Why you need to get to the adorable German town of Heidelberg!

Blend into the old square of Heidelberg…

You’ve started on a high note. Peak high. A ride on one of the most scenic train journeys in Europe stretching from Cologne to Heidelberg. Your mind is resonating with the sensory explosion, courtesy the Rhine river valley panorama. Little towns with tiny German houses, pointy old churches and broken medieval stone fortresses from Roman times. Hills rich with lush foliage, rolling vineyards, landscaped terraces and curvy roads kissing the gushing river that sparkles with the rays of sun. And you’re contemplating a strange paradox. In the birthplace of cuckoo clocks where keeping time is everything, how does time manage to stand so still? As if the journey wasn’t magical enough, you land in one of Deutschland’s most adorable towns…Heidelberg. Three million tourists a year. But why should statistics give anyone nightmares?



First, find a hideout

Someplace quiet, someplace nice, someplace pretty, don’t think twice. Check into Hotel Villa Marstall….its a a small boutique hotel with 18 rooms and minimal staff. Views of the Neckar river adorned with its quaint old wooden arched bridge from some windows. Few minutes walk from the old town. And breakfast in stone cellars. Jackpot! Lights out at the front desk when the clock strikes 8 pm. No reason to panic…its not a dorm. The main entrance locks up early, but you can let yourself in with the room swipe card. How’s that for a touch of home?

Head for Marktplatz

Barely five minutes of walk and you’re setting foot on the cobblestones of Marketplatz, the pulse of Heidelberg’s historical city center, Altstadt. The display boards tell all…the square layout, its landmarks and their historical significance. This has been the town’s hub since Middle Ages, not just for markets, but for all public proceedings…good, bad, and ugly, including beheadings, tortures and witch burnings. But that was then. Gory has now given way to glory, but the ancient tradition of people gathering continues. Before you even realise it, you’ve blended in seamlessly. As if you were always part of its throbbing canvas of life. Feel it.



Savour sweetness

Pretty old buildings in soft lemon, cream, peach and teal colours line the square on three sides. The tall and narrow facades with gabled roofs are evenly and tightly packed together, their windows cheerfully brightened with colourful petunias and geraniums. At floor level, an array of cafes or shops sell local produce, candles, clothing, beer mugs and decorations. Stroll in and out of the inviting doorways, walking into an odd art gallery or a music shop. Pick up something local…like a dozen assorted schneeballen (they last up to a few weeks)…large tennis-ball shaped pastry, deep-fried and dusted with powdered sugar, chocolate, cinnamon, nuts, caramel and even champagne. (Know more about the schneeballen) Does the store owner stay in the quaint house above…and had it been his family home since centuries, you muse while he packs your purchase into a crunchy white paper bag. It feels inconveniently sized and hard…how on earth do you bite into one of these? Only one way to find out!



Trace eternity

Stop at one of the most photographed buildings in the square and step back in time. The iconic Ritter Hotel is the only original 17th century house that exists in the town today. It had even served as a temporary town hall when the Town Hall was destroyed in 1693. Talk about survival! While taking several pictures of the brown sandstone facade, renaissance-era columns and the carved figures, notice the inscription on the front “Persta invicta, Venus” (Remain Forever Unconquered, Beauty). Indeed, the elegant building constructed by a French cloth dealer had retained its charm over centuries.

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Shop at the Church

The limelight of the square? Clearly the odd-shaped, 600-year old Gothic-styled Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit). You need to take a circle around its almost 60 meters long and 20 meters wide perimeter to familiarise yourself with the unique structure of this red sandstone building. That baroque roof was added later to replace the one that burned down…can you believe it? Soak in the salmon coloured interior, tall columns, high ceilings, and pretty patterned windows. Wonder about the wall that once split the space into two halves – Catholic and Protestant. Unusual is the word for it. The 15th-century tomb of the church’s founder, King Ruprecht I, and his wife, Elizabeth, their carved likenesses still distinct, are preserved inside. But the strangest element is the circle of tented stalls outside the church walls, sandwiched cosily between its buttresses, selling everything but religious souvenirs! Indulge yourself…go shopping at the Church. 





