The day we visited the Pfahlbau Museum Bodensee, or Pile Dwelling Museum on Lake Constance, it was absolutely pouring. It was in the shoulder season, so there was only one tour that day, and we all crowded under the eaves of the information centre waiting for our guide, while getting pounded by the rain. It seemed a fitting kind of day to explore these examples of prehistoric pile dwellings found around the Alps.
I love a good open-air museum
If you’ve ever watched those shows where people attempt to recreate life from another time period, you’ll remember how devastating heavy rain can be. If you’re wearing wool, it could be days before you’d dry out. Looking out at the houses on stilts over the lake, connected by slippery wood walkways, I could only imagine how long you’d have to stay inside, huddled together, waiting for storms to pass before you could do anything. Well, for us, even if not all of the tour group was appropriately dressed, we stamped out in the rain to investigate the villages regardless.
What is there to see at the Pile Dwelling Museum?
There are 20 buildings in all, arranged in small clusters. These buildings are, of course, recreations of structures from the Neolithic and Bronze Age (4000 – 850 BCE), based on extensive archeological evidence. But you might be surprised to learn that two of them are 100 years old themselves. In 1922, an open-air museum society built two pole dwellings, and they have been refurbished and repaired over the years, probably much like the originals were. Evidence of prehistoric pile dwellings like these have been found in lakes across this region, in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and France, and this museum, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It seems counter-intuitive, but these pile dwellings by their location have left much for archeologists to find. Bogs and marshy lakebeds are terrific preservers of wood – whole sections of floor, piles, roof pieces, and walls have all been found, even pieces of furniture.
But why did they build their houses on poles?
The lakes near mountains, while incredibly rich in flora and fauna (ie food), and water to drink, are also prone to major flooding when the spring comes. Lake Constance, for instance, can rise up to three meters in the spring, and very quickly. Presumably from experience, our ancestors figured out that having their houses up on stilts meant they wouldn’t be washed away each year.
Visiting the Pile Dwelling village
In the off and shoulder seasons, there is one tour a day, and the guide takes you around the little village clusters, and brings you inside several of the buildings to look at the dioramas set up with realistic looking mannequins using period tools. The tour is in German, but you are provided with some documentation in English. In the spring and summer months, guides are waiting in the buildings to explain things, but you are free to wander about. Even at the end of our tour, we were left to explore the houses on land near the information centre on our own for awhile. The tour is quite leisurely, and we didn’t feel rushed at all.
My favourite part of a good open-air museum visit are the moments you can feel what it might be like to live there. To listen to the wooden joists groan and creak in the wind, the water slap at the poles underneath you, and wonder whether the house can stand up to the storm raging outside! But stepping out on a walkway afterwards, watching the clouds race away across the lake, that also must have been satisfying. Unlike most of the other open-air museums I’ve visited that focus on the middle ages and a bit later, this life is so far removed from our own, it’s quite fascinating to experience. There’s so much we don’t know about these people, and even what some of the artefacts the archeologists have found might have meant to them. I think the museum has made a good attempt to fitting it together, but as the guides will tell you, sometimes they’re just not sure.
Visiting the Pile Dwelling Village with kids
While we went in shoulder season, it would be easier for non-German speakers to visit in the summer so you can take your time exploring with the English brochures the museum has available at the ticket counter. Kids are encouraged to explore, and like other open-air museums, it’s quite easy for them to grasp some of the history just by standing in the houses or walking along the walkways. If you have an under-6 who likes to run, this may be a bit of a challenge as the walkways do go over the lake quite a long way. If you’re doing the self-guided visit, you’ll be fine, but the tour takes an hour and that might be too long to stay focussed for the littlest among us. Definitely check their website for the details of their tours and opening times.
