Cochem Castle

Cochem Castle

I love castles, and I have visited a lot of them in our region of Germany. So when I tell you this is one of the best ones, you know I had quite a few to compare it to! It has a great combination of location, ease of access, and history. The town of Cochem itself is gorgeous, and well worth a weekend stay.

Looking through the many arches at Cochem Castle

Looking through the many arches at Cochem Castle

Is it Cochem Castle, or the Reichsburg, or what?

Cochem is the town the castle is located in, and you can definitely call it Cochem Castle in English. ‘Reichsburg’ means the Imperial Castle, so Reichsburg Cochem just translates to Imperial Castle Cochem. You have probably seen other castles called ‘Schloss’ and this refers to their status as more of a palace as opposed to a defensive fortress (a ‘Burg’). In a land full of castles, you’ve got to start dividing them up somehow, right?

Suits of armour are everywhere

Suits of armour are everywhere

Can you imagine leaning by this window, reading a letter?

Can you imagine leaning by this window, reading a letter?

A bit of history

On the hill 100 metres above the town of Cochem, the castle was initially a fortification built around 1056. The first mention in print was in 1051, and in 1157, King Konrad III officially dubbed it an Imperial residence. The town of Cochem was important in wine growing and fishing through this period, and was well connected to the city of Trier. In the late 1690s, the castle and the town were taken by the French during the Nine Years War. Unfortunately, the French Sun King wanted to make sure the region was fully subdued, so he instructed his troops to wreak havoc. 

The castle lay in ruins for nearly 200 years, until the Berlin merchant Louis Ravené had it rebuilt as his family’s summer residence in a Neo-gothic style popular with the rich-people-rebuilding-castles movement of the 19th century. The castle has been owned by the city of Cochem since 1978. 

The beautiful hunters hall at Castle Cochem

The beautiful hunters hall at Castle Cochem

The Great Hall at Castle Cochem

The Great Hall at Castle Cochem

Should you do the tour at Cochem Castle?

Definitely. Like most German castles, you need to join a guided tour to see the interior rooms. There are many tours in English during high season, but you will want to check the times for English tours in the autumn and winter. The English tour was only available once a day when we visited in October – check their website in advance for the exact time of the English-language tour so you don’t miss it. The tour itself is one of the best I’ve been on. The guide knew a lot about the castle and the city of Cochem, but wasn’t overloading us with lists of every single noble who lived in the building. They have definitely designed the tour with children in mind as well, because there were some chocolate rewards and little surprises along the way. Even if you’re not travelling with children, you will be grateful they are entertained. 

It’s extremely unusual for a German castle tour, but you are allowed to take photos throughout the interiors, though turn off your flash. 

Peering down into the yard at Castle Cochem

Peering down into the yard at Castle Cochem

Always look up when you go on these castle tours

Always look up when you go on these castle tours

Join a Medieval banquet

If you plan ahead, you can join in a full experience of a medieval meal with costumed musicians and a castle tour. Most Friday and Saturday evenings starting at 6pm, you can join a group at the castle for a full meal, glass of wine, a special castle tour, and a take home stone mug. The tour is in German, but you can get a sheet with the English information on it. The whole package is €49 per adult and €24.50 per child (6-17 years old). If you’re thinking of booking one, do it soon, as they sell out months in advance. 

Cochem Castle is stunning in the autumn

Cochem Castle is stunning in the autumn

What time of year to visit Cochem Castle

In the summer, you have the benefit of the full leafy trees, sidewalk terraces, green vines clambering over everything, and the breeze off the Mosel. You also will have more crowds of visitors to contend with. Even though there were fewer tours available, the castle wasn’t that busy. The benefit of visiting in the autumn has to be the gorgeous colours of the grape vines. All over the castle, and the surrounding hills, the multicoloured vines transform everything into a riot of deep reds, yellows, oranges, and browns. 

The view from the cafe in the Cochem Castle

The view from the cafe in the Cochem Castle

Classic Schnitzel in the castle cafe

Classic Schnitzel in the castle cafe

Even the placements were cute

Even the placements were cute

What to eat

The cafe up at the castle itself is lovely, and we had a great meal of schnitzel at a reasonable price. I would say at least a little bit cheaper than the restaurants down in the town right on the river, so it’s definitely worth staying up here to have lunch. There’s an impressive selection of cakes, including a proper Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake) and the underrated Frankfurter Kranz, so if it’s afternoon and you just need a coffee and a sweet thing, have it up here with a view down over the town. 