Debate life sentences

At the left end of the Marketplatz, near the 18th century baroque style Town Hall (Rathaus) with its bell tower, balconies, dormer windows, arched entryways and a colourful coat of arms, is another interesting structure. The large Hercules fountain statue is a favorite resting place for people to catch their breath. Now chew on this. In medieval times, criminals were chained here and left to take their last breaths! How ironical is that?




Munch on lunch

Despite the astounding buzz of activity, there’s something utterly enjoyable about Heidelberg’s Marktplatz. Intelligently designed layout, maybe? Because you never have a full view of the whole square from any angle. Lunch on your mind? Grab the last free outdoor table at a busy corner bistro before hunger pangs get the better of you. German meals can wait for later. Large helpings of hearty tomato soup, garnished with big dollops of cream? Thinnest, crunchiest pizza served on a rustic wood plate? Sure! Sounds of the organ waft from the Church, chimes sound from the Town Hall bell tower and a street musician strums Bach on his violin. Music is all around and you heart is singing. If your instinct tells you that Heidelberg will go down your memory lane as one of the loveliest places you have visited, believe it. Fuel up and get ready to conquer the map. You’ve barely scratched the surface. The whole town is waiting to be discovered. Including the Heidelberg castle on the hill with views to kill for.



To be continued…


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More picturesque areas in Salzburg you need to see!

Walking treasures of Salzburg, Austria…

The historic town of Salzburg, Austria, bore the brunt of a massive plague epidemic and two world wars. Nearly half of its magnificent buildings were destroyed, but miraculously, much of the famous Baroque architecture remained unscathed. The town of today, as we see it, is its second avatar….almost rebuilt from scratch. More picturesque areas in Salzburg you need to see include the Dom Quartier and the Hohensalzburg fortress. (Read the first part of this story here). 

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This is one of the oldest towns on the Adriatic

Retreat to Budva in Montenegro…

Your brain is still woozy from absorbing the red-gold autumn flamboyance of the Lovcen National Park and the raw wilderness of the rocky Dinara Alps, as you drive down towards Budva. Thank the rocky limestone mountain screen that paints Montenegro’s highway. Its a breather from the final spectacle that awaits. Ready or not, here it comes. Right after the final bend.

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Why you need to stop at these seven sweetest spots in Dubrovnik

Insta-worthy Dubrovnik beyond the wall walk

Entering the walled city of Dubrovnik through the impressive 13th century Pile Gate, four doors, two walkway bridges and a wooden drawbridge, remind yourself that Napoleon’s French army once stomped through this path with destructive, harmful intent. Shivers up your spine?

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Why is Split the most enticing Mediterranean destination?

You can live in a Roman Emperor’s palace…

Work-life balance is not a new concept. Even rulers yearned for ‘me-time’. For proof, look no further than Croatia. 1700 years ago Roman emperor Diocletian pre-planned his retirement and invested 10 years in creating a humungous 7-acre villa in Split (the Latin word spalatum means palace). Prime real estate by all standards…warm glow of the Mediterranean sun, Adriatic waves lapping at the backdoor, open terraces and ornate balconies to take in the fresh sea air. It is said that there used to be a three-week quarantine for anyone who entered Split…there was no place for disease or infection in this idyllic abode. Respect!

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Do you know why Antwerp is timeless like its diamonds?

Sparkling like a diamond, forever…

Two hours by bus from Brussels will land you in Antwerp, Europe’s second largest port. Fascinating records of legacy. 12th-century centre for tapestry wool import-export. Napoleon’s favoured base for easy access to attack England. Commercial capital of the world with a humungous population of 100,000. And home to the world’s first stock market. Beat those!

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This is the most underrated capital city in Europe

Croatia’s capital, Zagreb deserves more limelight…

Elegant stone-tiled mansions and newer apartments stand shoulder-to-shoulder in harmony along broad tree-lined avenues and inviting green spaces. Its understated elegance, relaxed pace and easy cafe culture grows on you unobtrusively. This is a lovely city recreating itself, carving out a new identity, while preserving the richness of its past. Zagreb may be underrated, but you will regret skipping it. Here are my firm recommendations on the two atmospheric neighbourhoods to concentrate your energies on, while visiting Croatia’s capital.

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