Two of my Daytrips travel guides feature this fantastically lovely town not far from Germany's Frankfurt:
A Daytrip from Frankfurt
The heart of the Odenwald is Michelstadt, a town of extraordinary beauty set in the enchanted forest of the Nordic god Odin; where once the Nibelungs hunted and Siegfried was killed by Hagen's spear. Or at least in legend. Today's Odenwald is a vacation paradise for the citizens of nearby Frankfurt. The history of its settlement began in Roman times, when the area had to be defended against Teutonic hordes. Michelstadt was first mentioned in AD 741 and soon became a place of some importance. The splendid medieval structures still gracing its narrow lanes are a reflection of the great prosperity that blessed the town during the Middle Ages.
By getting off to an early start, it is possible to combine this trip with one to Darmstadt. Those with cars could choose to combine it with Miltenberg instead.
Trains depart Frankfurt's main station several times in the morning for the 15-minute ride to Darmstadt, where you change to a local for Michelstadt. There is also a limited direct service, so check the schedules carefully.
By Car, Michelstadt is about 80 km (50 miles) southeast of Frankfurt by taking the A-5 Autobahn to the Bensheim exit, then the B-47 — the famous Nibelungenstrasse — into Michelstadt. Shorter routes are possible but not as attractive.
Michelstadt may be visited at any time in good weather. Some sights are closed on Mondays. The local Tourist Information Office, T: (06061) 979-997, W: michelstadt.de/touristik, is in the train station and also in the Odenwald Museum. Michelstadt has a population of about 17,000.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Drei Hasen (Braunstr. 5, a block southeast of the Marktplatz) An old inn with superb meals and a beer garden. T: (06061) 710-17, W: dreihasen.de. €€ & €€€
Grüner Baum (Grosse Gasse 17, just north of the Marktplatz) Traditional cooking in a 17th-century half-timbered house, outdoor tables available. T: (06061) 24-09. €€
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Leave the train station (1) and follow the map to the *Marktplatz (Market Place). In its center is an ornamental fountain that has been bubbling away since 1575. The *Rathaus (drawing, below)(Town Hall) (2), directly opposite, is one of the most photographed sights in Germany. Built in 1484, its steeply pointed roof and spired oriel windows resting on massive oak supports combine to form a vision that seems to have been lifted right out of the pages of a fairy tale. The scene is further enhanced by colorful half-timbered houses lining the square, and by the tower of the 15th-century church. During the warm months, outdoor café tables allow you to take it all in while enjoying a drink.
Turn right and visit the medieval Diebsturm (Thieves' Tower) (3) before crossing the old dry-moat to the public gardens. Stroll through these and into the Burghof (4), a courtyard whose origins date from Carolingian times. The present buildings are mostly from the 16th century and now house the interesting Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum) and the Odenwald Museum, whose exhibits range from Celtic finds to the sword of the last town executioner. Both museums: T: (06061) 741-39. Open daily 10-5. €.
Now walk over to the Stadtkirche (Town Church) (5), a late-Gothic structure begun in 1461. Step inside to see the beautiful old tombs, then follow the map down Mauerstrasse. Along the way you will pass an intriguing 18th-century synagogue before going through the restored town walls. Turn left in the gardens, re-enter the walls, and return to the market place.
Two fascinating sights lie just outside the town proper. You might want to ask at the tourist office in the train station or Odenwald Museum about their current opening times — although the walk alone is highly worthwhile. To reach them, return to the train station (1) and continue on until you come to a creek. A trail to the right leads past a lovely old watermill to Fürstenau Castle (photo, below)(6). Begun in the 13th century, it grew over the years into a place of immense charm. The magnificent ornamental arch between two of the structures was added in 1588. Although the castle is still a private residence, you can wander around the courtyards and perhaps visit the tiny museum.
A path from the central courtyard takes you over the moat to Einhard's Basilica (7), an ancient stone church of impressive proportions built in the 9th century by Charlemagne's friend and biographer, Einhard. Once in state of ruin, it has now been partially restored and may be visited. Ask at the tourist office for current times of opening. €. From here you can retrace your steps back to the train station.
Text and map Copyright © 2009 by Earl Steinbicker