To get to the museum, you can walk from the Uhldingen-Mühlhofen station (Oberuhldingen), it takes about 25 minutes, or take a taxi from the station. There is a wharf right next to the museum, so your best bet is to take a ferry from Konstanz or another stop along the lake – you can see the ferry routes and timetables here. The stop for the Pile Dwelling Museum is Unteruhldingen, and it’s a pleasant walk through the park to the museum itself. You could always combine your trip to a visit to Mainau, the garden island, as well. Do check for combination tickets, someone at the ferry ticket desk can help with this. For shoulder and off-season visits, do check the schedule well ahead of time as the ferries don’t run as often or stop everywhere.
Our Christmas market in Heidelberg fills every one of the squares in our Old Town, stretching along the decorated pedestrian main street culminating in an ice rink right below our glorious castle. It’s full of locals enjoying the season every year. We go to the market five or six times each year, as well as visiting other nearby markets too, at all times of day, and all days of the week. It’s one of my favourite places to buy gifts to send home to my family. If you’re the kind of person who collects special ornaments from your holidays, you will have so many to choose from it will make your head spin.
Is the Christmas Market enjoyable if you’re not really a Christmas person? Definitely! This is much more of a wintery, festive thing than an overtly consumerist, flashy religion thing. The religious content is very minimal, and you’ll find everyone celebrating the cold weather and… well… Glühwein!
So pull on your warm socks and walking shoes, here’s your local’s guide to enjoying our lovely Christmas market here in Heidelberg.
When is the Heidelberg Christmas Market open?
This year, 2020, the market has been cancelled.
Generally, the schedule runs like this: each day, the stalls and ice rink opens at 11am, and close up around 9pm, except on Saturdays when they stay open a bit later until 10pm.
NEW in the HEIDELBERG CHRISTMAS MARKET as of 2019!
This year the market vendors have gone all out to make it feel even more special and Heidelberg-y. One stallholder spent nearly half a million Euros building a half-size replica of the giant (and I mean seriously ginormous) wine barrel at the Heidelberg Castle for the Christmas Market. Not only can you buy Glühwein, but you can reserve a table INSIDE the wine barrel (which has several tables and a chandelier, because obviously), and even stand on top on the special patio. This incredible structure is in the main Marktplatz next to the large church. The beautiful pyramid Glühwein stand with the traditional revolving structure has now shifted to the big market at the Universitätplatz. This year they’ve also put special emphasis on stallholders using as much local produce and wine as possible.
Where is the market?
There are little markets spread all along our pedestrianized main street, the Hauptstrasse. Starting at the Bismarckplatz, the main bus exchange, you can visit six along your walk. Some are just a small collection of stands serving food and drink, with a smattering of mugs and decorations, like the one at Bismarckplatz. But the last three, at the Universitätplatz, Marktplatz, and Kornmarkt are quite large. I’ve made a special map just for you, scroll down to see it.
Is there a Christmas market up at the Heidelberg Castle?
You will probably read about a market at the Castle, but this is no longer happening as of 2016. Endangered bats nest and hibernate in the tunnels below where the Christmas market used to be held. It was decided that the market was too disruptive for the bats, so the stalls that used to be there were moved down to another square in the city that year. It was off the usual route, however, and I don’t think they did that well, because the next year those stalls were included in the main market locations. However, you can enjoy ice skating in the Karlsplatz directly below the castle.
What is there to do at the Heidelberg Christmas Market and when to go
Just soaking up the festive atmosphere is one of the best activities, to be honest, but a gentle stroll through the markets is what we locals do. The most magical time is around dusk, when all the lights come on and it feels like you’re walking through a Christmas card. If you’ve got kids with you, head straight for the Universitätplatz market to save little feet. At the centre is a big old carousel, and even though my son knows it well, he always wants at least three rides! The Kornmarkt is set up as a little forest, with loads of pine trees on stands, all entwined with lights. Between the trees is a mini-train the kids can ride, and again, a good two or three times around seems to be required! The giant windmill-style Glühwein stand that is an iconic Christmas market staple is set up in the main Marktplatz, as well as a smaller carousel. The ice skating rink is one market square beyond the little wood, in the Karlsplatz. You can rent skates there, and take a few turns around the rink to music, with the castle lit up right above you.
