Florence – 18 things to do in a weekend – video

Florence is so packed with delicious art and architecture that it would take a lifetime to see it all. Of course there are some unmissable highlights, but it’s just as much fun to watch the world go by from a cafe terrace or escape the crowds in the Boboli gardens. On my weekend with Citalia I had just 48 hours and not wanting to miss anything I certainly packed in the sightseeing!

Florence 18 things to do in a weekend

Here’s my video that covers the key things to see in Florence and some fun things that I enjoyed while I was there. You don’t have to see it all, just take your time and have a few stops for a slice of pizza or a gelato as you discover this historic city.

If you can’t see the video above about my weekend in Florence, see it on my blog here or Youtube here and please do subscribe using the button above
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Here are some of the things I enjoyed during my weekend in Florence with Citalia – you can also read more in my other articles from the weekend;

How to spend a perfect long weekend in Florence
10 delicious things to eat in Florence

Duomo in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Duomo in Florence

1. The Duomo

Most visitors to Florence will visit its star attraction, the Duomo or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, which is free to enter. The west facade, covered with intricate pastel coloured marble looks old, but in fact dates only to the 19th century. Most famous of all is the terracotta-tiled dome, designed by Filippo Brunellesci who studied the Roman Pantheon to come up with the double layer egg shaped design which you can still climb inside today. Buy a €15 ticket from the office opposite the Baptistry entrance to visit the Baptistry, Campanile, Museum and to climb the cathedral dome, including optional timed entry to enable you to skip the lines.

The Baptistry in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Baptistry in Florence

2. The Baptistry

Right in front of the cathedral is the octagonal Baptistry of St John, the exterior clothed with patterns of white, pink and green marble. Inside, the small arched windows illuminate the magnificent gold mosaics on the roof depicting scenes of the Last Judgement. The north doors of Ghilberti’s ‘Gates of Paradise’ are a magnet for the tourists, showing Old Testament scenes in intricate relief, although these are bronze copies of the originals in gold, which now reside in the Duomo museum.

3. Climb the Campanile

Rather than climb the dome itself, I decided to try the 85 metre high Campanile, for views over the old city and also a bird’s eye view the dome itself. The lines were long, but with my timed ticket I had a much shorter wait to start my climb up the 415 steps to the top. There were three different stages to take a break and admire the view before I arrived at the very top, looking down onto the Dome. Although the views were fantastic, be warned that it’s not for the fainthearted, as it can be quite claustrophobic trying to pass the long stream of people on the narrow stone stairs.

Porcellino in Florence

Stroking the nose of Porcellino in Florence

4. Stroke the nose of Il Porcellino

At the covered loggia known as the New Market or straw market, you’ll find Il Porcellino, the famous bronze statue of a wild boar. This ‘little pig” is a copy of an earlier marble version and is a popular lucky charm for visitors to Florence. Put a small coin in his mouth and watch it fall through the grill below, then stroke his nose, and your dreams are sure to come true!

5. Feast your eyes in the Mercato Centrale

The morning is the best time to admire the fresh produce in the Mercato Centrale, since this part of the market winds down after lunch. It was a pleasure to wander around and admire the traders at work, butchers expertly cutting up meat, fishmongers fileting fish, the fruit and veg being arranged in attractive polished pile. The deli counters sold everything from cheeses to dried mushrooms to bottles of limoncello to take home as a souvenir. I also enjoyed a tasting at the stall piled with cantucci, a twice baked almond biscuit that’s perfect to dunk in your morning coffee.

Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mercato Centrale in Florence

6. Try some Tripe – the Florentine speciality

While we might feel a little squeamish at eating tripe, in Florence it’s considered a local specialty, so consider giving it a try. In the market you’ll see the white, spongy cow’s stomach on sale at the butcher’s counter and on the menu of many traditional Trattorias, a hearty home-cooked dish with a rich tomato or wine sauce. In the Mercato Centrale, the crowds were flocking around Da Nerbone, the stall on the ground floor of the market that serves tripe as a lunchtime snack in a bread roll.

7. Stay at Hotel Balestri with Citalia

My hotel was the four star Hotel Balestri, booked through Citalia, which was perfectly located for a city break, just a 5 minute stroll from the Ponte Vecchio. My window overlooked the river and despite being so central it was a quiet location, set apart from the busy tourist areas. The decor was clean and modern with a glamorous Art Deco feel, plenty of marble and mirrors. There was no restaurant, but a sitting area and bar where I tried the Negroni cocktail, a favourite aperitivo with the Florentines since it was invented here.

