As the saying goes: there is no second chance to make a first impression. In some hotels I am put under a spell as soon as I enter the lobby, in the Vila Vita in Marburg it is different. At first glance everything looks high-quality, with great, dark oak parquet and fine textiles, but something is not right for me.
Sober and cool on the one hand, almost over-decorated on the other. Quite frankly, I don’t really like it. Where, on the other hand, I feel very comfortable: with the employees – for me in this company the alternative to design. There is a lot of laughter, every team member speaks to me by name, the interaction is humorous, entertaining and personal. That’s exactly what I want. No skirmishing small talk, but pleasant, relevant conversations already at check-in.
The hotel is in a quiet yet central location near the old town of Marburg, and also directly on the Lahn valley cycle path. There is no better starting point for day trips. Business guests are also happy about the proximity to Frankfurt and Frankfurt Airport, which can be reached in around an hour by car.
I move into the spa suite on the top floor. The equipment and concept convince me. Lots of space, high-quality materials and even your own sauna. In addition, there is an abundance of little things that I notice extremely positively. Fresh fruit, selected snacks to welcome you, a special pillow menu from which I can choose my preferences and a well thought-out interior concept. Admittedly, not all of it suits my taste, but it doesn’t have to be. Nevertheless, it is obvious that quality and comfort were understood here.
The people make the difference
The greatest asset of the Vila Vita are the employees. A really well-coordinated team works harmoniously here. An impression that will be confirmed several times during my stay. I also noticed positively that the employees also play a very central role on the website of the Vila Vita Group.
Not only hotel management and chefs are the topic here, team members from many areas are introduced in all positions and have their say in the form of short interviews or quotes. Nice idea that gives the whole concept a much more personal touch.
From the financial world to the top hotel industry
The Pohl family is behind the Vila Vita Hotels and the Vila Vita Marburg Group. In the 1980s, Professor Reinfried Pohl and his wife Anneliese laid the foundation stone for a small hotel group that now operates five hotels in Germany, Austria and Portugal. After the death of the father, the sons Andreas and Reinfried now run the business.
The family does not originally come from the hotel industry, but from the financial world. The first family business of the Pohls is the Deutsche Vermögensberatung DVAG. The company, founded in 1975 by Reinfried Pohl, is Germany‘s largest independent financial distributor. There is no shortage of clients from the financial world who meet in the hotels for conferences and seminars.
The tasks were clearly assigned, Reinfried Pohl was responsible for business, Anneliese Pohl took care of the furnishing of the hotels. As already mentioned at the beginning, not all of them are necessarily my style. The fact that the Marburg house also bears a very personal signature and was furnished with attention to detail can be felt everywhere. Although it is primarily a conference hotel, the atmosphere remains familiar. What is really curious in this regard is the collection of around 2000 miniature bottles that Reinfried Pohl junior collected on his travels around the world and which are exhibited – not without pride – in the entrance to the hotel lounge.
A small ecosystem is growing in Marburg
The group has grown enormously in recent years and has built a real world of enjoyment across the entire Marburg area. Diversity is the key word. To put it briefly in numbers: ten event locations, eleven restaurants, three hotels and conference locations, four cafes and bistros, an ice cream parlor, a delicatessen, a farm shop, a winery and a beach bar. Many of the ingredients that are put on the plates in the hotel or in the restaurants come from our own cultivation. The group has its own fields for strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, cereals and fruit. All culinary experiences can be reserved at the hotel reception. I am curious whether the offer can keep what it promises.
First encounter with the kitchen: disappointing
My first port of call is the main restaurant Oliva, right in the house. It offers an ambitious menu and really excellent service. The entire team is very familiar with food and wine, and there is no question of hesitation. I am always excited about people who really know their product. So here I meet waitress Khilola Yunuskhodjaeva from Uzbekistan, who is not only convincing with her knowledge, but also with her charming, easy manner.
The chef is similarly personable and omnipresent. But here I have to say: unfortunately. Without meaning it, I wish he were less outside with the guest, but more at the stove. Because what he sends from the kitchen does not meet my expectations. The selection of dishes is impeccable; what then ends up on the plate but not. There is still a lot of space here for positive further development.
