaus. It’s more than a bed for the night. From every corner it’s a reminder to tread lightly on our precious planet and to appreciate the nature that surrounds us. Hamburg might be a big city, but we were delighted to find that it’s made up of 40% green spaces. This hotel is the perfect way to connect with nature, even while indoors.
The hotel is themed without being OTT about it. It’s themed through a passion for nature and sustainability. It’s impossible to leave without taking a bit of that passion with you.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Raphael Hotel Wälderhaus, Hamburg and #ComeToHamburg. All opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that make it possible to write Veggie Desserts – healthy food and lifestyle.