Bedroom at Hotel Balestri with Citalia

Bedroom at Hotel Balestri with Citalia

8. Window shop on the Ponte Vecchio

My walk took me across another of Florence’s must-see attractions, the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge with an arcade of jewellery shops that seem to hang precariously over the river. The shops were originally populated by butchers and leather tanners, until in 1593 the Medicis decided that the smell was unbearable and ordered the shops to be let to goldsmiths instead. The shop windows dripping with gold jewellery are still there today, and it’s a popular place to hang out with a view of the Uffizi and the river.

La Strega Nocciola Gelaterie in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

La Strega Nocciola Gelaterie in Florence

9. Time for Gelato

One of the pleasures of Italy is the frequent stop for a gelato tasting, to cool and revive before moving on for more sightseeing. Look out for gelato artiginale, where the gelato is made on the premises from fresh ingredients, without the lurid artificial colourings you’ll find in some gelaterias. My favourite was La Strega Nocciola (Via de’ Bardi, 51) close to the Ponte Vecchio on the south side of the river, with a stylish, modern feel and delicious flavours. I also enjoyed the gelato at Vivoli close to Santa Croce (Via dell’Isola delle Stinche, 7) and Neri (Via dei Neri, 9/11) which had a neighbourhood feel and was packed with families choosing their afternoon treat.

10. Palazzo Vecchio

In Piazza della Signorina is the Palazzo Vecchio, where Cosimo I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany lived with his wife Elenora, until she sensibly moved with their eleven children to the Pitti Palace across the river. There’s a statue of Cosimo on horseback in the square and the imposing statue of Neptune in the fountain also has his likeness. At the door of the Palazzo stands a copy of the David by Michelangelo which stood here until 1873, when it was moved to the Galleria dell’Academia and now lives under its glass dome. Even if you don’t have time to visit the Palazzo apartments be sure to pass into the first courtyard to see the beautiful frescoes on the roof and walls of the loggia.

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

11. The statues in the Loggia dei Lanzi

To one side of Palazzo Vecchio is the Loggia dei Lanzi which forms an outdoor sculpture gallery, sheltered from the weather by the roof terrace of the Uffizi. The sculptures display scenes of struggle and violence, with the twisting Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna and the bronze Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini triumphantly lifting up the gory severed head of Medusa.

12. A hot chocolate at Café Rivoire

On Piazza della Signoria I couldn’t resist stopping at Café Rivoire for a hot chocolate and cannoli filled with whipped cream and candied orange peel. You pay a premium for waiter service at a table, but if you’re short on time copy the locals and order directly from the bar, which is much cheaper. It’s a great place to watch the crowds swirling through the Piazza della Signoria which is one of the busiest spots in Florence.

Caffe Rivoire in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Caffe Rivoire in Florence

13. The Old Masters in the Uffizi

The Uffizi is the main art gallery of Florence with all the masterpieces of the Renaissance and it’s a good idea to book a tour like the one offered through Citalia, or to reserve a timed ticket online. You could easily spend a whole day in the gallery, but a two hour tour will cover the most famous highlights, such as Botticelli’s Venus and Primavera and Filippo Lippi’s enchanting Madonna with two angels ( a portrait of the nun who became his lover and their children).

14. L’Accademia – Michaelangelo’s David

Another popular visit is Galeria dell’ Academia where most people come to see Michaelangelo’s sculpture of the shepherd boy David who slew the giant Goliath. The figure was carved from a block of marble that had been rejected by other sculptors and was originally intended to sit on top of the cathedral. Once complete it proved too heavy so was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio, but later moved to l’Academia under a beautifully lit dome. After admiring the David, take a look at the ‘Prisoners’ , a series of unfinished sculptures by Michaelangelo that seem to be struggling to be released from their blocks of marble.

The David in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The David in Florence

15. The Pitti Palace Costume Museum

Walk across the river at the Ponte Vecchio and you’ll stroll through the Oltrarno district to the Pitti Palace, the residence that was purchased by Eleanora de’Medici, wife of Cosimo I who decided too move her large family away from the bustle of the city. I particularly enjoyed the Costume Museum, displaying the couture collections of notable Italian women, as well as a startling exhibit of the funeral clothes removed from the tombs of Eleanora de’Medici, her husband Cosima I and their son Don Garzia.