View from outside the Cochem Castle

View from outside the Cochem Castle

Where to stay

I’ve got your weekend in Cochem covered in this post, but if you’re just looking for some quick hotel recommendations, I would check out these ones:

  • Hotel Germania, right next to the main bridge and in the Altstadt
  • Hotel am Hafen, across the river but next to the bridge, with good onsite restaurant
  • Zum fröhlichen Weinburg, a little ways back from the river, quiet and good value
  • Altes Fährhaus Cochem, is on the other side of the river with gorgeous views of the castle and town, and offers bike rentals on site
  • If you’re happy to be just outside of town, the little village of Ernst is our favourite spot, and the Altes Pfarrhaus our Mosel home away-from-home. A lovely Dutch family runs this small hotel, and the food is lovely, with a quiet terrace overlooking the river. 
The Cochem Castle lit up at night

The Cochem Castle lit up at night

How to get there

From Frankfurt or Düsseldorf, Cochem is about a two and a half hour journey by train, with one or two changes, depending on the time of day. From Cologne, it is about two hours with one change. It’s a beautiful journey no matter which way you arrive, however, as most routes will take you along the Rhine and the Mosel. You can book your ticket right here in English:

To get up to the castle from the town, you can walk up, which is a little intense with quite a few stairs. Or, you can take the shuttlebus. There’s a detailed schedule on their website here. If you’re travelling with small people, it would be best to take the shuttle and save their legs for the tour. 

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Cochem Castle is one of the most beautiful castles to visit in Germany. Gorgeous and easy to reach, it perches among the vineyards, 100 meters above the Mosel river. Together with the pretty town below, it makes for a great weekend trip.

Cochem Castle is one of the most beautiful castles to visit in Germany. Gorgeous and easy to reach, it perches among the vineyards, 100 meters above the Mosel river. Together with the pretty town below, it makes for a great weekend trip.

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Heidelberg Christmas Market: A Local’s Guide

Heidelberg Christmas Market: A Local’s Guide

Our Christmas market in Heidelberg may not be the largest or the showiest in Germany, but it’s full of locals enjoying the season every year beneath our glorious castle. 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.

Gift stalls in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

Gift stalls in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

When is the Heidelberg Christmas Market open?

This year, 2018, the market opens on 26 November, and runs until 22 December. 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. 

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.

Carousel in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

Carousel in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

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. 

Glühwein mug, and Flammkuchen

Glühwein mug, and Flammkuchen

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. 

What to drink

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!

Wooden toys at the Heidelberg Christmas Market.

Wooden toys at the Heidelberg Christmas Market

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:

Sheepskin slippers

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.

Felted pouches

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.

Wooden puzzles

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. 

Chocolate tools

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. 

The Christmas pyramid in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Marktplatz

The Christmas pyramid in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Marktplatz

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 closed in 2018!

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.

 

PS – Here is my overall guide on how to do German Christmas Markets, and if you’re looking for other things to do in Heidelberg with kids, I’ve got you covered there too.

 

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Schloss Mespelbrunn

Schloss Mespelbrunn

The small but perfectly formed Schloss Mespelbrunn in western Bavaria has survived for hundreds of years unscathed, mainly due to its location, nestled in the Spessart forest. This is a famous German forest, with its fairy stories and myths immortalized by the Brothers Grimm. The Castle Mespelbrunn is one of those that takes your breath away as you come around the neatly clipped box hedges. I don’t think I will ever tire of that moment when a castle reveals itself. Sometimes referred to as a ‘wasserschloss’ (water castle), Mespelbrunn sits serenely in its own little lake, complete with resident swans. 

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History

In 1412, the Archbishop of Mainz gifted some land next to a pond in the Spessart to a knight named Echter, for his part in defeating the Czechs. At this point, the Spessart was literally thick with thieves and bandits, which inspired the second generation of Echters to build fortifications around the stately home. From this period, only the round tower remains, with the rest of the castle being rebuilt in the Renaissance style from 1551-1569. The most famous resident of the castle was Julius Echter, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg (1545-1617), who founded a hospital and re-founded the University of Würzburg in 1583. 

Schloss Mespelbrunn was never in a high traffic location, and this saved it during the Thirty Years War when armies of all sides were rampaging through the area. 

