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A Castle Christmas, Part 2

Our Castle Christmas began with an exploration of other parts of Bavaria, all decked out for Christmas.

Regensburg

This romantic 2,000 year old Bavarian city was our first stop and very magical at Christmas. It is among the best preserved medieval towns in Europe (only 13% destroyed in WWII) with a population of only 150,000. The town has 4 wonderful Christmas Markets to enjoy including my favorite, Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt.

Stroll the winding lanes of the Altstadt, full of pastel colored townhouses. It was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2006. You can’t miss Dom St. Peter, the Gothic cathedral’s spires towering over town. Other must see’s are The Stone Bridge (built between 1135 and 1146 for centuries it was the only solid way to cross the Danube River), Porta Praetoris (built in 179 AD by the Roman inhabitants), and Schloss Thurn und Taxis (Franz von Taxi, an Italian entrepreneur, was bestowed with nobility in the 15th century for establishing Europe’s first postal system and acquired this palace, bigger than Buckingham Palace and still residence to Franz heirs; also home to the town’s best Christmas Market).

Historic Goldenes Kruez was our base for four nights. The hotel dates back to 1531 and was an inn to visiting emperors and dignitaries. The nine rooms are named after some of the guests like Napoleon III. Christine Horsch is your lovely host. The rooms are super quaint, breakfast is served in their Vienesse-style coffeehouse downstairs (also a great place for afternoon tea or aperitif), and the rate is only €100 per night!

With over 500 restaurants, bars and pubs to choose from, we dined at Dicker Mann, famous for its traditional fare served in a very German pub atmosphere.


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Nuremberg

The heart of Franconia (which is part of Bavaria, although Franconians don’t consider themselves Bavarian), we day tripped here for the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, one of oldest and biggest in Germany.

Bamberg

We stopped in Bamberg, the baroque and beer town, for a few hour visit and lunch (as it lies halfway between Nuremberg and Coburg). It has the largest intact ensemble of medieval buildings and is known as Franconian Rome because its built on 7 hills like Rome. As the city of beer, it has nine breweries producing more than 50 different beer,s including Bamberg’s famous smoked beer. Hit the Brewery Trail tour with a kit from the tourist office. We did some great shopping here. Visit their website to see all the great things to do here.

See all the photos from our Castle Christmas…a Christmas we’ll always remember!

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A Castle Christmas

Two Christmas’s ago my in-laws were coming to visit us in Amsterdam for Christmas. Having already been to Amsterdam, we wanted to venture somewhere very Christmasy. Where to go? Germany… they know how to do Christmas. But where in Germany? A castle for Christmas sounded idyllic. After much research we landed on Christmas in Bavaria and Franconia, the southeastern part of Germany (north of Munich).

I found this fairy-tale castle from the 13th century, Schloss Hohenstein, in the dense forests a few kilometers away from Coburg (north of Nuremberg). The restored castle is surrounded by a romantic park with its own chapel, a 15 room/suite hotel, 2 restaurants serving traditional Franconian food and six historical function rooms. Castle Schloss Hohenstein was first mentioned officially in the year 1306. Back then it was owned by the countess Jutta of Henneberg. In the year 1456 the Lords of Lichtenstein were given the Hohenstein castle as fief, where they resided until 1763 when Philipp Ernst Baron of Imhof acquired the Hohenstein castle. He and his descendants gave it the present appearance and also created a castle park. Between 1989 and 1996 it was restored completely and turned into a castle hotel with restaurants.

We spent a glorious four-night Christmas holiday here in the Lichtenstein Suite and Baronesse Suite with daily buffet breakfast, 3 course dinner on 23 December and Christmas Eve, 4-course candle light dinner on 1st Christmas Day and Christmas Brunch on 2nd Christmas Day for only €433 per person. We had a few days of leisure in the castle, explored the castle grounds and ventured into Coburg.

Coburg, population just over 41,700, is guarded by Veste Coburg, one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval fortresses. Its triple ring of fortified walls guard beautiful grounds, a wonderful art collection, and an original Napoleonic copper cannon. In 1530 Protestant reformer Martin Luther, under imperial ban, sought refuge here for 6 months.

