Germany’s Prettiest Town: Miltenberg on Main

It’s been a few years since I last visited the villages along the River Main in Germany but it was once a favourite driving holiday, especially in early spring when the flowers were in bloom and the street stalls were full of jewel coloured blooms, wrapped in flimsy coloured paper, just asking to be taken home.  Of all the lovely medieval villages along the route one of my favourites was Miltenberg, a town with a wide main street lined with half-timbered houses and small medieval alleys.   

Main Street, Tables Ready for Lunch

The beautiful houses that line its main street span the 15th – 17th centuries and the oldest dates back to 1339: what is so unusual is that all of these half-timbered dwellings are lived in.   In consequence, there is no feeling that this is a tourist site, a place where we come to gawp and take photographs.  Instead, we wander and look, dive into interesting looking shops, and stop off at cosy taverns serving local cuisine along with the wine of the area – and, of course, beer. 

The town has a few interesting sculptures dotted around the streets most of them honouring local artisans. I was also impressed by the quality of the goods for sale in the shops, at a quality-high price I may add. Even the mannikins that modelled the clothes looked beautiful as you can see from the picture below.

Viniculture and the wine trade, wood from the surrounding forests and stone, and the fact that the town was well-placed on the river for transportintg goods, was favourable to this location at the trading artery of Nuremberg and Frankfurt and the town grew rich.

One can see Miltenberg’s importance from the magnificent half-timbered houses, especially those in the Old Market Place (the Schnatterloch) and Germany’s oldest Inn, the Gasthaus zum Riesen, dating from 1590.  It claims to be Germany’s oldest Inn and an historical document tells us that a local owner at the time was granted the right to fell a hundred oak trees for its construction.   It is known for serving some of the best food in town and is especially noted for its roast salmon.

Germany’s Oldest Inn, Gasthaus ZumReisen, dating from 1590

From the Market Square to Mildenburg Castle, which was constructed in 1200 under the aegis of the Archbishop of Mainz, is an easy walk.  The castle doesn’t really comare to other castles in Germany being a relatively small fortress, but it is worth the walk if only for the wonderful views of the old city.

A small town but a supremely beautiful one, and a recommended stop on the way to or from Nuremberg or Frankfurt.

Chichester – Cathedral City

South Street, Chichester

To Chichester last week to see I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, the stage performance of the popular Radio 4 satirical quiz starring Jack Dee, Rory Bremner, Miles Jupp, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Tony Hawks.  A superb – and  hilarious – evening in a packed Chichester Festival Theatre where the audience laughed their way through two and a half hours of clever, satirical humour.  

But this post isn’t about the performance, brilliant though it was, it’s about Chichester, a hidden gem of a City, located less than two hours from London and within easy distance of Brighton, Southampton, Portsmouth and the S.E. coast.

Chichester Cathedral (Photo Steve Moore)

We stayed overnight, Chichester being well supplied with hotels and guest houses, the only drawback being the weather which wasn’t kind to us.  Rain and wind are not conducive to walking slowly through cobbled streets steeped in history, along canal banks, through green parks and along the City Walls, not to mention walking to and from the Theatre.

For that reason the outdoor photographs here were all taken last year.  I go there at least once a month to the The Festival Theatre and its sister theatre, The Minerva both of which offer first-class productions of drama, musicals, and newly written plays, most of which transfer to the West End after their run in Chichester.  There are also two good restaurants on the site (booking essential).

The city’s Roman influence is reflected in the main street pattern, and it is not difficult to spot historic buildings that line the streets and the little alleys that lead off them. One of the city’s most iconic features is The Market Cross, believed to have been built in 1501 by Bishop Edward Story, who paid £10 to the Mayor of Chichester for the ground on which it is built. The Bishop allowed peasants to trade under the Market Cross without paying a toll, and it’s still a gathering point for the community today and for sellers of fruits in summer and umbrellas and plastic ponchos last week!

You will see the Roman name Noviomagus Reginorum in various places in the city and to find out what that means, the best thing is to take a walk along the City Walls,  the most intact circuit of Roman town defences in Southern England.   You can start the 1.5 mile walk anywhere along the wall and stop to admire the impressive views over the rooftops at any point.