The lake runs on all sides of the Castle Mespelbrunn, like a very large moat.

The lake runs on all sides of the Castle Mespelbrunn, like a very large moat.

The doors to the Castle Mespelbrunn. You can see the little crate that holds the fish food on the lefthand side there.

The doors to the Castle Mespelbrunn. You can see the little crate that holds the fish food on the lefthand side there.

By 1665, the last male Echter died without leaving a male heir. However, Maria Ottilia, Echterin of Mespelbrunn, married into the Ingelheim family which were later elevated to Counts. The current Count Ingelheim lives in the castle with his family today. 

Still from the title sequence of Das Wirtshaus im Spessart, shot at the castle in 1958.

Still from the title sequence of Das Wirtshaus im Spessart, shot at the castle in 1958.

Completely unrelated to the actual history of the castle, a famous German musical called Das Wirsthaus im Spessart was filmed in the castle and a nearby town in 1958, which seems to inspire many coach tours.  

Inner courtyard at Castle Mespelbrunn

Inner courtyard at Castle Mespelbrunn

Door to upper levels of the castle, dated 1569.

Door to upper levels of the castle, dated 1569.

Schloss Mespelbrunn entrance fees and opening hours

To do anything other than lean over the gate and take photos, you need to pay an entrance fee. 

Adults 5€

Children/students 2.50€

The castle is open from March to November 9am-5pm daily, but check their site for exact opening and closing dates as they change each year. 

It’s worth noting that it’s difficult to get to this castle other than driving. The parking lot is a short (level!) walk from the castle on a smooth gravel and then paved path. Unusually for a castle, this one is quite easy to access with a buggy or if you’re travelling with folks using mobility aids. However, there are stairs on the tour and you won’t be able to bring your buggy with you.

Your first view of Schloss Mespelbrunn from the gates.

Your first view of Schloss Mespelbrunn from the gates.

Is it worth doing the tour at Schloss Mespelbrunn?

Yes definitely. Like most German castles, you cannot see the inside except on a guided tour. All tours are in German, so you will need to ask the ticket seller at the gate to give you an English pamphlet, which provides the text of the tour in English. Often the guides can answer any questions you have in English, or someone on the tour can translate. On the tour, you will see the Knight’s Hall on the ground floor, with suits of armour and heraldic symbols in stained glass. Moving upstairs, you get to see the dining hall, which I found the most impressive. It’s a bit of a hunting lodge theme, with wild boars’ heads and antlers mounted all over the place, as well as an impressive table setting. The current Count of Ingelheim and his family have special dinners here, even now. There’s also a small but interesting display of weapons, including some wicked-looking early crossbows. 

View from the castle entrance across the small topiary garden.

View from the castle entrance across the small topiary garden.

Shady benches outside the Knight's Hall at Schloss Mespelbrunn

Shady benches outside the Knight’s Hall at Schloss Mespelbrunn

There’s a tower room dedicated to honouring Julius Echter, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg and all his works. The main interest here was the shrunken head he was gifted by someone who had visited Africa. Moving through to a bedroom, it’s hard not to imagine sleeping here with the window open to the breeze, listening to bandits call to each other in the woods. No doubt no one would have kept their windows open for fear of dying of unseen miasma, but that’s just my romantic fantasy. 

The tour lasts about 40 minutes, and moves along fairly quickly. 

Regal swan glides across the lake at Schloss Mespelbrunn

Regal swan glides across the lake at Schloss Mespelbrunn

What else is there to do at the castle?

The small lake is also home to schools of fat and happy looking fish, which you can feed with little packets of proper fish food for 0.50€, that are sitting on a stand just outside the main castle doors. The fish get gratifyingly excited to be fed, and the water is quite clear, so this can take up a good half hour if you’re travelling with kids. There are a few resident swans floating around looking regal as well. There’s a small cafe in the old stable building, across from the castle. We stopped and had an excellent Apfelstrudel, and Eiskaffee, in their little garden. An Eiskaffee, if you’re not familiar, is a gloriously cold concoction of vanilla ice cream scoops in a large glass, with coffee poured over it, with unseemly amounts of whipped cream and maybe even chocolate sauce dribbled over that. Like an obscene version of an affogato. But delicious. 

Getting to Schloss Mespelbrunn

Despite being only an hour from Frankfurt, this castle is still quite hard to get to without a car. There is a parking lot very close, and it costs 2€ per vehicle. 

