Over the holidays, my wife, Kate, and I spent two glorious weeks with her family in Switzerland. But with more than a dozen in-laws, on occasion it’s helpful to find a change of scenery. This year we chose to sojourn in Munich, the capital of Bavaria, which the New York Times announced was its number-five place to go in the world in 2019. (Kate and I are trendsetters, what can we say?)
Neither of us had ever been, but it was high on my list of cities to visit because its famed Alte Pinakothek museum has three paintings I wanted see up close: Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece , a grand portrait of by François Boucher, and a very naughty little painting by Jean Honoré Fragonard called . But art wasn’t the only thing on our to-do list. We also wanted to make a pilgrimage to the concentration camp at Dachau, which is a 40-minute drive from Munich’s city center. With the current political climate in the United States and throughout Europe, and far-right governments as well as anti-Semitism on the rise, I feel it’s important to remind ourselves of the Holocaust, which ended only 74 years ago. (A decade prior, I made a similar trip to Kraków, Poland, to visit Auschwitz and to see da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine. There’s nothing that can truly assuage the feelings of despair when walking silently through a concentration camp, but I always find comfort in the beauty of art.)
Kate and I stayed at Rocco Forte’s , on Sophienstrasse, a few minutes’ walk from the beautiful Königsplatz. The property, which was named for Rocco and his sister Olga Polizzi’s father and opened in 2007, is intimate and has only 136 rooms and 24 suites—ours had a lovely view of a quiet street that runs along the back of the building.
After our rending visit to Dachau, we descended to the sprawling underground spa area to relax by the pool, sit in the sauna, have a steam, and then—I’m still not sure why people do this, but Kate does—sat with our feet in a sink filled with warm water. It felt nice, don’t get me wrong, but spa rituals are a bit alien to me (Kate insists it is the perfect way to unwind after a day of exploring a new city).
Then after a rinse, we dressed for a delicious three-course dinner at the hotel’s cozy restaurant, Sophia’s. In Switzerland, we were living at altitude, and our appetites became significantly diminished. Sitting at our banquette in the Charles, perusing the menu’s surfeit of exotic options, suddenly we were ravenous. I began with a tomato-essence soup with Bavarian prawns, lemongrass, and coriander, followed by loup de mer with Bouchot mussels, passe-pierre, and rouille tortellini. Then dessert came and my stomach just couldn’t handle it, so I only had a few bites. Those bites, however, left an impression. If you go, get the carrot cake.
After dinner, Sophia’s adjoining bar was our destination. It’s a calm, dimly lit room with a band softly playing old standards like Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” (Full disclosure: I requested the song, as it was the score to Kate’s and my first dance together at our wedding.) The beer in Munich is well regarded, but the cocktails at Sophia’s were on a level we’d only ever experienced in New York or London. I had the Schisho, which comprises chile, vodka, pomegranate, lime, coconut, and egg white. I then had two more. The servers took very good care of us. They even advised us on other great cocktail spots around the city, which we then sought out, but during the Christmas holidays, many of Munich’s great institutions shut down until the second week of January. We searched for a few hours, and invariably the recommended bars had “closed” signs hanging on the door. We weren’t upset. That just meant more Schishos for us.