16. The Boboli Gardens

After visiting the Pitti Palace I wandered around the Boboli gardens, walking up through the parterres and formal gardens to the small lake with fountain at the top of the hill. The garden was commissioned by Cosimo I and is one of the Florentine’s favourite places to come and relax. On my way out I came across a spot where the view of the Duomo was framed by olive trees, the roof tiles of Florence glowing in the evening sun.

View of Florence from the Boboli gardens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of Florence from the Boboli gardens

17. Dinner upstairs in the Mercato Centrale

The Mercato di San Lorenzo or Mercato Centrale was one of my favourite places to eat in Florence. Upstairs the open, industrial style space had different food stands around the walls each serving a different speciality, with bar staff who come around to take your drinks order. I admired the oozing balls of mozzarella, deliberated over the wood-fired pizza ovens, the matured beef and the fresh fish laid out on ice, finally stopping at the stall selling truffles for a plate of their antipasti covered with a generous layer of truffle shavings – heaven!

18. Designer shopping at Via d’Tornabuoni

Most of the top designer stores are to be found on Via d’Tornabuoni where I spotted Prada, Pucci, Gucci and Tiffany, to name but a few. At the end of the street, by Ponte Santa Trinita I popped into the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, a must for shoe collectors and fashion lovers. Salvatore Ferragamo learned his trade in Italy, but emigrated to California in the 1920s where he made his name selling shoes to film stars and celebrities, before returning to Florence.

Designer shopping in Florence

Designer shopping in Florence

Read more from my weekend in Florence

How to spend a perfect long weekend in Florence
10 delicious things to eat in Florence

Planning your weekend in Florence

My weekend in Florence was arranged through Citalia who are a leading specialist in Italian holidays, winning the title of ‘Best Tour Operator to the Italian Peninsula’ for seven years in a row. They have more than 85 years experience in putting together flexible itineraries to suit your needs, using Italy’s finest handpicked hotels. The Citalia team are expert and knowledgeable in all things Italian and even have local concierges in each destination for personal recommendations, advice and help with day trips, car hire, or restaurant bookings. For more information visit the Citalia Florence page

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18 things to do in Florence

Thanks to Citalia who hosted Heather’s stay in Florence. This trip was part of a project between Citalia and Travelator Media.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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Coburg: Victoria and Albert’s romantic retreat in Germany

When the 20 year old Queen Victoria of England married her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, they must have seemed the dream couple of their age. The young German prince from Coburg turned out to be a loyal husband and their marriage was a happy one, producing nine children. When we visited Albert’s birthplace in Coburg I could understand why he felt so homesick for the rolling countryside and forests of his native Germany and how Victoria shared his love of Coburg, writing “it is a feeling as if I had spent my youth here.”

Coburg Victoria and Albert's Romantic Retreat

Victoria and Albert had been introduced by their Uncle Leopald with a view to making a suitable match for the future Queen of England. Victoria’s mother Victoire and Albert’s father Ernst were brother and sister, and the marriage of cousins was common in the royal families of Europe – keeping power and wealth in the family. Once Uncle Leopald became the first King of the Belgians, he used his influence to secure advantageous marriages for his nephews and nieces, including Victoria and Albert, resulting in his nickname ‘The uncle of Europe’. It was joked that while others built empires through war, the Coburgs did so through marriage.

Schloss Rosenau in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Schloss Rosenau in Coburg

Albert’s birthplace at Schloss Rosenau

A few years after their marriage, the royal couple made their first trip to Coburg where Albert was able to take his wife to Schloss Rosenau, the childhood home he felt so nostalgic for. Just as Victoria and Albert must have done, we entered the park along a drive lined with chestnut trees, glimpsing the castle on the hill through a gap in the trees. It’s easy to see why they would have both loved spending time here, with freedom to ride and walk in the 36 acre park, away from the public gaze and formality of the English court. Perhaps in the elegant and romantic Schloss Rosenau, Victoria could imagine what life might be like as an ordinary wife and mother, writing in her memoirs, “If I were not who I am, this would be my real home.

Schloss Rosenau Photos: http://www.schloesser-coburg.de

Schloss Rosenau Photos: www.schloesser-coburg.de

Albert’s father, Duke Ernst I had remodelled the ruined castle in a style that harked back to its medieval origins, drawing on the romantic tales of the knights of old, with a gilded Marble Hall where balls were held in medieval costume. Prince Albert was born at Schloss Rosenau and it was used by the family as their summer residence, while they spent their winters at Ehrenberg Palace. In the 1940s the castle became an old people’s home and some of the fine decoration was lost but more recently the castle has been restored by the Bavarian state to its original splendour and was re-opened to the public in 1990.

