‘Hello? Is that the German Embassy? Can I check your quarantine rules and digital entry registration, please?’ Forget planning a holiday, it was more like staging a heist. In a global pandemic. With George Smiley for a travel agent. But then it’s funny what the prospect of a second summer at home – and two weeks of rain – will do to you. No moving goalpost or impenetrable government website seemed too much in our quest for the Great Escape. And not just any old escape to a soulless fleshpot with a pool. A 2,500-mile road trip through the historical and cultural riches of Germany. With a family of five. From three different starting points. On three different dates. Daily calls to our diplomatic friends became standard practice, as Herr Hardcastle, ever the man for detail, became Hell Bent On Making It Happen. Hurdles that would normally derail the sane only strengthened his resolve. Evie, 13, and Felix, nine, would have to quarantine on arrival. He would drive out one week early and find a safe house in Frankfurt. Our oldest child Rose, 15, was currently with friends in Spain. He would airlift her out of Andalucia and tell her to await instructions. Our dead letter drops were in danger of being compromised. He would simply cross the German border by 12.30pm on Sunday. And if he missed that deadline? Proceed until apprehended. Daily calls to our diplomatic friends became standard practice, as Herr Hardcastle, ever the man for detail, became Hell Bent On Making It Happen. Hurdles that would normally derail the sane only strengthened his resolve I would join the family the following week by air and rendezvous, 1900 hours, at the Kempinski Hotel Frankfurt. If none of us had been detained by then. Or detonated through stress. It was all I could do but not fling myself at the mercy of the reception desk when I finally arrived, reunited with my family. We’d made it. We were on holiday. Now all I had to do was relax. Its twin pools were the perfect outlet for the children, who’d been cooped up in the car while the still waters of its idyllic lake were a welcome balm to my battered nerves. Surprisingly for a hotel situated a mere 20-minute drive from the airport, the Kempinski has an air of splendid isolation. Once a private estate used as a hunting lodge and surrounded by parkland, it’s worlds away from the hubbub of Frankfurt’s financial district. It also caters for young families as much as city slickers with a well-organised kids club that means mummy and daddy can squeeze in a trip to the spa. I could have stayed for days – lost in the gem-studded ceiling of its indoor pool – but Deutschland was calling and there was an awful lot to do. First stop Cologne and the majestic double spires of the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe, home to the shrine of the three kings. As incongruous as their final resting place seems – Holy Roman Emperor Barbarossa transferred the relics from Milan to Cologne to drum up Catholic PR – there is a certain logic to the nativity’s second most famous trio ending up just a stone’s throw from the iconic Excelsior Hotel Ernst, where there is more than a touch of the divine. Glad tidings abound from the moment you enter the cool marble atrium, where the warmth of welcome instantly makes you feel at home. And what a home it is. Gold bannisters and dark wood panels gleam from a bygone age. The rooms and suites – soothing white panelled walls, pale grey furnishings and a carpet so luxurious it’s a crime to wear shoes and deprive your toes of the thrill – were so opulent that once settled, it was a struggle to step outside. Thankfully, Britta came to our rescue with a mini tour of the hotel. A spectacular circular staircase had my daughters in Instagram raptures; a tour of the extensive wine cellar drew similar gasps from my husband and me. “What country would you like?” inquired sommelier Robert Demers ahead of our dinner at its gourmet French restaurant, the Hanse Stube. How could it be anything but Germany, land of the ravishing Reisling. A bottle of Knebel 2016 was selected for our evening’s delectation. Like everything else, it did not disappoint. It’s not hard to see why the Hanse Stube is fondly known as the ‘good room in Cologne’. One bite of its beef tenderloin in beetroot jus with fondant potatoes had the meat-eaters among us dissolving with delight. The watercress and apple soup followed by handmade tagliatelle with asparagus and Italian truffle sent the vegetarians into a headlong swoon. A lone gentleman diner, head bent low over his plate as if in prayer, excited the imagination of my eldest. ‘Could he be a Michelin reviewer?’ whispered Rose, bewitched by the idea of anonymous inspectors sealing a restaurant’s fate. If the culinary guide has not yet dispatched one of its secret agents to these hallowed mahogany-panelled walls, it should. And schnell. It doesn’t take a wise man to realise you’re in the presence of a star. You can keep your gold, frankincense and myrrh. One last meal in the best room in Cologne and the biggest pillows in Christendom are all the earthly comforts anyone needs. As Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior might have said, guide us to thy perfect night. Now all we needed was our own star in the east to lead us to Berlin and the Brandenburg Gate. Dictators and kings have marched through this neo-classical landmark, emboldened by the Goddess of Victory astride her four-horse chariot above. Once an emblem of division, it is now a signifier of unity – and a popular spot for selfies – a reminder that reinvention can override any relic of evil. No other part of the city captures the spirit of New Berlin better than Potsdammer Platz, the new lively quarter of plazas, cinemas, theatres and restaurants forged from the desolate strip of land that remained after the fall of The Berlin Wall. You can only marvel at the skill, imagination and sheer ambition that has seen this no-man’s land rise from the ashes. There can’t be many city precincts where the names of its architects are given priority over the shops and offices the buildings contain. But