Born in Italy, raised in Britain and ennobled by Margaret Thatcher, Charles Forte was one of Britain's greatest hoteliers, yet the hotel that bears his name isn't in Britain or Italy but in Munich. Lord Forte died in February 2007, at the grand old age of 98, and the Charles Hotel is his monument – an Italianate landmark in this Bavarian metropolis that's described by many Germans (and even some Italians) as Italy's most northern city. Charles Forte, who would have celebrated his centenary last November, surely would have approved.
Charles Forte's son, Sir Rocco Forte, opened this hotel in October 2007, a year after his two other German properties, Frankfurt's Villa Kennedy and Berlin's Hotel de Rome. Unlike the other two hotels, the Charles is newly built – yet since I first stayed here, a year ago, it's really bedded in. Built by Munich-born architect Christoph Sattler in cool white stone, with graceful wrought-iron balconies, it blends in well with the older buildings around it, like the 19th-century Justizpalast (Palace of Justice) nearby. As Sattler says, "Architecture does not need to be reinvented every day." If only more modern architects felt that way.
Inside, the house style is similarly discreet. As you'd expect in a five-star hotel, the furnishing is luxurious, but the interior design (overseen by Lord Forte's daughter, Olga Polizzi) is generally low-key. The colour scheme in the bedrooms and corridors is muted. Eating, on the other hand, is a more theatrical affair. With its high ceilings and garden views, the Davvero Restaurant is the perfect place to sample the classic Italian cuisine of resident chef Giovanni Russo (the prosciutto is superb, but be sure to leave room for the pumpkin risotto). Charles Forte's hospitality empire included the defunct Café Royal in London, but he was most famous for his cheaper brands – Travelodge, Little Chef and Happy Eater. It's an amusing irony that his memorial feels so exclusive.
The Charles Hotel, Sophienstrasse 28, Munich, Germany (00 49 89 544 5550; thecharles hotel.com). Tucked away on the corner of Munich's Old Botanical Garden, the hotel feels secluded but it's actually in the heart of the city. The Hauptbahnhof (central station) is just around the corner, and although the streets near the station are hectic and unattractive, a short walk in the opposite direction brings you to several of Germany's finest galleries. Between the three of them, the Alte, Neue and Moderne Pinakothek museums comprise one of the world's great art collections, straddling almost every European master from the Middle Ages to the Weimar Republic. The nearby Lenbachhaus contains a super collection of German Expressionists, in the former home of local artist Franz Lenbach, whose penetrating portraits are also on show in the hotel.
Time from international airport: it's 28km to Munich's Franz Josef Strauss airport. Trains leave every 10 minutes from the Hauptbahnhof, a five-minute walk away. The journey takes 45 minutes. A taxi takes about half an hour and costs around €50 one way.
The bedrooms, even the standard rooms, are very spacious. With 160 rooms, the Charles is a large hotel, but the curved corridors make it feel smaller, and Polizzi's neutral décor is reassuring. The ambience is timeless, rather than ultra-modern; like a lot of the best design, you hardly notice it's there.
Subdued lighting and a subtle palette make the bedrooms supremely relaxing, but the bathrooms are a cut above, with limestone surfaces, terracotta reliefs (designed by Sattler) and local Nymphenburg porcelain around the walls. Most of the rooms have views of the Botanical Garden. However, the communal spaces are rather restricted, with nowhere to hang out apart from the compact lobby bar. The Everyman editions in the bedrooms are a nice touch. What the Charles needs now is its own library.
Freebies: Rocco Forte-branded toiletries and overnight shoeshine. Complimentary pressing service for guests staying in the suites.
Keeping in touch: flat-screen televisions and high-speed broadband in the rooms, Wi-Fi in public areas. The suites have DVD players and iPod docking stations.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Doubles start at €250 room only through Leading Hotels of the World (00 800 2888 8882; lhw.com). Booked direct with the hotel, doubles start at €300, room only.
I'm not paying that: then make tracks for the Hotel Advokat (00 49 8921 6310; hotel-advokat.de), a modern boutique hotel on the other side of the city centre. The rooms are rather small and the facilities are fairly basic, but it's intimate and stylish, and the location (near the River Isar) is superb. Doubles from €145, including breakfast.