Schloss Rosenau in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Schloss Rosenau in Coburg

There are guided tours every hour at the castle and we were lucky enough to have a tour in English – although this would normally need to be requested in advance. The castle is on a very domestic scale and the pretty dressing room and bedroom of Albert’s mother Louise reminded us that she was a young girl of just 16 when she married the 33 year old Duke Ernst. The castle was so small that guests would have to walk through her bedroom, so there was a wooden box placed on top of the mattress to store her clothes from public view. Sadly the marriage ended unhappily due to infidelity and the couple separated and later divorced with Louise dying of cancer aged only 30.

Queens View at Schloss Rosenau Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Queens View at Schloss Rosenau

Schloss Rosenhau must have held poignant memories for Albert of his childhood, and to overcome his homesickness for his homeland, Queen Victoria commissioned a series of watercolour images of the castle interiors, including a view from Albert’s schoolroom over the park. The paintings now reside in the Royal Library at Windsor, but copies are on display at Schloss Rosenau and these were used to guide the restoration of the castle to its original bright colours and furnishings.

Beside the drive through the park is a small tree, planted to mark the ‘Queen’s View’, the spot where Queen Victoria could stop her carriage as she left and have one last look back at her beloved Albert’s birthplace on the hill.

If you go:  Scloss Rosenau website 

Ehrenberg Palace in Coburg

Another palace that holds many connections with European royalty is Ehrenburg, its splendour rather overwhelming the modest town of Coburg. This is where Duke Ernst I and his wife Louise, parents of Albert, spent the winter months, while Schloss Rosenau was more suitable for summer use since the thick stone walls were difficult to heat. When we visited the palace, our tour took us through a series of beautiful rooms, where we could admire the full length portraits of Albert and Victoria at the top of the grand staircase.

Ehrenberg Palace exterior Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ehrenberg Palace in Coburg

Their grandparents Duke Franz Frederich Anton and Countess Augusta had succeeded from impecunious beginnings in creating a powerful dynasty through their marriage policy. By marrying their children into almost all the royal households of Europe they rose in wealth and influence, and as if to emphaise their success, the portraits of the Coburg extended family hang throughout the palace.

Ehrenberg Palace in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ehrenberg Palace in Coburg

Among the many beautiful rooms, stuffed with chandeliers and tapestries, we admired Duchess Louise’s bedchamber, renovated in vibrant green silk to replace the original faded furnishings. The Hall of Giants, with its ornate wedding cake ceiling, was where in 1863 the Hapsburg Emperor Franz Joseph met Queen Victoria, a convenient location half way between their mutual kingdoms.

Ehrenberg Palace in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ehrenberg Palace in Coburg

Pride of place on the tour is the bedroom where Queen Victoria would stay on her visits, complete with the mahogany panelled water closet that she had installed. Ehrenburg Palace seems to overshadow the small town of Coburg, but then it’s quite understandable that with relations in all the royal households of Europe, the Dukes of Coburg would need somewhere suitably impressive to entertain when they came to visit.

If you go: Ehrenburg Website

Queen Victoria's room at Ehrenberg Palace, Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Queen Victoria’s room at Ehrenberg Palace, Coburg

Visiting Schloss Callenberg, home of the Coburgs

Our final stop as we followed in the footsteps of Victoria and Albert was Schloss Callenberg, the family home of Prince Andreas, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and head of the Coburg family. The castle is filled with beautiful artworks, and antiques but we especially enjoyed the two rooms dedicated to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children.

Victoria and Albert portraits at Callenberg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Victoria and Albert portraits at Callenberg

The Ducal Art Exhibit displays the portraits of all nine children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with information about the ties of family and kinship that the House of Coburg holds to Europe’s ruling nobility. There are many other beautiful collections in the castle, although the large open rooms had more of a museum feel, compared to the domestic scale and character of Schloss Rosenau.

Prince Albert portrait in Callenberg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Prince Albert portrait in Callenberg

There’s also a German Shooting Museum which is a quirky change from all the portraits and antiques, taking you through the history of archery and shooting as a sport complete with laser firing range for those that want to test their skills.

If you go: Schloss Callenberg Website

Schloss Callenberg in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Schloss Callenberg in Coburg

Albert’s statue in Coburg

After Albert’s untimely death in 1861, Queen Victoria commissioned a statue of her beloved husband for his hometown of Coburg. To emphasise his achievements he stands wearing his robes of a Knight of the Order of the Garter and holds the plans for the Crystal Palace in one hand. Originally the statue was planned to stand in Albertsplatz and a whole block of houses was demolished to create an open space.