here, it’s Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers who take centre stage – along with a buzzing, waterside Vietnamese restaurant where, we agreed, we had some of the best Udon noodles of our life. It’s all about reclaiming the past, as Philipp and Jennifer Vogel, the couple behind the Orania hotel, set in the edgier environs of what was once East Berlin, know only too well. Don’t be put off by the exterior. Panes of shattered glass and spray-painted walls – a welcome present from the locals who were initially angry at what they saw as an elite hotel intruding on their territory – belie an oasis of urban chic and the friendliest of staff inside. A large welcoming living room acts as the focal point for the young clientele, connecting a stylish wooden bar – complete with Steinway piano – with its popular restaurant, designed with African and Asian animal motifs. I’d heard great things about its signature dish – a four-course Peking duck feast designed for two people. Question was, who could I strong-arm into sharing it with me? ‘I like ducks,’ said Felix sadly. Meaning, my only reliable carnivore confessed, he wasn’t prepared to eat one. ‘I’ll help, Mummy,’ offered Rose, slightly hesitant. Quick as a quack, we were off. Dashi and dim sum, followed by crispy skin in pancakes and I was eating faster than I could think. ‘The breast is yet to come,’ joked my husband in a bid to slow me down. Succulent grilled breast, finished off with fried rice and drumstick meat – all washed down with another rave Riesling – and I could barely remember where I was. Chinese food. German wine. African elephants. It was clearly time for bed. If only I could find it in our enormous suite. Morning and our next manoeuvre came too quickly. It was all I could do but steal ten minutes in the invigorating rain shower and gaze at the inviting window seat, wistful at the thought of sitting in one place, before sweeping the rooms for stray socks and sundries and packing the children back into the car. ‘How long until Leipzig?’ they asked, half in dread. The response of two hours had them whooping in delight. Leipzig – or as the papers say Hypezig – is called Saxony’s coolest city, due to the recent influx of young creatives. But for anyone who’s ever tried to tinkle a well-tempered clavier, it will always be best known as the home of Bach. After checking in to the delightful Hotel Fregehaus, perfectly positioned slap bang in the centre yet tucked away inside a cobbled courtyard, I made a beeline for his statue outside the Thomas Kirche, where his grave lies beneath the floor of the choir. I looked round to find the children, marshalled by Felix, more interested in the queue for the street food sausage vendor. Brandenburg concerto or currywurst bitte? I’d been a fugue to think I could win. But then the beauty of Leipzig is that you don’t need a seat in a church or concert hall to appreciate classical music. String quartets busk from every platz, snatched strains of cello concertos only adding to this gem of a city’s civilised air. It’s an atmosphere encapsulated by the Hotel Fregehaus, where the architect owner Sabine Fuchshuber has executed a charming mix of the chic and the antique, expertly juxtaposing stylish modern features against original details of this beautiful 18th-century building. ‘I love the mirrors. And the stonework. And the bright blue tiles,’ said Rose, forever planning her future dream house, as she admired our kitchenette floor. ‘And I definitely want a courtyard when I’m older,’ she added, as we pulled a few mismatched chairs together for a game of cards in the early evening light of the quadrangle before moseying out for dinner. Good for her. If she can channel any of Leipzig into her adult life, it will be all the richer for it. Quite how Felix’s love for all things Bavarian – evident from the moment he first clapped eyes on a feathered felt hat in the Landromantik Hotel Oswald – will inform his future style choices, is anyone’s guess. But given his delight at Andreas Oswald’s warm welcome in lederhosen, I would not rule out the occasional folksy costume or even a cowbell. I, for one, would settle for the Gemutlichkeit, or cosiness, that emanates from this rustic hunting lodge nestled high in the Bavarian hills, although whether I could pull this off without the furs and antlers that adorn almost every surface of its sumptuous main living areas and luxurious chalet-style suites, is debatable. The bathrooms – ours complete with a television and fireplace that could be controlled from the tub – were so out of our worldly reach that for once I did not get any ideas of remodelling ours at home. The only idea my motorway-weary mind was capable of processing was the fact there was row upon row of sun loungers neatly laid out on the lawn outside our window and I was going for a long lie down. Deep breaths of Bavarian air and the holiday Hardcastles were soon in full swing, trying to keep the splashing to a minimum as we took to the outdoor pool en masse and let the thousand-mile drive melt away. A collective sauna and steam room later, and we were parading around the Relais and Chateaux hideaway in fluffy robes and slippers like a family of spa old-timers. Gesundheit! I could get used to this. Time to make ourselves worthy for dinner. Tricky, as I discovered, without access to an iron – the hotel’s only one was already on loan to another guest. All we could do was smooth down our wrinkles and smile and hope that the starched linen tablecloths would hide our sartorial sins. And they would have done – had we not needed to leave our seats for starters and puddings served buffet style. I needn’t have worried. By the end of my succulent seafood salad – with extra heaps of herring and oven-warm breads – I cared not a hoot how crumpled I looked. Fabulous fillets of beef, delivered to our table for main course, had Felix so animated that an elderly German couple at an adjoining table laughed out loud. Could the evening get any better? As if on cue, strains of an oompah band wafted in through an open window. Bavaria, we were bewitched. And we still hadn’t left the hotel grounds.