Coburg also has royal lineage… in 1857, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha married his first cousin Queen Victoria thereby founding the present British Royal Family (who quietly adopted the name Windsor during WWII).  Albert spent his childhood in Schloss Ehrenburg which had Germany’s first flushing toilet. Today a statue of Prince Albert stands in Coburg’s main square, site of their Town Hall and a lovely Christmas market (Coburger Weihnachtsmarkt) during Advent.

Before we drove to Coburg we explored the romantic towns of Regensburg and Bamberg. Visit the gallery to see all the photos from our Castle Christmas.

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Glühwein, my favorite Christmas Market Tradition

I’d tried Glühwein, or mulled wine, during the holiday season in the U.S. but mostly the cheap bad stuff. So when in Hamburg 2007 my group said we needed to stop by the Christmas Market for Glühwein, I wasn’t too excited. Then I tasted the real thing … I was hooked!

Glüwein is very popular in Germany as the traditional Weihnacthmarkt beverage everyone’s toasting & warming up to. The oldest Glühwein tankard is documented by the high noble German and first Riesling grower of the world, Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen (Rhineland-Palatinate region) around 1420. Usually made from red wine (although there are white varieties), its heated and spiced with cloves, cinnamon sticks, citrus and sugar. Depending on the recipe ,it can be either more heavy on citrus or nutty flavors. At the Christmas Markets you can also drink it “mitt schuss,”  with a shot of rum or liqueur for an extra bit of warmth. And don’t forget your souvenir mug to take home.

The historical Bavarian city of Nuremberg and its famous Christkindlmarkt has bottled their own Christkindl’s Glühwein and you can buy it in the U.S. Our local grocer in Amsterdam, Albert Heijn, produced one last year that was delicious (we moved with a bottle and looking forward to opening it soon). Or you can make your own…

Glühwein Recipe

  • 1 bottle (normal size, 0.75 liter) of dry red wine (e.g. Merlot or Burgundy)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 3 thin slices of orange peel
  • 3-4 tablespoons of sugar (about 60 grams)
  • Directions: Pour the wine into a large pot, add all spices and begin heating over low heat. Heat to 170 degrees F … do not allow to boil! Steep for about 10 minutes over low heat. Add more sugar or spices, if desired, stirring well so it dissolves. serve with half a slice of orange for garnish

My favorite Glühwein moment is standing in the snow at the Regensburg, Germany Romantischer Weihnacthsmarkt gathered around a blazing fire mulling the piping hot wein before its ladled right into your cup.

You’ll also find mulled wine in many other countries under different names like vin chaud in France, vin brulé in Italy or Glögg in the Nordic countries.

Share your favorite recipe or memory too. Prost!

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More Christkindlmarkt Highlights

Here are few additional favorites from the Christmas Markets we’ve visited across Germany, Zurich, Netherlands and London.

Regensburg’s Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt

Regensburg is a beautiful little town in the heart of Bavaria, Germany (southeastern part of the country) and hosts a magical Romantic Christmas Market at the Thurn und Taxis Castle…its Christmas in a medieval fairytale. Around the castle grounds torches light the way to enjoy wooden huts of original vendors like a hand-made book/journal maker and blacksmith. Fire pits burning, warm you up while you sit in the forest enjoying a traditional Bavarian speciality Feuerzangenbowle, a hot alcoholic Christmas drink made from a secret recipe. Inside the St. Emmeram Castle’s courtyard (larger than Buckingham Palace), you’re greeted by a towering Christmas tree, decorated with pretzels among other things :), and market stalls, Christmas entertainment and regional food and beverage specialities. Several open fires burn mulling wines like “Fürstenkelch,” “Blaublut” or “Prinzentrunk.” Culinary samplings include soup served in a loaf of bread, Spanferkel (Bavarian style spit-roasted piglet), traditional Regensburger Knackersemmel (a special type of sausage from Regensburg served in a bread cake), and Altoberpfälzer Weihnachtzwiebel (fried onions in batter made from a traditional Christmas recipe which originates from the region just north of Regensburg).

Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt

Nuremberg was neat to visit for its sheer size. The Christmas Market is one of oldest and biggest in Germany, first official records date to 1628 and now has over 200 stalls (although what they were selling was definitely schlocky). There’s also a big Nurnberger Kinderweihnact (Kids Christmas Market) with special kid booths and rides.