Albertplatz in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Albertplatz in Coburg

However Queen Victoria would not hear of her beloved Albert ending up in the second square of the town and ordered that he should be placed with rightful importance in the main square of Marktplatz. The Queen even visited the town in 1865 with her children to personally unveil Albert’s statue which stands proudly in the heart of the town, and on our visit we stood under it in the Christmas market drinking our Glühwein.

Prince Albert in Coburg Photo: http://www.coburg-tourist.de

Prince Albert’s statue in Marktplatz, Coburg

Victoria’s final visit to Coburg was in 1894 when the royal families of Europe gathered for the wedding of Victoria’s grand-daughter to the Grand Duke of Hesse. It was only 20 years before the outbreak of the First World War when even the close family ties of Europe’s royal families could not prevent cousin fighting against cousin.

The Coburg’s ‘marriage policy’ had been spectacularly successful but as the English royal family changed their name to Windsor during the First World War, many of the Coburg connections have been forgotten. We enjoyed re-discovering them on our visit to Coburg and seeing the town through Victoria’s eyes as she visited her beloved Albert’s hometown in Germany.

Read more about our visit to Coburg

Christmas in Coburg – discovering the seaonal magic in Germany

A weekend in Coburg: Castles and Royal Connections

Plan your Visit to Coburg

For more information about what there is to see and do in Coburg, visit the Coburg Tourism website and follow them on their social media channels: Facebook and Twitter. You can also find information to plan your holidays in Germany at the Germany Tourism Website.

From the UK you can reach Coburg via Nuremberg airport (1 hr 15 min drive), Frankfurt (2 hrs 50 mins drive) or Munich (2 hrs 50 mins drive) and we recommend hiring a car, which will enable you to easily visit all the castles and places of interest around Coburg.

We flew from Bristol to Frankfurt with bmi regional who fly up to three times daily between Bristol and Frankfurt. One way fares cost from £93 and as with all bmi flights, include a generous 23kg of hold luggage, a complimentary in-flight drink and breakfast snack, allocated seating and a speedy 30 minute check-in.

Where to stay in Coburg

We stayed at Hotel Villa Victoria in Coburg (so many things are named for Victoria and Albert), which was the perfect place to spend a few days while exploring the town and the castles nearby. The accommodation is in a very pretty turn of the century villa, just outside the old town walls, with convenient parking outside for our hire car (although the spaces quickly filled up). In the villa are 12 rooms and ours was a most delightful suite with adjoining sitting room and view of the city gatehouse.

Villa Victoria in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Villa Victoria in Coburg

The house had been beautifully renovated and we had the use of a guest sitting room on the same floor, with a tea and coffee station on the landing. We especially enjoyed breakfast in the charmingly furnished ground floor room, with pretty floral china and lace tablecloths. Across the road is a more modern residence, and guests staying there can also have breakfast in the villa, but I would check when you book that you can have a room in the older house if possible.

Breakfast at Villa Victoria in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Breakfast at Villa Victoria in Coburg

Despite the name, you should be aware that Hotel Villa Victoria is more of a guest house than a hotel; for instance when we arrived mid afternoon there was no-one manning the reception and we had to call the owner who gave us instructions on how to find our key. When staying here be sure to let the owners know at what time you will be arriving and make arrangements accordingly.

Sitting room at Hotel Villa Victoria in Coburg

Sitting room at Hotel Villa Victoria in Coburg

Thanks to German National Tourist Board who hosted my visit to Coburg and to BMI Regional who covered my flight via Frankfurt.

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This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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A weekend in Coburg, Germany – castles and royal connections

The pretty town of Coburg, like many others in Germany, offers picturesque medieval buildings, a charming town square and cosy cafés to while away a weekend. But Coburg’s palaces and castles tell another tale, of an ambitious noble family that spread its influence by marriage through most of the royal courts of Europe.

A weekend in Coburg

The town is best known as the birthplace of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, who grew up at Schloss Rosenau just outside Coburg. The royal couple visited several times before Albert’s untimely death in 1861 and Queen Victoria always had a great affection for Rosenau, writing; “Were I not what I am, this would be my real home.” Victoria and Albert were first cousins and their uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians, arranged numerous advantageous matches for his nieces and nephews around the royal courts of Europe. Small wonder then, that the town of Coburg has hosted so many royal and other notable visitors over the centuries.

