I planned a six-day tour of Southern Germany fueled by a deep desire to set eyes on two castles that I fell in love with 22 years ago when I was a teenager. Heidelberg Palace was one of them. Back then, Heidelberg was just a stop, the last after Limburg and Ludwigsburg en route to Aschaffenburg, where I was to spend a couple of days with family friends. My sole companion was my aunt’s sister-in-law Doris. The sun had set when we arrived; this was in January so it must have been around 5 pm. I don’t remember climbing all the way up to the castle, which was built on a hillside, eighty meters above the town. Logic tells me that we didn’t, because we still had an hour of driving to do, and we arrived in Aschaffenburg in time for a home-cooked dinner — spaghetti bolognese, somehow I remember that! But I most certainly came close enough to the ruins to be struck by its grandeur, even in the dimness of twilight. Those were the days of the automatic film camera, so even if I had asked Doris to take some snapshots of me against the backdrop of the castle, the photographs would not have done justice to what my eyes had witnessed. I consoled myself with a couple of panoramic postcards, which only strengthened my resolve to return one day to see it in broad daylight.
It was a Tuesday when my children, my aunt and I set off for Heidelberg from Geldern at around 9 am, stopping only once for lunch and a bit of sightseeing in Koblenz. We arrived in Heidelberg at a little after 3 pm. When we checked into Hotel Bayrischer Hof, we were told that the Deluxe Apartment that we had booked was located in a different building on a different street, Fahrtgasse, and we were given a map and printed directions to get to it. I was a little dismayed by this revelation because the hotel’s location, close to the old town, was precisely why I had booked a stay there. Furthermore, although it was only supposed to be a four-minute drive to the new address, it became ten minutes because my aunt missed a turn, adding to my misgivings.
Once we opened the door to our new digs, though, all our worries melted away. The apartment was spacious and comfortable. Besides the bedroom, bathroom and living room (converted into a second bedroom), we had a washer, a fully equipped kitchen and a private balcony. The best part was that the apartment was actually closer to where we wanted to be, on the Haupstrasse, the main shopping street that runs the length of the old town. In short, we lucked out!
We spent our first evening in Heidelberg soaking in the festive atmosphere around the Christmas markets that we found on Bismarckplatz and Anatomiegarten.
The next day was the day we went to see the castle. After a light breakfast, we strolled eastward on the Haupstrasse, also known as the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe. The path to the castle was supposed to be found at the end of it. We were impressed by the beautiful historic buildings, seduced by stores that advertised attractive sales and driven to distraction by delectable smells from the Christmas markets we passed along the way, on Universitätsplatz, Marktplatz, Kornmarkt and Karlsplatz. If you plot all the markets on Google Maps, you can see how one leads to the next, all on the same street:
Here are some sights that caught my attention on the Haupstrasse:
From Kornmarkt, the castle looked such a short distance away. It turned out that we had to walk up a steep and winding path, and though it took us only fifteen minutes to get to the top (based on time intervals between photos taken on my iPhone), it felt longer. It was certainly more exercise than I had done in months. I was glad that my children didn’t protest and kept going like a trooper. The views at the top were priceless.
We bought tickets to enter the castle grounds (€7 per adult, €4 per child). Up close, the ruined parts of the castle only added to its tragic beauty and romance.
There is a museum inside the castle, the German Pharmacy Museum (Deutsches Apotheken-Museum) which we had a look around in. It’s mildly interesting at worst and entrance to it comes with the price of your ticket so you have nothing to lose if you check it out. There is also the Barrel Building, built between 1589 and 1592, to house the Great Barrel (Großes Fass), which held the Tithe Wine from the Palatinate. It is arguably the world’s largest wine barrel.
We descended back to the old town taking the 315-step staircase that ended in a long steep slope, and I had to warn the children many times not to run, imagining ruined faces and broken teeth from unfortunate downhill tumbles. We were treated to a view of the river and the town from a different angle.
Now that I had accomplished my mission, the rest of the day was ours to while away at leisure. We had a late lunch at a good Arabian restaurant called Mahmoud’s, near the Jesuit Church, then stopped at every Christmas market to check out what each had to offer on the way back to our apartment.
We retired early, because we were spent and we had to check out by 10.30 am the next day and drive to Fussen in Bavaria, a four-hour journey. Two days was all it took for Heidelberg to have my heart. I want to come back again soon.