In my mind, Berlin has always been synonymous with partying. It’s the kind of city whose nocturnal world feels repeatedly discoverable no matter how many times you go—like you might turn a corner, follow a neon light, and end up having the most transcendent night of your life. That’s why, as we do once a year, my partner and I had booked to go to Berlin for a week of after-dark exploits in the spring. Shake off the winter! But as the date of our getaway approached, I was scheduled for a small surgery which took clubbing quickly off the cards. We were on the brink of canceling our trip, until we set ourselves the challenge of discovering a different side of Berlin: one of rest and relaxation. Words I have never associated with the city famed for the best nightlife in the world.
Instead, our word of the week became convalescence, and the mood board for this trip was less wearing Rick Owens at a defunct power station, and more glamorous Golden Age movie stars post-facelift peeking through expensive curtains as a ray of sunlight blazes into their suite. This was the kind of wellness we were looking for—one which aided actual recovery. Not one of less, but one of more.
It helped that we arrived on the first sunny day of the year. Upon entry, the Schlosshotel is grand: high, coffered ceilings, a crisp white breakfast room bathed in light, and a rich mahogany-lined ballroom where we were seated for dinner. As we paced around the grounds and the neighbouring Grunewald forest, it felt like we were both in the city and far away from it. There was everything we needed to relax: plenty of space to walk, enormous cloud-like beds on which to sleep, and a sprawling spa complex and pool all within the hotel’s grounds.
We began with three days in Grunewald—a leafy area on the outskirts of the city we’d never been to that felt more like a picturesque German suburb than the Berlin I’ve always known. On the recommendation of a friend, who explained that this would be the perfect area to start the week of recovery, we booked a stay at the Schlosshotel by Patrick Hellmann. Tucked away among leafy, residential streets the hotel, which was built in 1911, felt more like the villa of a very close family friend (if only!) who invited you to stay on their grounds while they were away for the summer.
I felt so far away from the city but still able to reach it, and after three days at the Schlosshotel, it was the first time I felt like Berlin had provided all-around replenishment: not simply psychological, but physical too. I felt… well. Perhaps it was the air, the open windows, or the array of steam rooms and plunge pools. Perhaps it was that during our stay at the Schlosshotel, I ate truly the best club sandwich of my life, as we lounged on the terrace in the April sun. It felt like a real sanctuary.
On the subject of food, I really wanted to take a wellness trip seriously. And a big part of that had been eating with this spirit—one that didn’t involve scarcity or denying myself the good things in life—in mind. For me, when it comes to food, wellness doesn’t always mean acai bowls, echinacea shots, and berberine root tea. I wanted to explore the vast food culture Berlin is so known for, imagining wellness to be something both of the stomach, but also of the soul.
First, we visited La Maison, a French patisserie and coffee shop in Kreuzberg with properly world-class pastry and coffee. We had rich, American-style stringy cheese toasties, followed by classic pastries baked to perfection, and finished with the most unassuming (yet most delicious) pistachio cake I’ve ever tasted. Other deeply satisfying meals came in the form of recommendations from some friends who knew exactly what we needed. And as someone who always forgets the best meals I’ve ever eaten, I want to log them here for safekeeping. Start with Vietnamese at Monsieur Vuong in Mitte—so good we went twice, both for the pho and the juices that come in big wine glasses. Go get Korean at Seoul Garden in Charlottenburg, and order everything—there wasn’t a single bite here we regretted. For the best schnitzel and broth in the city, meanwhile, it was Jolesch in Kreuzberg.
Entering the second phase of our week of rest and relaxation, we moved into the center of the city and to the ritzy environs of the historic Hotel Adlon Kempinski. I’m reluctant to use the word iconic, but when there’s a view of the Brandenburg Gate from your bathtub it’s hard not to. Yet for all of the hotel’s grandeur, there was an intimacy in the service, too: from the moment we entered the lobby, bedecked with the biggest arrangement of anthurium (very in, very Loewe) I’ve ever seen, we were treated like old friends. International businessmen with designer briefcases breeze by, while a group of Chanel-clad women lounges in the cocktail bar, adjacent to its famous fountain of elephants. It’s real glamour; the kind you find in old movies.
The room we stayed in at the Adlon was a spectacle all of its own, with luxury in the texture of every fabric, the plushness of every carpet, the depth of every bath. I ended up craving more time in our suite than exploring the city. And even if we did leave the suite, everything about the Adlon Kempinski made us want to remain inside its walls: from breakfast overlooking the Gate, to dinner at the two Michelin-starred Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer where we were treated to a tasting menu featuring the likes of lobster, lamb, and cherry blossom for dessert. It felt precise but relaxed; artful, but not overdone.
However the sign of the ultimate spa destination—to me, anyway—is a 111Skin spa. My gateway was the rose gold masks that are now a cult favourite, and I’ve never looked back (or had more compliments on my bouncy epidermis). I left the spa at the Adlon Kempinski radiant, after a deep tissue custom facial from Yevgeniya and a massage from Erie. There was something about their treatments that felt… honest? Like their facials are designed to engage with what your skin needs. And they work? My skin actually glows after? Like it has its own light source? Wild!
I had imagined this week would be one full of FOMO, of longing for the clubs, the late nights and hazy days afterward I’ve always associated with Berlin. But, after digging a little deeper, the city revealed a different side of itself: one where real relaxation, and care—proper convalescence, to use the operative word of the trip—was possible, whether in the leafy surroundings of the Schlosshotel, or in a decadent suite at the Adlon Kempinski, or at a table where beautiful, restorative food was served. I left feeling fully recovered, in a way I never imagined Berlin could offer. Even if we did manage to sneak out to Berghain on our last night.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com.