The charming medieval streets of Coburg

When Guy and I visited Coburg in December, we started our town walk at the Martktplatz, the central town square that’s surrounded by pictureque medieval buildings. On one side is the town hall with a statue of the town’s patron, St Maurice standing on the gables. I’ll tell you his story in a moment, but you’ll spot that he’s holding the baton of a Roman marshal, although the people of Coburg say that his stick is to measure the correct size of their famous sausage. On the opposite side of the square is the Stadhaus, built by Duke Johann Casamir in the 1600s as the administrative centre for the Dukes of Coburg. It’s just that bit bigger and grander than the town hall with statues above the gables and prominent oriel windows on the corners – the Duke wanted everyone to know who was in charge around here!

Medieval buildings in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Medieval buildings in Coburg

Spreading out from Martkplatz, are narrow streets with many beautiful old buildings. As we wandered around we noticed the old pharmacy on the square with a symbol of the ostrich, which dates back to the 14th century and is still a pharmacy today. Near our hotel was one of the three gates around the town, that are all that remain of the inner and outer walls that once surrounded Coburg. The town walls were largely demolished in the 18th century when they were no longer required for protection and were falling into disrepair.

Albertsplatz in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Albertsplatz in Coburg

Nearby Albertplatz is a charming open space where we watched some ice carving and street performers as part of the Advent festivities. The houses that originally stood here were demolished to make way for the statue of Prince Albert that Queen Victoria commissioned after his death. The Queen, however, decided that there was no way her beloved Albert was to be sidelined to the second square of Coburg and so the statue was repositioned to the prime spot at the centre of Marktplatz.

Marktplatz in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Marktplatz in Coburg

The Queen unveiled Albert’s statue herself in 1865, one of six visits she made to Coburg, the place that held so many happy memories and family connections for her. While we were visiting, the Christmas market was in full swing, so Prince Albert’s statue was enclosed by a canopy to stand under and drink our Glühwein – would Queen Victoria have approved I wondered?

St Maurice in Coburg

All around the town you might notice a moor’s head on mountains, public buildings and even man-hole covers. He’s St Maurice, patron saint of the city of Coburg as well as many other towns, who was adopted by the rulers of Coburg, to appear on their coats of arms from the Middle Ages. St Maurice was the leader of a Roman Legion and originally from Thebes in Egypt, hence North African rather than the negroid appearance he is normally given.

St Maurice in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

St Maurice in Coburg

As a Christian, he was martyred after refusing to worship Roman Gods while on campaign in what is now Switzerland – the town of St Moriz where he died was also named after him. Around 1100 the German Emperor decided to move St Maurice’s remains to his new cathedral at Magdeburg and the procession passed through Coburg, giving rise to a cult of the saint in the town. His image appears in numerous places and coats of arms to this day, adopted by the Dukes of Coburg who were always on the look-out for something to add to their prestige.

Martin Luther in Coburg

Another notable visitor to Coburg was Martin Luther, the great reformer who spent 6 months in Coburg in the safety of the Veste fortress in 1530. This year will mark the 500th anniversary of the start of the protestant reformation, when Luther nailed his theses to the church door of Wittenberg in 1517. While his patron Elector Johann Friederich and a party of nobles continued to the diet of Ausburg to meet with the Emperor, Luther studied, worked on translations of the Bible and was in constant touch by letter with the events at Ausburg.

Luther rooms in Veste Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Luther rooms in Veste Coburg

Among the many interesting things to see in Veste Coburg are the rooms where Luther is said to have spent his time, with his portrait hanging on the wall. Since Luther had been both outlawed and excommunicated, he was supposed to stay incognito, and referred to the fortress in his letters as ‘the realm of the jackdaws” after the birds that squawked outside his window. An adjoining room was created to commemorate Luther in 1844 by Duke Ernst II of Saxony-Coburg and Gotha, which contains other paintings of Luther and the beautiful Hedwig Tumbler.

Luther and the Hedwig Tumbler at Veste Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Luther and the Hedwig Tumbler at Veste Coburg

This coloured drinking glass from the 12th century was given as a gift to Luther and was said to have originally belonged to Saint Elizabeth of Thuringia and have healing powers. Apparently it was in great demand by pregnant women, since a drink from the tumbler was said to bring the blessings of the saint for a safe birth.