Each day, the stands and the ice rink opens at 11am, so if you’re looking to buy gifts, early afternoon is a great time to do so with minimal crowds. Because the market is so spread out, it doesn’t often get too crushed. The stalls close up around 9pm, 10pm on Saturday nights. Weekends are definitely busier than weekdays, as daytrippers come in from across Europe.
What to eat at the Heidelberg Christmas Market
What not to eat?! Come hungry, because there’s lots to choose from. The ubiquitous Bratwurst is everywhere of course, served in a small bun (think of it as an edible handle). If you like it spicy, go for the Feuerwurst. There are steaks and venison sausages cooked on the big round grills. There are usually several vegan food stalls as well, if you’d rather skip the meat. Local to our region is the Flammkuchen, a very thin crust pizza topped with onions, bacon pieces, and a mild soft cheese more like cream cheese than mozzarella. There are infinite variations you can get though, including ones with mozzarella on them, veggies, pesto, and more. These are cooked to order, and are a good crowd-pleaser, as everyone just tears a piece off. Just keep ordering until everyone is full.
One of my favourite treats is the Kartoffelpuffer, which is a bit like a hashbrown patty, but it’s deep-fried fresh to order, and you can have either Apfelmuss with it (apple sauce) or avail yourself of the ketchup and mayo there. Sweet and savoury crêpes are available all over, as well as sides of salmon grilled over an open fire. Hot waffles drizzled in Nutella, or sprinkled in sugar and cinnamon is another favourite. My son’s tip for the best sweet crêpe: order the Kinder Riegel one, where they put a thin chocolate bar (or two if you’re lucky!) made of milk and white chocolate in the middle, and it melts and gets all gooey inside the crêpe. There always seems to be a few stands that will dip a skewer of fruit in molten chocolate for you as well.
If you’re looking for a more portable treat, cotton candy, or Zuckerwatte, is popular, as well as bags of candied nuts. There are always colourful stalls full to the brim with candy that seems to attract children like a magnet. The decorated heart-shaped cookies hanging outside are pretty, but pretty hard to eat.
Glühwein of course! Because Heidelberg is in the middle of several wine regions, if you do a little searching you can find the more delicately spiced Weißglühwein, which is my particular favourite. If you order it ‘mit Schuß’ you will get the choice of a shot of rum or Jägermeister in your hot sweet wine for an additional Euro. For some theatre, seek out a Feuerzangenbowle stall to watch them set a rum-soaked sugar cone on fire, above a cauldron of Glühwein. And then have a mugful, obviously. For kids and nondrinkers, you can find Kinderpunsch at every stand that serves Glühwein, which is a hot spiced fruit juice. The mug you’re served your Glühwein in is reusable, and when you buy your first mugful, you have paid a deposit, or Pfand. You can walk up to any other Glühwein stand in the market and pay for a refill. If you’d like your deposit back, when you’re finished the night you can return your mug to any stand selling drinks, and they will refund you – don’t forget, it’s 3€ a mug! I think everyone in Heidelberg has a few of these at the back of the cupboard!
What to buy
On average, I find the prices at the gift stalls very reasonable for the quality of the work. A lot of these people spend all year making things to bring to the Christmas markets. Some of my favourite things to buy as gifts at the market include:
We are a farming region down here, and there are a few stalls that only sell sheepskin products, and the slippers are so incredibly warm. They have gorgeous proper sheepskin throws as well, but these are pricey. They are also the best quality ones I have ever seen.
Who doesn’t need another pouch to keep train tickets, small change, or glasses in? These stands also feature some incredibly detailed children’s slippers with curled toes. If you have an elf-obsessed small person, this may be your perfect choice. There’s also a good selection of felted flowers to pin to a coat or hat.