Zurich’s Raclette

Zurich has 6 Christmas Markets across the city. My favorite specialty…Raclette, a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese indigenous to parts of Switzerland. Booths across Zurich serve up the yumminess! The cheese is heated by a special machine then scraped onto a plate with bread or small potatoes and topped with gherkins or pickled onions. Raclette comes from the French word racler, meaning “to scrape.” You can even find the cool makers for home (great for dinner parties!).

Any Christmas Market highlights & favorites you’d like to share?

Coming tomorrow: Glühwein, my favorite Christmas Market tradition.

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Hamburg…the best Christmas Market

Hamburg is a fabulous city and by far my favorite Christmas Market in Germany! Our first trip was in December 2007, and after visiting others the following year, we crowned Hamburg the best…best food, best authentic stalls, best decor, best entertainment and best shopping. We returned the weekend before Christmas 2009 to a snowy winter wonderland!

There are 7 Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas Markets) in the city center during Advent season concentrated within easy walking distance in the Altstadt, old town. The prettiest is set just outside Hamburg’s Rathaus, the impressive neo-Renaissance architecture town hall completed in 1897. Our ‘hang out’ every day on both trips was Schlüters Alpenwelt, the giant alpine stall on the corner nearest the lake….great food, great music and warm beverages! We’d cozy up in a warm spot next to the three-piece band playing traditional music and have easy access to the bar, for Glühwein (make sure you collect the mugs!) and special Weihnacht beer, and food, for wurst and hot freshly sliced ham sandwiches with spicy mustard. Definitely one of the liveliest and funnest spots!

Nothing says Christmas like walking around the alpine wood booths with a warm Apfel-Punsch (cider-like) and shopping for presents. And Rathaus has the best shopping I’ve seen (many markets in other cities have some real junk). Each year we bought incredible hand-made wooden ornaments, hand-made wooden lanterns in three sizes, wooden kid toys and jewelry from the vendors here and by the Lake. Other must eats include the Potato Pancakes with apple sauce or sour cream, the fresh baked Pfaffenglück with cheese, ham, onion and sour cream and some AMAZING pastries. At 4pm, 6pm and 8pm Santa Claus flies his reindeer sleigh high above the roofs of the Christmas Market cottages telling the story of Rudolph the red nosed reindeer.

The other markets are also worth exploring as you walk off all the food and beverage you’re enjoying. On Alster Lake is a nice group of white tent booths and a great warm fire to gather around for a Glühwein.Walk up Manckebergstrasse and you’ll come across several markets on your way. Over at Stadthausbrücke is the Fleetinsel Weihnachtsmarkt next to the Steigenberger Hotel (also a great place to stay)… a cute small market with great bars right next to lighted boats. And last but not least venture over to St Pauli for their market of sex toy booths and a very cool winter deck with sofas, fire towers and heat lamps.

If you’re still hungry after all the eating or are looking for a warm place to rest and eat, two restaurants we liked were Parliament near Rauthaus and Old Commercial Room near Michaeliskirche. Parliament is a toasty warm break from the markets where we had an amazing Pumpkin Risotto and braised beef with dumplings. Old Commercial Room is a traditional hamburg favorite with a nautical theme and said to be best place in town for the local speciality Labskaus (fisherman’s stew).

Lastly a little about HamburgLocated in northern Germany, its the country’s 2nd largest city behind Berlin and a very historic spot. One-third of the city was destroyed by air-raid and firestorm in WWII but it rebuilt and remains Germany’s largest seaport and one of Europe’s leading transit ports. The city offers something for all seasons. With Alster Lake and the Elbe River, its a great summer destination. And anytime of year there’s great night life (St. Pauli‘s and the Grosse Freiheti where The Beatles adopted their name), the Speicherstadt (world’s biggest warehouse complex), Sunday Fischmarkt (in the warmer weather), and Michaeliskirche (St. Michaelis Church) with noon three-organ concerts and the tower for great views over the port. Hamburgers, the residents here, are very friendly and there a easy Metro system to get you around.

But if you have to chose, I’d go with Christmas spirit in December for a weekend that everyone must experience in their lifetime!

Visit the gallery for a great photo journey of Hamburg. Coming tomorrow: More Christkindlmarkt Highlights.

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