And apparently I’m not alone in my opinion. Look after me when I say at this point that there is also good, even very good news about Oliva: namely that Michael Kreiling will take over the management of the kitchen in the near future. He already has with one Michelin-Star cooked in the gray goose at the Hyatt in Cologne and already worked for me at Kameha. In the end, he was kitchen director at the Kempinski Hotel in Beijing. So an internationally experienced man who is a gold handle for the Vila Vita. So I’m no longer worried about the future of the Oliva.
Second encounter with the kitchen: phenomenal
The group even operates its own ice cream factory, which has been named one of the 15 best ice cream parlors in Germany by “Feinschmecker” magazine. If I go after what I was allowed to try here, rightly so. Quality and taste are excellent. I’m almost inclined to take up the challenge and actually test all 85 varieties that are freshly prepared here every day. The Marburgers are just as impressed as I am by ice cream creations like yuzu ginger or salted butter caramel. On summer weekends, 1,500 liters of ice cream are sold here over the counter.
The delicatessen store Vita Essentials is also part of the gastronomic cosmos of Vila Vita. Well, there is a little more than just the essentials here, namely really handpicked wines and specialties – if you can enjoy fine delicacies and sophisticated table culture as I do, I would warmly recommend a visit.
However, my culinary highlight of the day takes place in the restaurant dining room. Head chef Bernd Siener has cooked in the starred sector for many years, but then consciously decided to take a different approach. Siener is unpretentious, eloquent and a host through and through. That evening you can see that he himself is a fan of good home-style cooking. There’s pork belly. You have to like it, but above all you have to be able to do it. And he’s good at it. The turbot I chose is also perfect. Served with green asparagus, briefly fried chanterelles and risotto as well as a first-class sauce. With so much pleasure in eating, the disappointment from the previous evening is quickly forgotten and I have to revise my opinion about gastronomy a little. I’m having a really great evening here.
An insider tip in the surrounding area
Even if the Vila Vita is a conference hotel, i.e. primarily geared towards the fact that the guests actually spend a large part of their stay in the hotel, the surrounding area offers ideal opportunities for leisure activities. Marburg is definitely worthwhile as a destination for a short or weekend break. First there is the historic center, where time-honored monuments such as the Landgrave’s Castle or the Elisabeth Church from the Middle Ages meet lively, modern student life.
The surrounding nature is also attractive: great bike tours along the Lahn and beautiful golf opportunities. I play a round on the course of the Upper Hessian Golf Club Marburg and as a hotel guest I enjoy preferential treatment here. Even the president of the club drops by and greets me.
Another offshoot of the Vila Vita Group can be found embedded in the beautiful nature at the gates of Marburg. The Hofgut Dagobertshausen is an impressive facility that brings together an event location and a rustic, romantic guest house with agricultural production and a farm shop. Even an exclusive equestrian facility, where international professionals train, is part of the estate.
For me, however, the adjoining restaurant is outstanding. My third point of contact with a Vila Vita kitchen now fully reconciles me with the gastronomic performance. The Waldschlösschen is an insider tip and really fantastic. I have seldom seen a restaurant without star ambitions that uses such excellent raw materials and combines them so wonderfully.
Chef Roland Reuss and restaurant manager Stefan Cabras have been working here with their team for five years and have achieved remarkable things. I am served the finest Mozambique prawns and a curry that I haven’t even eaten in India in this tasty quality. For me it was an extraordinary gastronomic experience, which, I am happy to admit, I had not suspected at all at this point.
What the Vila Vita has forfeited in terms of design in my eyes is always made up for by the diverse culinary offerings. There is nothing wrong with the service and cordiality of the staff. They do an excellent job. In other words: Which would you rate more strongly: warm, precise service or the fact that you do not like the pillow color? I agree.
In my opinion, Vila Vita can do more than just MICE, i.e. meetings, incentives, conventions and events. Vacationers also get their money’s worth here thanks to the exclusive location, the spa, the surroundings and, above all, the gastronomy. The hotel is therefore on the right track with its broad overall concept. But whether this path already led to the ranking of the 101 best hotels in Germany this year? You will find out in the Handelsblatt on November 21, 2020.
About the author: As a former grand hotelier and operator of a travel platform, Carsten K. Rath is a professional globetrotter. He travels to all of the hotels he writes about for the Handelsblatt on his own account. Rath is the source of ideas for the new ranking “The 101 best hotels in Germany”, Handelsblatt is one of its partners.
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