The wooden puzzle booth is always a favourite stop. From classic ball mazes to more complicated Escher-like twisting baubles, everything is made in good-quality wood, oiled and stained. Not just for kids, most of these games would look perfect on a bookshelf or desk.
Christmas decorations and lanterns
It’s a tradition in southern Germany to put a lit-up star lantern in your window. Accordingly, some of the most beautiful stalls are the ones hung with many lanterns, all glowing in the evening. There are metal punched-hole ones from Morocco, and paper ones of all shapes and sizes. The paper kind will flatten down, if you’re concerned about suitcase space. There are many options for more traditional wooden decorations as well. If you really want to invest, visit the Käthe Wohlfahrt store at the corner of the Unveristätplatz market –– they have full Christmas scenes that move with the heat from a candle, miniature (and not so miniature) Christmas pyramids, and pretty much everything Christmas you can think of. The prices are much higher in here, but if you’re looking for an heirloojm piece, this is the place.
This sounds so strange, but there is a stand behind the carousel in the Universitätplatz market that sells chocolates in intricate shapes of tools, cameras, cars, keys, and kitchen implements. It’s worth a look even if you don’t buy anything, because they are incredible.
Christmas Market Insider Tips
We visit many times over the season, as well as many other Christmas markets in nearby towns. Here is what we’ve learned:
Wear comfortable shoes and warm socks because you will be walking and standing the whole time
Bring a reusable bag for any purchases
Wear a hat and a scarf, and bring gloves, it gets quite cold when you’re out for several hours
Don’t bother with an umbrella if it’s raining, there are too many people, just wear a hat
If you’re not into walking a long way, take the bus to the centre of the market and start there (see below)
How to get to the Heidelberg Christmas Market
The Christmas Markets are easy to reach in Heidelberg, as is Heidelberg itself. Regional trains reach the city with a change in Mannheim – for more details on how to get from Frankfurt to Heidelberg, I’ve written a whole post for you. From the Hauptbanhof (main train station), you can take any tram or bus marked for Bismarckplatz to walk the whole length of the markets. If you’re looking to save your energy, take the 32 Bus to Universitätplatz and that will bring to the heart of the bigger markets. If you’re driving, you will want to park around the edge of the Altstadt and walk in. I’ve marked two good parking garages on the map below, as well as where the markets are, the train station, and where the bus drops you.
BONUS market to visit: Kloster Neuberg
NOTE: The Kloster Neuberg market is open again as of 2019!
Not part of the city markets, but well worth a visit is the little market at the Stift Neuberg. This is a still functioning monastery down the river a bit from the city. The market is on the grounds of the historic farm that is run separately from the monastery these days, and it features cows, goats, and an excellent brewery. If you’ve been craving beer but could find nothing but Glühwein, this is your stop. It is much smaller than the other markets, but it’s much more rustic. The craft stalls are inside the barns, and there is sometimes a small carousel. Fresh Flammkuchen is always available, along with hot waffles, Kartoffelpuffer, and Bratwurst. If you’re lucky, they will be roasting a pig on a spit above a woodfire. This market is much quieter, so if you want a little magical local experience, this is worth it.
To get there, you can take the bus 34 to the bottom of the hill where the monastery is (marked on the map above), or you can take the Weisse Flotte boat along the Neckar (departure pier also marked on the map). The boat is more like a little ferry, you don’t need to book ahead. I wouldn’t recommend driving, as parking is a right pain. It is a big walk up a hill, but there are more sitting options than in the bigger markets, so you can take a rest once you get up there! Also, wrap up warm, it is at a higher elevation. If you’re really lucky, it will snow!
Enjoy your trip to the markets in Heidelberg, we really love this time of year in our adopted home.
We visited Provence this spring, a region in southeastern France famous for lavender, romantic holidays, and the good life, if North America media over the past 30 years if anything to go by. Our itinerary took us through some of the most famous villages, a town we knew from a nursery rhyme, and down to the coast. This is an overview with everything we did, where we stayed, how we got there, and what we’ve got saved up for next time.