A walk up the hill to Veste Coburg

From the town of Coburg, we enjoyed a lovely walk up the hill through the Hofgarten park to the fortress that overlooks the town. The Veste Coburg overlooks the surrounding countryside, with thick walls, ramparts and towers and was the residence of the Princes of Saxe-Coburg until they moved to the Ehrenburg Palace in the town in the 16th century. We spent a fascinating few hours looking around the different parts of the castle, some medieval, some more modern since this was also the home of Duke Carl Eduard of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha from 1910 who installed the modern comforts of bathrooms and electricity.

Walking up to the Veste Fortress Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walking up to the Veste Fortress

The castle is now a museum containing all the art collections and treasures of the Saxe-Coburg family with everything from Venetian glass, carriages and suits of armour, to a fine collection of medieval religious paintings. You can walk the ramparts and peer down on Coburg and the surrounding countryside just like the soldiers of past centuries – if you don’t want to go in the museum, access to the courtyards and ramparts is free. Within the walls there’s also the Burgschenke Inn, which is perfect for a slice of apple strudel or a hearty Sunday lunch, after your brisk walk up the hill!

The art collections in Veste Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The art collections in Veste Coburg

Ehrenburg Palace

Coburg may be a modest sized town, but it has another large palace in addition to Veste Coburg. Ehrenburg Palace was built from 1543 on the site of an abandoned Franciscan monastery, when Duke Johann Ernst decided that it would be more convenient to live in town than in the fortress up on the hill. The palace was inspired by the fashionable renaissance palazzos of Italy and was rebuilt in baroque style after a fire in the 17th century and further improved by Duke Ernst I, father of Prince Albert.

Ehrenburg Palace in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ehrenburg Palace in Coburg

The lavish state apartments are painted in the fashionably bright colours of the 18th century, filled with portraits of the Coburg Dukes, the ceilings covered with ornate plasterwork and dripping with chandeliers. With relations in most of the royal courts of Europe, the Coburgs needed a place they could entertain in style such as the ornately decorated ‘Hall of Giants’ that hosted a meeting between Queen Victoria and Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph in 1864.

Ehrenburg Palace in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ehrenburg Palace in Coburg

Around Coburg – the castles of Rosenau and Callenberg

Just outside Coburg we visited Schloss Rosenau, the birthplace of Prince Albert and a favourite with Queen Victoria. The castle is set on a hill, surrounded by parkland and despite the colourful interiors, beautiful paintings and Biedermeier furniture, we felt the romance and human scale of Rosenau. It was used as a summer residence by Duke Ernst I, father of Prince Albert and after he married Victoria, she ordered paintings of the castle and interiors to remind the homesick Albert of his birthplace.

Schloss Rosenau near Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Schloss Rosenau near Coburg

The original paintings are in Windsor castle but copies were used more recently to restore the castle to its 19th century appearance, when it was renovated by Ernst I in romantic medieval style. There’s a point on the castle drive known as the Queen’s view, where the Queen would stop her carriage to have one last nostalgic look up at the castle on the hill, before driving back to Coburg.

Also a 15 minute drive from the town is Schloss Callenberg, which is the residence of Prince Andreas, the head of the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The rooms are decorated with beautiful paintings and there’s an unusual shooting museum here as well as rooms dedicated to portraits and memorabilia of Victoria and Albert and their large family.

Schloss Callenburg in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Schloss Callenburg in Coburg

Also worth a visit is the small town of Seßlach, which we visited for the Christmas market held at the beginning of Advent. It’s a pretty small town, full of picturesque half timbered houses, with cafes, inns and craft shops, a great place to stop for lunch and a wander round if you’re visiting Coburg for the weekend or driving through the region.

Sesslach near Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Sesslach near Coburg

Where to eat in Coburg

The people of Coburg are extremely proud of their Coburg Bratwurst, a long, thin, sausage that’s traditionally cooked over a wood fire of pine cones and served in a crisp white roll. It’s made with a mixture of beef and pork, with a smoky flavour from the fire which needs only a squirt of mustard for the authentic Coburg taste. You’ll find a van selling the Coburger on Marktplatz all year round, since the local butchers take turns to have a stall there.

Coburg Sausage in Coburg, Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Coburg Bratwurst in Coburg, Germany

Our favourite place to eat was Restaurant 1627 which provides a light and healthy alternative to some of the ‘meat and dumplings’ dishes that are a foundation of German cuisine. It’s named after the year that the house was built to supply the Ehrenberg Palace just across the road and is part bar, part restaurant. The menu is short with just a few main course, vegetarian and desert options – my pan fried fish with salad and baguette on the side was delicious with a house cocktail.

