Germany Holidays: Quality time in Esslingen
Small town delights in south Germany: Esslingen is a medieval masterpiece with a taste for the good life.
Most British visitors stumble upon Esslingen by chance. Shame, because this medieval gem of a town a mere 15 minutes from Stuttgart definitely deserves more dedicated attention. Time spent in Esslingen is quality time, for a number of reasons.It is one of the few places in Germany that survived World War II unharmed and hence kept its stunning medieval and Renaissance architecture intact. The town’s history goes back 1,200 years and walking over small cobble-stoned lanes and past half-timbered houses makes you feel like an actor on some kind of elaborately-set stage. Peaceful, quiet, no need to rush.
Some impressive buildings demonstrate that the quality ‘Made in Germany’ label is not a construct of industrial times only, such as the Old Town Hall, with its elaborate Renaissance facade that can be read like a book if you’re knowledgeable enough about this period. (Alternatively, just get a guide, they’ll explain it all for you). Or Kielmeyer House on the Market Square where the Tourist Office is located and the Hafenmarkt square with the oldest row of half-timbered houses in Germany.
Slow down and enjoy being part of an elaborately-set stage
It is perfect for strolling in the pedestrianised area of the historical town centre, browsing through some of the small, independent shops, and having a bite of traditional Swabian food. Entschleunigen, literally ‘to take the speed out’ is something that comes naturally here. A facility like the Merkel’sches Bad helps as well, an art nouveau swimming-pool that was built by a rich benefactor for the public at the beginning of the 20th century. Apart from a mineral-thermal pool fed by a local spring, there are spa facilities and saunas, the latter many a German’s ultimate idea for spending some quality time. Sans clothes, of course.
Apart from being a real feast for the eye, the town also offers delights for other senses: surrounded by vineyards, Esslingen has a long-standing history of wine making and is home to Germany’s oldest Sekt (sparkling wine) manufacturer, the Sektmanufaktur Kessler. One very entrepreneurial Swabian, Georg Christian Kessler, set it up in 1826, after having learned the tricks of his trade in France at Veuve Clicquot’s champagne cellars in Reims. His ambition was not to duplicate the French but create a German bubbly, which he did very successfully. The Sektmanufaktur is in an atmospheric building, dating back to the 12th century, and a tour through the rambling cellars including a tasting should not be missed. Kessler Sekt is quality stuff.
And then there’s the town’s Christmas Market, one which always comes top in lists of Germany’s favourite Christmas Markets. It has a medieval theme – what else – and the historic buildings around the Town Hall Square provide nothing if not a perfect backdrop for the lively scene of stalls, musical performances, traditional arts and lots of food and drink. Sounds like quality time!
More information on Esslingen: www.tourist.esslingen.de
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