When to go to Provence
We visited in late April, over my son’s Easter break. We spent a full six days and that was great. Much shorter than that and you’d want to focus on only one or maybe two towns. There were tourists, but it was clear the season was not fully underway. This was good, as it wasn’t overrun, but also a bit unpredictable on the weather front. The famous Provence wind is no joke, it’s blasting away nearly all the time. Now I know why everyone builds those picturesque walled gardens!
If you’re looking for the famous fields of lavender, you will want to visit between mid-June and mid-July, the lavender harvest happens around the 15th of July. The perfume town of Grasse has two main flower festivals: ExpoRose in mid-May and the Jasmine Festival in the first week of August.
Where to stay in Provence
We made Avignon our homebase for most of our trip, with a night in Antibes on our way out to be close to Grasse. This worked very well for us, though I think next time we might stay in a smaller town near Apt, we really enjoyed the scenery around there. Around Avignon it is very windswept, and consequently a bit on the rocky and dry side. It’s greener over by Apt, with more little green valleys. However, if you’re mainly travelling by train, I would suggest staying in Avignon to allow for the easiest connections.
Our Provence itinerary
Here is our relaxed Provence itinerary that takes in several different types of Provençal village.
As I mentioned, Avignon was our home base. It’s a manageable size and very walkable. We spent a morning in the Palais de Papes, and I heartily recommend doing the same. The buildings dominate the city, so it’s hard to miss. When the popes returned to Rome, they took their finery with them, but there is an absolutely excellent iPad-based audio and multimedia tour that made up for it. We also did the hop-on, hop-off bus tour as we usually do, travelling with kids makes this an easy way to see most of the sites while still saving little legs, so if your mobility is at all an issue, or you just need a rest, it’s worth it. Definitely book your dinner reservations as soon as you can, because the restaurants fill up fast.
This tiny village is perched on top of ochre cliffs, looking out over the Provence countryside. The red and yellow-orange colours of ochre come from this small area, it was mined here for hundreds of years. You can still buy ochre pigment in some of the shops. Each house is painted with a variation on this colour as well. It’s a tiny village, inaccessible except by car, and it is quickly overwhelmed by people. Visit in the morning or evening, and if you need to eat, get into one of the little restaurants early! We made that mistake and ended up having to drive somewhere else to find lunch. It has a much different feel than many of the surrounding villages, and worth a stop.
Les Baux de Provence
You will want to leave a full day for this visit, and be prepared to walk. This town is perched on top of one of the many pale rocky crags thrusting out of the flat Provence countryside. It is a popular tourist stop, so go as early as you can manage. Once everyone is up there, however, it’s not super crowded. At least, we didn’t find it so in shoulder season. Every corner of the little town is picturesque, but what makes this town special is the fortress remnants on the top of the hill. It is incredibly windy in the exposed areas, so be prepared with an extra layer, or just enjoy it if it’s midsummer and you’re dying from the heat. Check in when you buy your tickets to find out when the trebuchet demonstrations are. Everyone loves a good trebuchet demonstration.
If you’ve read the book Perfume, or have seen the film, you will know Grasse. This town is home to the worldwide perfume industry. You can tour part of the Fragonard perfume works, as well as several others. The town itself is dilapidated and beautiful in its own way. Do eat your lunch somewhere local – this town gets overwhelmed with daytripping tourists spending all their money at the high-end perfume companies. My full post on Grasse is coming soon. Without a car, you will need to take a local bus from Nice to reach Grasse unfortunately.
The French Riviera’s glory is pretty relaxed in this little peninsula near Nice. We chose to stay here over the busier (and more expensive) Nice, so we could make the most of our trip to Grasse the next day. The beaches looked nice, but the water was still quite cold in April, so we only did a bit of wading. They were building more beachfront restaurants and whatnot, so it will definitely be a bit more lively come high season.
