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Walk out of the train station in Cologne and you stare up, mesmerized, at the enormous cathedral, one of the architectural wonders of Europe. You can see the cathedral from some of the rooms in the grand Excelsior Hotel Ernst, founded in 1863. But that’s not the only masterpiece on view: The breakfast room contains a Gobelins tapestry, and the walls of the public areas are hung with works by big names (like Van Dyck). The art is set off by gleaming and elegant public rooms with marble floors and beautiful finishes. Guest rooms are swank (especially those in the newly refurbished Hanseflügel wing), with high ceilings, French windows (often with Juliet balconies), fine linens and such nice perks as a complimentary mini-bar (filled with excellent German beer). Bathrooms throughout are large and luxurious, but the bathrooms in the Hanseflügel wing are truly astounding, with big marble-clad tubs and huge rain showers. Both of the hotel’s restaurants—the traditional Hanse Stube and Asian-fusion Taku—are noteworthy gourmet destinations. This is one of the few luxury hotels that includes breakfast in the room rate, and it’s a sumptuous affair. Hotel Excelsior Ernst also stands out for its incredibly friendly and helpful staff (the hotel has one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios of any hotel in Germany).