If you’d like to get there by public transport, your best bet would be to take a train to the Aschaffenburg station and then a taxi to the castle, which would be a half hour journey. Do check the sections above for opening hours, as many reviews I’ve read online seem to involve people trying to visit in winter and disappointed the castle is closed. 

You should leave two hours for your visit, but know this small castle won’t take an entire day to explore. It’s a beautiful spot that isn’t overrun with visitors, so enjoy yourself and take your time. 

Quick bonus! If you’re looking to stay in the area, the beautiful Schlosshotel Mespelbrunn is short walk from the castle and is all kinds of beautiful.

Beautiful Schlosshotel Mespelbrunn

Beautiful Schlosshotel Mespelbrunn

PS – Looking for some day trips from Frankfurt? Or maybe another incredible castle to visit?

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The Chocolate Museum, Cologne

The Chocolate Museum, Cologne

Cologne, or Köln in German, is famous for its cathedral, its beer, and its intense Karneval parties. High on our list for our visit also included the Chocolate Museum. I truly didn’t expect to enjoy this museum as much as I did – but it is well laid out, interesting, and fun for adults and kids.

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The Chocolate Museum is on its own little island in Cologne.

The Chocolate Museum is on its own little island in Cologne.

Chocolate Museum history

You can thank Dr Hans Imhoff for this monument to chocolate. Born in Cologne in the 1920s, Imhoff began his chocolate and sweets company after the Second World War, and bought larger and larger German chocolate companies including Stollwerck and Hildebrand. In 1993, he opened the Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum. Lindt has partnered with the museum since 2006. Imhoff’s daughter and her husband continue hold the reins of the museum today.

The museum is full of vintage chocolate tins, containers, labels and more.

The museum is full of vintage chocolate tins, containers, labels and more.

What to expect

There are a few sections to the museum: a look at the cocoa plant itself including a small greenhouse, overview of cocoa production and shipping, the process of making chocolate including a full assembly line, the Lindt Atelier where you can make your own chocolate bars, the history of chocolate consumption, and chocolate marketing through the ages. There’s also a nice restaurant on the ground floor where you can indulge in various chocolate desserts and drinks, and I think my favourite museum gift shop of all time.

The excellent snack and confectionary blogger Lindsay over at Eat, Explore, Etc suggested to head straight for the Lindt Atelier to make our chocolate bars first, as they require 45 minutes to cure. This tip was bang on, as we then took in the rest of the museum, picking up our custom bars on the way out. It’s a little way past the initial part of the museum, but use the map they hand you on the way in to make your way straight there.

Entering the chocolatey world of Lindt

Entering the chocolatey world of Lindt

Making the hard decisions about what to put in his chocolate bar.

Making the hard decisions about what to put in his chocolate bar.

Watching his chocolate bar being made at the Chocolate Museum.

Watching his chocolate bar being made at the Chocolate Museum.

Making your own chocolate bar

I’m going to be honest, this is one of the best parts of the museum. In the Lindt Atelier, you can pick up a form and choose what chocolate you would like, and what else you’d like to add. You queue up to hand over your forms, and pay about 4€ for each custom bar. After, you can watch the chocolatiers make your bar behind glass. You have to wait 45 minutes to pick up your chocolate, so now is the time to see the rest of the museum.

Cocoa plant in the wild! Okay the greenhouse.

Cocoa plant in the wild! Okay the greenhouse.

Have you seen a cocoa plant before?

I certainly hadn’t, not in real life. There is a whole museum section dedicated to the growing of cocoa, the different types, and what it looks like, but the most interesting bit for me was the little greenhouse with live cocoa plants growing there. It’s worth noting that all the information texts are written in German and English, and there are plenty of kid-friendly touching and flap-opening options.

Full chocolate factory action!

Full chocolate factory action!

Factory behind glass

As you approach the Lindt Atelier, you will find a chocolate factory behind glass panels, allowing you to see every step of the process from processing the cocoa to tempering chocolate to pouring it into molds to packaging, all by machine. It’s mesmerizing. I have always loved those ‘How Things Are Made’ shows, so seeing it live was super cool. Kids of all ages love watching the machines too. It doesn’t hurt that there is a giant, and I mean giant, chocolate fountain right there, with a friendly staff member handing out wafers dipped in warm fresh chocolate.

Obviously chocolates are delivered by stork.