Things we didn’t do but have put on our list for next time…
While this was on our list originally, we had a few minor health issues that took up more time than we were expecting, so it fell off the list. To the west of Avignon, this town features a huge Roman amphitheatre in the middle of town where they still hold events. It’s also where Vincent van Gogh lived with Paul Gaugin, and the infamous ear incident happened here.
This picturesque hilltop town is one of the most beautiful in France. We drove up to it, but as we had spent time in Les Baux the day before, and it looks similar, we decided to skip it. It is truly incredible looking, so if you’re nearby, definitely make a detour to at least see it from a distance.
Les Grottes de Thouzon
This cave system is not too far from Avignon, and looked very cool, both literally and figuratively. Inside the caves, it’s a cool 13ºC, so if you’re visiting during the heat of summer, it may be a welcome break. There are stalactites, stalagmites, and all sorts of cool cave formations from the photos we saw. We just ran out of time, otherwise we would have visited.
Aix en Provence
This pretty town has a reputation for art galleries and picturesque streets to stroll down. If you’re into spending a low-key day at sidewalk cafes and people watching, this sounds like the town for you. As we were travelling with a 9 year old, it wasn’t first on our list for visiting, but we’d like to at least see it on our next trip to the area.
What to remember when visiting France
If you’re visiting from North America, be prepared for restaurant opening times to be later than you are used to. Particularly outside of the immediate tourist areas, restaurants will open around 1pm for lunch, close again around 3pm and not open until 6pm or 7pm for dinner. You need to have snacks on hand. Also, book your dinner restaurant as soon as you settle into your hotel on the first day. Just showing up, particularly in smaller towns, means you will have nowhere to eat. Check Yelp or TripAdvisor (and take with a grain of salt those reviews where they complain about slowness or rudeness, this is more the French style of dining – no one is going to rush your meal nor squat next to your table and be cheerful), and book a few likely looking places. Better yet, ask at the front desk of your hotel or your Airbnb host. If you do get stuck without somewhere to eat, swing by the local grocery store and pick up cheese, sliced meats, bread, and wine. Hotel picnics are one of our favourite traditions holidaying in France.
You can’t pick up any medication of any kind in a grocery store or convenience store. You will need to find a Pharmacie. You can spot them by the big green cross, often lit up, outside. There will be acres of expensive skin care, and then a counter. You will need to ask at the counter for anything medicinal, and most pharmacists will speak enough English to understand what you need if you use the generic name (ibuprofen, acetaminophen, etc). If you have an empty package, bring that along. The prices are very good, by the way.
Grocery stores are your friend
There are lots of great souvenirs to buy at the grocery stores in France. Look for a ‘de la région’ section and pick up local vinegars, mustards, jars of terrine, and pâte. In other sections of the store you can find shelf-stable cartons of hollandaise and other sauces, cookies, honey, and tea, as well as cute dish towels, wine, and chocolate. Collecting up little food taster packages are my favourite gifts for people, and loads cheaper than anything you can get at a tourist shop. Not to mention much more fun and authentic.
Traveling with kids
Research the playgrounds ahead of time. Unlike Germany or the Netherlands, French towns don’t put the same emphasis on building playgrounds, so you will want to plan out these pitstops specifically. Use the site Parc Equipe to find a playground near you. Dining hours can be a bit late for some smaller children (see above). If you’ve got a baby who will sleep in a buggy, try putting them to sleep first and then going for dinner. If you’ve got a squirmy toddler, try for nice lunches instead, particularly where you can dine outside and the small one can burn off steam chasing pigeons in the square. For dinner, take the hotel picnic route, and buy cheese, sliced meats, bread, and wine at a grocery store. This ends up being quite a bit cheaper than eating out every night anyway. If you’ve got an older child, you can always feed them yoghurt, cheese, and vegetables beforehand, then let them eat their way through all the bread and butter at the restaurant. That way you’re not coaxing them to eat something and you can enjoy your meal. You probably want to stick to one or two courses, as the leisurely pace of dining can really tax the patience of a small person. Though the promise of an apple tart and ice cream at the end can do wonders.