Dinner at Restaurant 1627 in Coburg, germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Dinner at Restaurant 1627 in Coburg, Germany

If you want something more hearty and traditional, we also tried the roast pork and Coburg dumplings, washed down with local beer, at Brauhaus du Coburg. It serves the equivalent of pub fare and is tucked down a lane just off Marktplatz with a brewery next door where you can admire the copper stills through the window. This is the place to try the Coburg dumpling, which is made of raw and cooked potato and is very soft – like a ball of mashed potato that collapses with a sigh onto your plate.

Dinner at Brauhaus in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Dinner at Brauhaus in Coburg

Of course, when you need a break from the sightseeing, a stop for kaffee und kuchen is a must, to cosy up in winter or watch the world pass by in summer. We liked the style of Queens Café on Albertsplatz with a wide selection of delicious cakes and light dishes – in summer it has plenty of outdoor seating on the square. We also stopped at Feyler, which has a café and impressive selection of cakes and chocolates, including seasonal biscuits like the Coburger Schmätzchen which are sold at Christmas.

Coffee and cake at Queens Cafe in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Coffee and cake at Queens Cafe in Coburg

Delicious Souvenirs to bring home from Coburg

These days I prefer to bring back delicious edible souvenirs from my travels, rather than ornaments that will end up gathering dust on the shelf. We stopped at the Chocolate Coburg shop (Ketschengasse 9), to stock up on my favourite marzipan chocolates and at Feyler (Rosengasse 6-8) for those spicy German biscuits which vary with the season and the locality, since every region has their own variation. In winter you should look out for the Nurenberger Lebkuchen and the Coburger Schmätzchen which come plain or covered in chocolate flecked with gold leaf.

Delicious souvenirs from Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Delicious souvenirs from Coburg

At the Coburger Bratwurst stall in Marktplatz you’ll also find that they sell the cooked sausages in vacuum packs which you can easily pack in your luggage, so that you can savour the smoky flavour at home. We also enjoyed browsing the postcards and stationary at Veste-Verlag Roßteutscher (Steingasse 16) opposite the Ehrenberg palace, where we bought a gorgeous advent calendar with snow sprinkled local scenes.

Read More: Christmas in Coburg – discovering the seaonal magic in Germany

Plan your Visit to Coburg

For more information about what there is to see and do in Coburg, visit the Coburg Tourism website and follow them on their social media channels: Facebook and Twitter. You can also find information to plan your holidays in Germany at the Germany Tourism Website.

From the UK you can reach Coburg via Nuremberg airport (1 hr 15 min drive), Frankfurt (2 hrs 50 mins drive) or Munich (2 hrs 50 mins drive) and we recommend hiring a car, which will enable you to easily visit all the castles and places of interest around Coburg.

We flew from Bristol to Frankfurt with bmi regional who fly up to three times daily between Bristol and Frankfurt. One way fares cost from £93 and as with all bmi flights, include a generous 23kg of hold luggage, a complimentary in-flight drink and breakfast snack, allocated seating and a speedy 30 minute check-in.

Where to stay in Coburg

We stayed at Hotel Villa Victoria in Coburg (so many things are named for Victoria and Albert), which was the perfect place to spend a few days while exploring the town and the castles nearby. The accommodation is in a very pretty turn of the century villa, just outside the old town walls, with convenient parking outside for our hire car (although the spaces quickly filled up). In the villa are 12 rooms and ours was a most delightful suite with adjoining sitting room and view of the city gatehouse.

Villa Victoria in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Villa Victoria in Coburg

The house had been beautifully renovated and we had the use of a guest sitting room on the same floor, with a tea and coffee station on the landing. We especially enjoyed breakfast in the charmingly furnished ground floor room, with pretty floral china and lace tablecloths. Across the road is a more modern residence, and guests staying there can also have breakfast in the villa, but I would check when you book that you can have a room in the older house if possible.

Breakfast at Villa Victoria in Coburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Breakfast at Villa Victoria in Coburg

Despite the name, you should be aware that Hotel Villa Victoria is more of a guest house than a hotel; for instance when we arrived mid afternoon there was no-one manning the reception and we had to call the owner who gave us instructions on how to find our key. When staying here be sure to let the owners know at what time you will be arriving and make arrangements accordingly.

Sitting room at Hotel Villa Victoria in Coburg

Sitting room at Hotel Villa Victoria in Coburg

Thanks to German National Tourist Board who hosted my visit to Coburg and to BMI Regional who covered my flight via Frankfurt.

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A weekend in Coburg, castles and royal connections

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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