… is usually the first question I get asked about my intended travel destination, Bamberg.
… is the second.
Bamberg is a small German hamlet in the historic Duchy of Franconia, north of Munich. Nuremberg is regarded as the cultural hub of Franconian lands, which may give some astute observers an inkling of why I would choose Bamberg as a special destination…
Each December, Southern Germany and Franconia in particular host arguably the most spirited Christmas markets in the world. Nuremberg is famous as the globe’s top destination for Christmas cheer, glittering decorations transforming the winter landscape into a fairytale world of merry-go-rounds, roasted almonds, mulled wine, gingerbread biscuits and steaming sausages!
The world heritage-listed Bamberg city centre is similarly converted into a glowing Yuletide celebration with gaily trimmed stalls cramming into Maximiliansplatz to offer families a dazzling choice of toys, crafts and victuals. The aroma of freshly baked gingerbread and mulled wine compete with the strains of traditional Christmas songs to elevate the sensory experience.
However, Bamberg is more than just a seasonal attraction.
Geographically, the community lies in a landscape sculpted by the forces of the Regnitz River and the Steigerwald foothills. In fact, Bamberg prides itself on similarities with not one but two famous Italian cities. Like Rome, Bamberg is situated on seven hills and also boasts its own ‘Little Venice’ – a former fishermen’s village on an island formed by two arms of the Regnitz River.
Little Venice dates back to the Middle Ages (476 to 1453) and charms with quaint half-timbered dwellings and colourful gardens facing the river, boats bobbing peacefully out the front of these homes.
Another scenic architectural masterpiece is the Altes Rathaus, built around 1467 and literally overhanging the river. Rumour has it that the bishop of Bamberg refused to grant leave for citizens to build on land, and with typical Franconian ingenuity they rammed stakes into the Regnitz and created an artificial island on which they built their town hall!
Bamberg is perhaps more well-known among basketball and beer-drinking aficionados. The town’s Brose Baskets is the current German League champions and also compete in the Euroleague. Their home base is at Stechert Arena.
Beer-swilling connoisseurs celebrate Bamberg as producers of Franconia’s famous smoked beer, known as Rauchbier. While there is no shortage of breweries in Bamberg, two in particular – Schlenkerla and Spezial – have brewed smoked beer for over 200 years, and are still going strong. Schlenkerla’s flagship Urbock is regarded as among the 50 best beers in the world and is available from October through early January.
Other well known breweries include Mahr’s Bräu, Keesman, Ambräusianum, Klosterbräu and Greifenklau.
Situated as it is on hilly terrain, Altenburg Castle and Villa Remeis provide panoramic views over Michaelsberg, a former Benedictine monastery; Neue Residenz and Alte Hofhaltung, old residences of the prince-bishops; St Peter’s and St Paul’s Cathedral, which contains the papal tomb of Clemens II; and Schloss Geyerswörth, offering its own views over the city centre.
So… no more vacillating over where to spend Christmas! See you in Bamberg!
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