Famous American literary figures like Mark Twain and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have waxed poetic about the beauty of Heidelberg, but you don t have to be a famous writer to love this romantic German old town.
My wife, Liza, and I knew we were in a special place when, after a short cab ride from the train station in Heidelberg s modern section, we stood before our hotel and looked at the Baroque facade of the Hotel Zum Ritter St. Georg, which dates from the Sixteenth Century. Though with modern travelers amenities, the hotel still maintains its historic atmosphere, and the view from our room of the gothic (14th Century) Church of the Holy Spirit across the square added to the feeling that, lovers of tradition, we were in for a treat. It was heightened when, after deciding to take a late afternoon walk, just a half a block to the corner brought us to the gorgeous sight of Heidelberg s famed Schloss (Castle) that overlooks the town from its steep hilltop perch. Although partly in ruins from a succession of wars with France s Louis XIV, the castle, which also dates initially from the 15th century, is one of the most romantic in all of Europe. Floodlit in the autumn twilight, its grandeur was truly breathtaking.
Following are some of the additional attractions that make Heidelberg worth visiting:
Heidelberg University " Germany s oldest university, is perhaps best known to Americans as the location of the romantic operetta, The Student Prince. Though the university now has a modern campus on the outskirts of town, the old University Square in the center of the Old Town is still the site of college buildings that serve mostly foreign language students.
Walking the Old Quarter" Though swarming with tourists, especially in the summer, a walk on Hauptstrasse through the historic district, with its traditional as well as trendy shops, and its pubs and coffeehouses serving students, gives you the feeling of being in the Europe that once was.
Old Bridge " The Alte Brucke dates from 1786, and is, with its ancient towers, one of the most picturesque in Europe. Nearby, solar sightseeing boats can be boarded for cruises on the River Neckar.
The Funicular " This railway, opened in 1892, takes you rapidly up the steep hill that looks over Heidelberg, with a first stop at Heidelberg Castle, and then up to the summit for a spectacular view.
The Great Vat "In one of the few areas of the Schloss open to visitors is this two-story wine cask, the world s largest, made in 1751. You ll also revel in the humorous story of the keeper of the royal wine, who lived to a ripe old age despite (because of?) his imbibing.
Knosel Chocolate Shop " home of the student kiss chocolates, which students would give their chaperone-protected loves, to silently express their passion. The chocolate is, as advertised, a sensual delight. The shop is run by Anita Knosel, the third generation in the family business, who welcomes visitors with a smile as sweet as the chocolate she sells.
Heidelberg is easily accessible by rail from such German gateway cities as Munich, Frankfurt, and Hamburg. The railroad is a sensible way to get there, given that gas prices in Europe are even more outrageous than here. For information about a rail pass for Germany and other European countries, go to www.eurail.com.
For more information on Heidelberg, go to www.tourism-heidelberg.com, or contact the German Tourist Office at (800) 651-7010, or at www.cometogermany.com.