Hit the road and explore castles, churches and ancient cities near Frankfurt
Cologne, the damsel of the Rhine
Name any big medieval city and it's surely on the banks of a river. The logic is easy to understand: waterways helped with cleaning, they assured supplies and served as navigable routes.
Cologne, the fourth biggest city in Germany and crowded with college students, is no exception. It has such intimacy with the River Rhine that its banks run up to the historic section. Incidentally, one good way to enjoy the view is over the river, on Hohenzollern Bridge, which connects the ancient areas to the newer neighborhoods. There you see the cathedral's two Gothic towers reaching toward the sky (at 472 feet/144 meters, the tallest in the world!). The Dom, as it’s known, took 600 years, from 1248 to 1880, to be built and today is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Though it's the most beloved, it's not the only respectable lady in the region. The Rathaus, or City Hall, is a building that dates from 1330, with additions and renovations of mixed styles and imposing arches. The most recent touch-ups took place in the 1970s, restoring it from the bombings of World War II.
It's close to the Alter and the Fischmarkt, the “antique” and “fish” markets, respectively. They are embryos of medieval society, being that oftentimes cities were erected for their cause. Bakers, artisans, blacksmiths and others came to live closer to the markets in order to sell their products and services and, just like that, small cities would sprout up.
To feed this band of merchants, eateries began appearing. The restaurant Haxenhaus zum Rheingarten imitates the style of these ancient taverns. Try the Haxen, a traditional recipe for pig's knee, first registered in the year 1231, and feel your inner brute awaken as you dig in. Past and present come together in diners' palates there.
Bonn, the ancient capital
When Germany was divided and Bonn became the capital of the west part, the city had a lot of history to recount. Even two centuries earlier, at the time of Beethoven's birth, it had already accumulated plenty of experience. It even precedes the medieval era: its foundation was laid by Romans in the year 1 BC. In the 11th century, it was modernized with the construction of the Bonn Münster on the site of another church, experiencing growth and some problems.
After two fires (life in the Middle Ages was not easy), they needed protection. The fiefdom's population then built their own wall, of which little remains. One of its remnants is the Sterntor, the main entrance, as imposing as Bonn wanted to appear to its would-be invaders.
One of its main roadways at the time, Sternstrasse displays well-conserved two-story houses constructed as such in order to accommodate commercial establishments on the ground floor and families upstairs. Where today there are stores and restaurants overrun by tourists, signs on the facades list the buildings' year of construction and original function. Bonn hasn't changed so much after all.
Bad Münstereifel and life in the country
Tiny and delicate, Bad Münstereifel is located 45 minutes by car from Bonn, connected by a simple, bucolic road with trees lining its margins and horses pasturing peacefully. As you approach the village, you spot the 13th-century fortress that surrounds the entire city and remains practically intact. Don't hesitate to climb it and enjoy the panoramic view from the top.
From there, you can walk to Bad Münstereifel, home to cobblestone streets and a population of under 20,000. A stroll there will make you feel as if you've been shrunk and were wandering among dollhouses. The fachwerk houses, built with a medieval technique that uses stucco, retain carvings in their wood facades and now contain outlet stores. Proceeding along the wall, you'll come to a stairway that leads up to the top: have a seat, admire the rooftops with smoky chimneys and listen to the silence. Sometimes it looks as if time has stood still.
The enchanted valley of Cochem
The figure of the Cochem Castle stands imposingly atop the mountain by the small city of Cochem in the valley of the Moselle River. It is the example of a fiefdom that was born to serve the lush private lives led inside its stone walls. But the party ended and the castle fell to a French invasion in 1702. With its renovation in the 19th century, it took on other architectural influences that are displayed during the tour. Slopes covered with grapevines – one can easily imagine the peasants of that era working the fields – decorate the gracious valley.
Life carries on below with elder women choosing raspberries at the market in the central square and tourist couples sipping coffee at their leisure. You can wrap up your day enjoying some tasty apfelstrudel at the café inside Hotel Germania across from the river and get ready to hit the road again.
Burg Eltz of nobility
Those coming from the road will take a little while to actually see the Eltz Castle. At the same time that it stands out perched atop a 230-foot [70 m] rock, it's located in a valley surrounded by forest, playing hide and seek. From the parking lot to the entrance, there are two overlooks where you can view the castle in all its beauty. Other trails appear in between the trees, suggesting that different angles can also be discovered.
Built in 1157, it was once featured on the 500 deutsche mark bill, the nation's currency before the adoption of the euro. The Eltz nobles, who erected their castle at the intersection of trade routes, are the owners of the property to this day, and often circulate there. Inside, displays of medieval armor and original paintings are part of the tour, which also takes visitors into the castle's rooms and even the kitchen. A little taste of the sophisticated life of nobles.
LATAM has direct flights Frankfurt departing from São Paulo and Madrid.
Special thanks to: Centro de Turismo Alemão DZT, Köln Tourismus GmBH, Tourismus & Congress, GmBH Region Bonn.