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Summer in Germany is beautiful – it’s all about relaxing in biergartens, visiting castles, wandering in leafy green forests, and exploring half-timbered towns. Of course, the weather varies from one end of this large country to the other. If you’re up north in Germany, you can expect temperatures around 17ºC-22ºC (63ºF-68ºF), but down south in near the Black Forest, it gets up to 35º+C (104ºF). If you’re planning on visiting a few places in Germany, you will definitely need layers.
When we travel around in Germany in the summer, I pack a capsule wardrobe of dresses, cardigans, leggings, sandals, and scarves, with a packable rain jacket for surprise showers. I am definitely a dress person, and I will let you into my secret for wearing dresses with no tights as a woman whose thighs touch (no matter what size I’ve been, they’ve always done that, just the way I’m built!). I admit I’m pretty minimal when it comes to my colour palette, so most of my clothes are black. This makes it easy to build a small capsule wardrobe though.
Our German travel tends towards historic sites, city visits, museums, markets, and easy forest walks. If you’re doing some hiking, your list will be a bit different!
One midi skirt – either plain or a bit flashy, ASOS is a great source for this length. I like midi skirts for travel as they give you more coverage in case you are visiting religious sites, or end up clambering into tour boats, or sitting on stone walls
I bring two pairs of sandals if I’m traveling in the summer: one pair with a small wedge, and a very flat pair. Both of my sandals are very practical Birkenstocks, but they aren’t their standard styles. If you’re keen on having a closed toe trainer, I would suggest a stream-lined white or grey shoe that won’t look out of place with summer dresses. Personally I love Italian Supergras, I have a silver hightop pair I love. Apparently these are also Kate Middleton’s favourite
I am very aware of my belongings, many years of living in a big city like London will do that to you, so I don’t carry money belts or special bags or anything like that. I used to bring too many bags, but I now realize that I will always have my camera bag with me so there’s no point bringing another purse because I won’t use it. This is why I invested in a camera bag that looks like a regular bag, not one of those hyper-technical things. I wrote a whole post when I was researching a stylish-looking camera bag! I do bring my small laptop backpack if I am bringing my computer, as it allows me to keep all the cables and bits with me. If I’m on train, I will stow my suitcase and then I have my laptop there ready to go. If you’re not bringing a camera bag, I suggest a medium-sized cross body bag so you’ve got your hands free. Though do wear it fashionably pulled forward in front to discourage pickpockets.
I keep my cosmetics pretty streamlined in general, so when I travel there’s nothing really different than my usual routine. I do often opt for make-up remover wipes, and throw a bunch of cotton pads in a zip-top bag with my favourite exfoliator squirted all over them. But that’s it!
Make up (foundation, concealer, mascara, eyeliner, brow pencil)
This is our family name for all the cables, chargers, and whatnot required to keep everything plugged in and charged while we’re away. Mine is a bit different as I have to bring my CPAP machine with me (a device with a mask I need to wear when I sleep, it’s to deal with sleep apnea), so I bring a surge-protected power bar with built-in USB ports for plugging in my devices. But my husband brings just a plug-in USB charging block, that has the brightest light on it ever, so it functions as a nightlight as well. We’re also adding a couple of universal plug adapters to our infrastructure as well.
My obsession with castles is well documented, but until recently, I hadn’t stayed overnight in a castle in Germany. This spring, I found my happy place, my readers, and it’s called Schlosshotel Hugenpoet outside Düsseldorf and Essen. From gorgeous grounds to friendly staff, this is such a glorious place to stay.
Is it really a castle?
Oh yes, in fact, the first recorded mention of the place is in 778, as Charlemagne’s royal manor. The family that took over the estate after this, in the middle ages, were sometimes referred to as Hugenpoet. This romantic name actually translates to ‘toad pond’ in old German. Like nearly every large building in the area, the castle was destroyed in the Thirty Years War, and then rebuilt in 1647. This rebuild forms the framework for the castle you see today, with updates in the late 19th century. It first becomes a hotel in the 1950s.
