Maison Kammerzell – A Review By Punam Mohandas
The Maison Kammerzell is situated in the scenic and historic town of Strasbourg which, in turn, is located in the stunning Alsace region of France, famed for its Alsatian white wines such as the Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Noir.
It is nothing short of a privilege to be able to stay at this niche property which dates back to 1427 (the restaurant facing the Notre Dame Cathedral) and 1589 (the part where the bar is.) I well remember the first time I stayed here in the late nineties and the huge sense of awe I felt at being so close to a slice of history, especially given that the hotel is but a stone’s throw away from the Cathedral. Seeing the Maison Kammerzell’s lovely embellished façade again and the windows that glow a warm golden in the setting rays of the sun, brought home to me once more what an honour it is to stay within its ancient portals.
The Reception desk and the bar are pretty much the same. There are 10-15 armchairs around this space, which is like a waiting area for the restaurant, although patrons can also be served drinks here. In keeping with modernity, there is free wifi across the rooms and restaurant.
The hotel part came up in the 1980’s. Since a lot of care has been taken not to disturb the original structure, only nine rooms were possible and these too have quaintly been worked around and between the roof beams! There are seven (four twin) double rooms and two singles. The thick, strong, wooden beams of times gone past remain undisturbed and the rooms have been cleverly designed and adapted to fit into the lovely, sloping roof. Hence, the bathroom mirror too is slanted and you could bump your nose if you’re not careful!
My room has a blood-orange carpeting and curtains, with sloping skylights. There is a minibar with beverages, but no safe or tea/coffee maker. Walk carefully so you don’t trip over the beams; remember the “floor” has come up within the roof area. The keys are in the French old-style, in keeping with the property and so one needs must deposit it downstairs when heading out.
All the bathrooms are quite spacious and all have bathtubs, although the ones in the single rooms are a bit cramped. The only jarring note is the soap dispenser; one would not expect an august property such as this to go the crass cookie-cutter mould of hotels! Here, one expects gentle lavender and fragrant bath salts…
The sound of the cathedral bells lull you to sleep and wake you up with their soft peal. Although there is a lift now at the Maison Kammerzell, I urge you to walk up the spiral staircase and so see some of the ancient frescoes (painted by Leo Schnug: 1878-1933) on the walls; one is still relatively intact but the others are peeling off due to age. In order to assure the privacy of its in-house residents, diners are not allowed to come within the hotel and take pictures unless they are staying here.
Although the previous two owners from 1950 on were also Michelin star chefs, Guy Pierre Baumann, who bought the hotel in 1987, has three Michelin stars to his credit. From an 80-cover restaurant, Baumann took it to 350-covers; during New Year’s eve, the restaurant does 700-covers in two turnovers! There is also something like a private dining room upstairs. A coffee table book on the Maison Kammerzall depicts waiters swinging from ropes like acrobats as they hurtle through the air with dishes! Baumann sold the hotel to Jean-Noel Dron in 2009, although he remains as Chairman of the board.
Today Monsieur Baumann is about 75-years old and does not do much cooking, however, on my last visit, he personally prepared foie gras and rabbit for me and was quite distressed when I wouldn’t eat the “cute” bunny! The specialities of the restaurant remain foie gras, sauerkraut and coq au Riesling. Having a meal here is an experience in French fine dining. It is a bit of a disappointment though that there is no “cooked” breakfast at an establishment of this repute.
The staff are not necessarily French and all can speak English. Everybody is exceedingly friendly and willing to be of service, although the lady at breakfast serving can do with some classes in Smile Management!
This review would not be complete without exhorting guests to admire the Renaissance façade of the Maison Kammerzell and to marvel over the figures etched into the same, thus doing away with the trend of those days which inclined toward floral motifs. Not only is this a famed landmark of Strasbourg, it is also one of the most well-preserved buildings of its time.
The Maison Kammerzell has a most superior location, as almost all the buzz and entertainment is around the Cathedral. Walk the traffic-free, cobbled paths and discover creperies, bakeries and of course, the unavoidable tourist kitsch. This is like the inner courtyard; the outer streets have luxury brands too. You can also explore the castle. Walking around the centre of Strasbourg takes just about a couple of hours. It would be a pity to leave Alsace without visiting some of the local vineyards; the village of Obernai about 30-minutes away is extremely pretty, or you could head to Kayserberg.
Strasbourg does have an airport however, not all international airlines fly here. You could also take a train or bus from Paris, which is roughly five hours away. Being on the French-German border, the city is extremely well connected by road transport.
TEL: + 33 3 88 11 93 20
FAX: + 33 3 88 32 11 06
Punam Mohandas asserts her right to be identified as the author of this work. Any views or opinions expressed in this review is that of the author.