Obviously chocolates are delivered by stork.

The Chocolate Museum's vintage packaging section is a dream for typeface lovers.

The Chocolate Museum’s vintage packaging section is a dream for typeface lovers.

Love this chocolate delivery bike!

Love this chocolate delivery bike!

Elephants, windmills – literally anything you can think of has been made into a chocolate box or vending machine.

Elephants, windmills – anything you can think of has been made into a chocolate box or vending machine.

The biggest Lindt ball you've ever seen?

The biggest Lindt ball you’ve ever seen?

Labels, machines, Kinder Surprise!

Upstairs there are rooms upon rooms of old chocolate advertising posters, labels, and packaging, as well as full-size vending machines used to dispense chocolate from all over Europe. There was a great interactive game that my son played with some other random children we met for half an hour up there as well. The display of every Kinder Surprise toy in a big pile was impressive to say the least. I loved the displays of old candy shops with all their drawers and jars. Less interesting for us was the history of chocolate from Central America to the present day. There is a lot to read, and my son wasn’t up for that part.

A drinking chocolate set built specifically for traveling in one's coach. Or a picnic. As you do.

A drinking chocolate set built specifically for traveling in one’s coach. Or a picnic. As you do.

I so want one of these cabinets in my house.

I so want one of these cabinets in my house.

The gift shop, oh the gift shop!

I have never enjoyed a gift shop as much as I did at the Chocolate Museum. It wasn’t just kitchsy chocolates in the shape of Cologne Cathedral (though there were some of those too), but really imaginative bars by smaller chocolate manufacturers as well as chocolate liqueurs, hot chocolate mixes of many types, cocoa nibs, raw chocolate bars, and little tins of chocolate of every description. The prices are quite reasonable for the quality. For the kids there are loads of chocolate cars, castles, keys, soccer balls, people, emoji tins and more. We are still eating our way through our haul a month and a half later! *cough* We may have gone a little crazy in there.

What to do after

After you are all sweet thinged out, a meal of savoury things is in order. There’s not much else down there, so the family-friendly Vapiano right there is your best bet. They have a kids menu which is very affordable but also quite small portions, so if you have a big eater, just get an adult portion. It’s one of these places where you order at the menu station along the wall, and then receive a buzzer that vibrates when your food is ready. It’s really best to get all children situated and then figure out the food.

The Sport and Olympic Museum in Cologne

The Sport and Olympic Museum in Cologne

The Sports and Olympics Museum is right there next to the Chocolate Museum. We didn’t visit as we were all a bit museumed out at that point, but it looks like it would be good fun with kids. You can borrow sport equipment and go play a game on the rooftop field, as well as check out sports memorabilia throughout the exhibitions. If I’m honest, we’re not really sports people, so it wasn’t our thing.

The cute Chocolate Express minitrain in Cologne that takes you from the Cologne Cathedral to the Chocolate Museum.

The cute Chocolate Express minitrain in Cologne that takes you from the Cologne Cathedral to the Chocolate Museum.

How to get to the Chocolate Museum

The easiest, and most entertaining, way to get down to the Chocolate Museum is to take the Chocolate Express mini train. It leaves from right outside the Cologne Cathedral, and you get a little tour of the city as you head down to the Museum. The tour voiceover is in English and German. You can buy a round-trip ticket, which takes you back up to the Cathedral after you’re finished down on the riverside, though check the last train times if you plan to be down there towards the end of the day. The return journey takes a different route, so it’s well worth it.

Getting to Cologne

Cologne is a short trip from Frankfurt, about an hour and a half on the ICE (intercity express) train – I have a direct booking link for you here:
Frankfurt-Köln

Looking for some other kid-friendly day trips from Frankfurt? I have you covered.

From Hamburg, Berlin and Munich, it’s a four-hour journey by train and you’d best spend a weekend exploring Cologne and Düsseldorf. You can book a train right here:




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Kloster Großcomburg

Kloster Großcomburg

This monastery complex dominates a round hill in this region, overlooking farms and the town of Schwäbisch Hall, which is worth a visit as well. Like most monasteries and castles, it includes buildings and structures from different points in history. Today, many of the buildings are used for teacher training. You can wander the grounds for free, and visit the inside of the cathedral for a small fee, as part of a guided tour only. It’s worth noting that ‘Kloster’ means monastery in German, so you will see many signs for ‘Kloster Großcomburg’. Together with Schwäbisch Hall, this makes for a great adventure from Munich or Frankfurt, that will be much less busy than some of the more famous castles and medieval towns in the area.