What’s it like to stay there
The rooms vary, depending on where you are in the building. My room was in the old stables building. It was spacious, with a hallway complete with closets and suitcase storage. The bathroom was all beautiful lighting, gorgeous deep bathtub, and separate shower. I had a view over the stone bridge at the entrance of the Schlosspark, and when I pushed the windows open on arrival, the birdsong flowed in. I was ready to move in, I have to say. A word on the staff as well: everyone I interacted with were genuinely friendly and lovely.
Walking back to your room after a spectacular meal, or stepping out for a breath of fresh air in the morning – it is hard to explain how beautiful and amazing this place is.
In the morning, I took a walk through the gardens. Throughout the Schlosspark behind the castle there are benches, chairs, and loungers tucked into little corners.
Michelin Star dining on site
I had the pleasure of trying Chef Erika Bergheim’s menu while I was staying at the Hugenpoet. It was a Her Michelin-starred restaurant Laurushaus is in the former tithe barn (where the surrounding farmers would store the goods due their local baron or duke). It’s a cozy space, with a limited number of tables, and a small private terrace open in the summer. If you have your heart set on dining here, it’s worth noting that the restaurant is only open from Thursday through Saturday, and has several closure periods throughout the year (including the last two weeks of July). Book early!
Heavenly breakfast, cake, and more
If you’re looking for a less fancy option, there’s the more relaxed Hugenpöttchen restaurant overlooking the Schlosspark. That’s where you’ll have your excellent breakfast, with creative house-made jams and excellent coffee to order. Fresh tulips in bud vases graced every table. The restaurant is open for lunch from 12 noon, and continuously until dinner with cakes and treats created by the in-house patisserie available for mid-afternoon requirements. Of course, if you’re looking for a basket backed for a romantic picnic in the Schlosspark, with some notice, they can provide that for you too every Sunday from May until September (with 48 hours notice).
Where is this amazing place?
About a half-hour by car outside Essen or Düsseldorf, or about 45 minutes by train plus a short taxi ride. There’s lots of explore nearby, like the Zeche Zollverien, a huge old industrial site now transformed into art spaces, restaurants, and several museums.
Can you do this hotel with kids?
Yes! I have it straight from the hotel staff themselves. There is a little fenced playground at the end of the courtyard, great for smaller kids, including somewhere for adults to sit. There’s the Schlosspark behind the castle of course, which you’re welcome to roam around in. Not only that, there are special events for kids including an afternoon meal and castle manners lesson, that ends with a little run around outside of course, and cooking and baking classes as well. Possibly my favourite idea though, is the in-house babysitting. Contact the hotel ahead of time, and you can arrange a babysitter for the evening while you enjoy a romantic meal downstairs in the castle restaurant. How glorious would that be? If you’re looking to stay at the Schlosshotel with kids, book one of the junior suites or the larger suites, and let the staff know you will need space for children to sleep.
Some great times to visit
Christmas time, from the end of November to just before Christmas Eve, is a magical time to be in Germany. The markets in Düsseldorf and Essen are both gorgeous, and the Schlosshotel itself has its own market, in 2019 it’s on 5-8 December. In the summer months you can take advantage of their picnic baskets, and explore the local area, including the Zeche Zollverein, which has events on all summer.
Book your visit right here:
Getting to Schlosshotel Hugenpoet
As I mentioned above, you can get to the hotel from either Düsseldorf or Essen by train in about 45 minutes, getting off at the nearby station of Essen Kettwig Stausee, A short taxi ride from the station will have you arriving through the picturesque gates of the castle in no time. By car, it is about half an hour.
Book your train journey in English here:
This stay was included as part of a press trip exploring the region, organized by Nordrhein-Westfalen Tourismus. All opinions expressed are my own.