Cruising in Franconia, Germany: A stop at the captivating town of Wurzburg

The thing to do in Wurzburg is buy a drink on the old stone bridge, look out over the Main River and watch the boats go by. The drink in this region of Franconia is silvaner, a grape first planted more than 350 years ago.

I yearn to join the locals sipping a glass of the chilled white outside the Alte Mainmuhle restaurant with its tables set with flowerpots. I watch cyclists pull up and order a 250ml glass, or schoppen. But it's not quite noon and, although according to nautical tradition the sun is actually over the yardarm, my river ship is moored a kilometre upstream and I don't want to miss it.

Wurzburg may not be the prettiest town in Franconia, a historic region that lies almost solely within the state of Bavaria and clings to its old customs and language, but I find it captivating. The cuteness prize goes to Rothenburg, which we visit in the afternoon.

In Wurzburg, from the left-hand side of the Old Main Bridge, or Alte Mainbrucke, there's a magnificent view of the city's castle, Fortress Marienberg. Built around the 11th century and surrounded by grapevines, it was the home of powerful prince-bishops for 500 years. We hear quite a bit about these civil and religious leaders as we cruise the Main and Rhine rivers aboard Travelmarvel Sapphire. They had huge wealth, weren't at all liked by their subjects and as our Wurzburg guide quips, were the original "double income no kids" types.

Not content with a castle, prince-bishop Johann Philipp Franz von Schonborn felt the need for a townhouse and ordered the construction of the Wurzburg Residenz, a three-wing, 300-room, baroque palace, whose shell took 44 years to build and sumptuous interiors another three decades.

It's at this UNESCO world heritage site that we start our walking tour with a stroll through the expansive gardens that are still planted with the colour scheme chosen in the 18th century. We cross tramlines and head into town, stopping to view three of Wurzburg's 52 churches, including the Romanesque style cathedral.

I'm astonished to hear that 90 per cent of the old town was destroyed during a fierce 20-minute bombing raid on March 16, 1945. I'm equally amazed that all historically-important buildings were rebuilt stone-by-stone within two decades, mostly by the "rubble women" as the female workers became known. All the young and able-bodied men had been killed or were prisoners of war. It's a sober fact but inspiring to hear of such determination that ensured the bridge, palace and fortress were not left in ruins.

I walk across the bridge with its eight arches and 12 grand statues of saints and nobles. They include St Kilian – an Irish missionary bishop who brought Christianity to Franconia and who is the city's patron, Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor, and his father, who was also a king, but known rather unromantically as Pepin the Short.

Later, on the coach trip from Rothenburg, the mood is light. Our guide Florian jokes that fellow Franconians enjoy an ongoing rivalry with Bavarians; the former think the latter know nothing about wine. He asks if we'd like a local wine or prefer a Bavarian beer. Obviously there are no rules prohibiting bus imbibing! I opt for a silvaner and can report it was well worth the wait.

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CRUISE

Travelmarvel's 15-day European Gems itinerary calls at a dozen stops including Wurzburg, from April to November. Fares for 2020 from $5495 a person, twin share including airfares. See travelmarvel.com.au

FLY

Emirates flies to Amsterdam and Budapest to join the European Gems cruise. See emirates.com

Caroline Gladstone cruised as a guest of Travelmarvel.

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