If the weather is not conducive to walking the walls, then head to the free Novium Museum, built over the remains of a vast Roman bath house which can be seen from the ground floor, for an in-depth insight into the history of the City and wider district.

Another indoor attraction is the Pallant House Gallery (rated second only to the Tate for modern British art by the Guardian) which explores new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now.  It is housed in what is considered to be one of the most important 18th century townhouses in England and one of very few Queen Anne houses open to the public. 

The Cathedral is one of the most impressive in S.E. England and has a wealth of art inside that makes a visit there worth more than a visit to many other grander buildings. See linked post.

Interior of Chichester Cathedral

Chichester: Art in the Cathedral

I am not a frequent visitor to churches and cathedrals but I make an exception for the 7thCentury Chichester Cathedral because it contains art that speaks to me.  The Cathedral is a classic Norman building with round arch windows and west facing twin towers and is the only English Cathedral with a surviving detached medieval Bell Tower dating back to 681 when Saint Wilfred brought Christianity to Sussex.

Medieval Bell Tower, Chichester Cathedral

It was raining heavily on the day after the theatre performance so we spent most of the time before lunch and our departure, in the Cathedral.  I wanted to re-visit the Arundel Tomb, subject of a poem by one of my favourite poets, Philip Larkin.  I have been re-reading Larkin recently and that particular poem has being going round and round in my head and I knew I could only dislodge it by visiting the tomb.

The Arundel Tomb

The Arundel Tomb was brought from Lewes Priory sometime after its dissolution in 1537. It is a chest on top of which lies the figures of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, and his second wife, Eleanor of Lancaster. The tomb was restored at the beginning of the 19th century bt Edward Richardson, a well-known sculptor of the day.

I know the poem off by heart and I was able to sit there for a long time and listen to the music of the words in my head and ‘see’ what Larkin saw when he wrote the poem.  Without his words, I would have walked by this tomb and missed what he saw “what will survive of us is love”.  If copyright allowed, I would have liked to add the poem here, but it wasn’t possible.

I also wanted another chance to see the Chagall stained-glass window and the Gustav Holst plaque.  The Chagall window, installed in 1978, is unusual in that the glass is predominantly red when Chagall usually worked in blue.  It is absolutely gorgeous and I could have stayed longer just drinking in the beauty of the luminous jewel cololurs.

Stained Glass Window by Chagall – Photo by David Spender CC.

Gustav Holst, one of the greatest figures in British 20th century music, had a special connection to Chichester Cathedral and on his death aged 59, on 25th May 1934, his ashes were interred in the Cathedral.  The composer of The Planets Suite, was a friend of Chichester’s Bishop Bell and worked with him on the Whitsuntide Festivals.  Under the plaque on the floor in the North Transept , his ashes were buried near to a memorial to his favourite Tudor composer, Thomas Weelkes. 

Plaque in Memorium Gustav Holst

I shall no doubt visit again on my next trip to Chichester because there is more art to be seen in the cathedral.  There is a John Piper tapestry on the High Altar, a vividly coloured work which I have yet to take to: there is a Graham Sutherland painting and there are various sculptures worth searching out.   

But Chichester has lots of other attractions to tempt one.  Here are just a few.

The Festival Theatre along with its sister theatre, The Minerva, has a continuos programme of first-class productions, most of which transfer to the West End after their run in Chichester.  There are also two really good restaurants on the site (booking essential).

The free Novium Museum gives an in-depth insight into the history of the City and wider district and it is built over the remains of a vast Roman bath house, which can be seen from the ground floor.

The internationally recognised Pallant House Gallery (rated second only to the Tate for modern British art by the Guardian) explores new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now.  It is housed in what is considered to be one of the most important 18th century townhouses in England, one of very few Queen Anne houses open to the public. 

The 200-year-old Chichester Canal is another of Chichester’s hidden gems. This secret waterway was once part of the former Portsmouth and Arundel Canal (opening in 1823) with carrying regular cargoes of  gold bullion from Portsmouth to the Bank of England – with armed guards on the barges! 

There are free drop-in guided tours of the Cathedral at 11.15am and 2.30pm Monday to Saturday, which last approximately 45 minutes.