Day 1: Frankfurt to Nuremberg, visiting Lorsch and Würzburg on the way
The small town of Lorsch situated on the Rhine is famed for its UNESCO-listed abbey and monumental gatehouse that are a rare architectural legacy. Founded in the eighth century, the site includes well-preserved sculptures and paintings from that era. The abbey is possibly also one of the smallest UNESCO heritage sites in Europe, which makes it ideal for a short stop by. The well-kept gardens provide the perfect location to sit, admire and contemplate this fascinating historical antiquity.
‘If I could choose my place of birth, I would consider Wurzburg’, wrote the author Hermann Hesse, and it’s not difficult to see why. This scenic university city located on the Main River in Bavaria is rich with churches, cathedrals and other historical buildings built in Baroque, Rococo and Gothic style where the huge Residential Palace takes pride of place.
Downtown Wurzburg is a spectacularly pretty part of the city to spend a little time checking out some of the churches, museums and historical buildings that contain great art. After savoring the wealth of attractions on offer then there are few who would dispute Hesse’s perspective of the town.
Day 3: Nuremberg to Dresden, visiting Bayreuth and Castle Weesenstein on the way
This North Bavarian city is well known for its association with the German composer Richard Wagner, who lived in Bayreuth from 1872 until his death in 1883. The Baroque style city center contains an attractive pedestrian area with spacious town squares, numerous street cafes and over 400 specialty shops where time can easily slip by if you’re not careful when whiling away the hours.
Tucked away in the pleasant countryside south of Dresden, Weesenstein is a majestic site perched on its wooded eyrie above the valley. Though it’s been described as a ‘fortified curiosity’ and the epithet is well-earned as, built from the top down rather than bottom up, the whole place is unexpectedly higgledy-piggledy. Great halls in the attic, stables on the fifth floor, the vault underneath and living quarters one floor lower. The extremely pretty Castle Chapel mustn’t be missed, an outstanding example of the baroque and quite soothing with its warm pinks, blues, and gold ornamentation. The warmth can be further fortified in the Castle Brewery where you can also dine, Saxony style.
Day 5: Dresden to Prague, visiting Königstein, Bohemian Switzerland and Terezin
One of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe, Konigstein (‘King’s Rock’) is located in Germany’s idyllic Saxon Switzerland National Park. The original fortress structure was expanded in the late 1500s to form a walled citadel, considered by many to be unconquerable. This reputation is reflected time and time again in it’s history, with the castle alternating between keeping people out and locking them in! Of particular interest is the well of Konigstein Fortress, which is 152.5 metres deep, the second deepest well in Europe.
Artists of the Romantic era were inspired by the wild beauty of what is now ‘Bohemian Switzerland,’ a Czech national park. The artist Ludwig Richter set up his easel in this land of weirdly weathered rocks and medieval robber-baron hideouts while Carl von Weber set his famous opera Der Freischutz in one of its towns. Rock towers and needles, honeycombs, gates, windows, and whatever your imagination can sculpt out of the sandstone as you walk through a dense network of narrow gorges and ravines. But don’t worry, the robber-barons have long since been captured. Most of them anyway.
Originally built by the Emperor Joseph II and named in honour of his mother Maria Theresa, the Theresienstadt garrison town was commandeered by the Nazis from 1940 as a Gestapo prison and ghetto/camp for Czech Jews. Although it was not an extermination camp 35,000 people died in the camp through malnutrition, overcrowding, and brutality, while 88,000 were deported to Auschwitz. Today Terezin is a huge living monument-complex to those who died in horrific circumstances, providing a detailed insight into their incarceration, and is an invaluable, though highly dignified, educational tool.
Day 8: Prague to Munich, see Castle Krivoklat and Pilsner Urquell Brewery on the way
The Premyslids one of the Czech Lands’ most successful and enduring dynasties, knew how to pick a site for a castle, and Krivoklat enjoys perhaps the most perfect location. Though on the top of one of a series of generously wooded hills it’s all but invisible until you’re within hailing distance: that is, close enough to have your eye taken out by an arrow. Of course, it has its quota of historic treasures on show, the gem of the tour being one of the best preserved Gothic chapels in Europe, but for me its the quiet, or sometimes not so quiet bustle on the roughly floored, cozy courtyard, with its little trinket shops, restaurant, and archery school, which gives it its lived-in quality.
Plzen is a grittier more down-to-earth place though a friendly one, and with much more to offer than its world famous brewery, home to Pilsner Urquell. There’s a fascinating memorial to the controversial American General George Patton who, not quite single-handedly liberated the town from the Germans in 1945. Also on the grand scale is the Great Synagogue, its Moorish-Romanesque style, including red onion domes making it an inspiringly cheerful place of worship. But Plzenites’ favourite form of worship, delicious foaming litres of amber nectar shouldn’t be neglected.
Day 10: fly home from Munich