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The grounds are gorgeous, even in the snow.

The grounds are gorgeous, even in the snow.

My son running into the monastery gates

My son running into the monastery gates

The buildings run the gamut from Romanesque to Baroque.

The buildings run the gamut from Romanesque to Baroque.

History of the Comburg monastery

This area of Germany was ruled by the Counts of Comburg/Rothenburg (yes, of Rothenburg ob der Tauber fame), and this monastery was originally founded on the ruins of one of their castles in 11th century. It began as a Benedictine monastery, and only admitted monks of noble birth. The monks really stuck to this rule, through a period of Benedictine reform and everything.

Watch for this archway leading to the central church.

Watch for this archway leading to the central church.

These manicured gardens are lovely under snow too.

These manicured gardens are lovely under snow too.

Beautiful courtyards are around every corner.

Beautiful courtyards are around every corner.

The monastery community went through a few ups and downs. During the Thirty Years War, the Abbey remained undamaged, but passed into the hands of the King of Sweden and then again into a local Duke’s possession.

By the time the second half of the 19th century rolled around, the buildings served as a convalescent home for soldiers no longer able to fight. During the Second World War, it was a headquarters for Hitler Youth and a prisoner of war camp. Now, it is a teacher training college.

Doesn't it look a bit like a castle from a distance?

Doesn’t it look a bit like a castle from a distance?

My favourite use of the monastery, however, was as a secondary palace by Paul von Württemberg at the beginning of the 19th century. He was in the middle of an argument with his father about supporting the French during the Napoleonic Wars, and withdrew to Comburg in a bit of a snit. He and his wife lived there for a few years, in the end making up with his father and then spending most of the rest of his life living in Paris.

The impressive 17th-century outer wall. You can walk all the way around the monastery.

The impressive 17th-century outer wall. You can walk all the way around the monastery.

The outer ring wall

One of the first things you encounter on visiting the monastery is the impressive ring wall. It was built in the 1600s. Erasmus Neustetter held various high-ranking positions in the area and monastery, and had this wall built. He had a tempestuous relationship with other church figures, and it seems he spent his later years holed up in Comburg, avoiding conflict. It’s a beautiful spot to hide away, I have to say. Visiting now, you can walk all around the complex along the ring wall, with arrow slits providing little views over the countryside. There is only one way to access the wall however, so once you’re up there, you have to do the full circle or turn back.

One of my favourite photos from this visit, my son exploring the outer wall.

One of my favourite photos from this visit, my son exploring the outer wall.

The central church

This is still a functioning Catholic church, and you can attend services on Sundays. If you’d like to see the interior, be sure to check the monastery’s site for times – it can only be viewed on a guided tour. If you miss this, as we did, it’s still a lovely place to see from the outside. We spent about an hour and a half here just wandering around, which has the added benefit of also being free. Inside the church is one of the largest surviving Romanesque chandeliers, a 12th-century gold altar piece, and extensive Baroque organ and interiors to see.

The entrance to the monastery

The entrance to the monastery

Love all this little passages around the monastery complex.

Love all this little passages around the monastery complex.

The view from the arrow slits in the outer wall.

The view from the arrow slits in the outer wall.

Visiting the Kloster Großcomburg

There is a bus route that will take you from Schwäbisch Hall up to the monastery, or if you choose to drive, there is free parking. There is a very small cafe at the monastery, mostly catering to the students from the training college, so if you visit on a weekend or when the college is closed, you will want to bring your own snacks. If you’re toting a stroller, it’s not too bad in most places, but there are stairs up to the ring wall, and that would be a challenging walk with a buggy. The monastery is definitely worth visiting in conjunction with a trip to Schwäbisch Hall, which I’ve described in more detail here, but it wouldn’t be much more than an afternoon’s entertainment on its own. Like Schwäbisch Hall, you can reach the monastery in about two and a half hours from Frankfurt or Munich. By train, it’s about three hours from either Munich or Frankfurt, involving a change or two of trains as Schwäbisch Hall is on a smaller branch line, and then a bus up to the monastery.

You can book your train right here, in English:



Even the outbuildings are beautiful.

Even the outbuildings are beautiful.

PS – If you’re thinking about visiting some castles in Germany, I have you covered!

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