Where to stay
Hotel Brauhaus zum Löwen A central pub with simple rooms and warm hospitality; opt for an alfresco breakfast on the relaxed terrace. Doubles from £74. Felchtaer Strasse 2-4, 99974 Mühlhausen, 00 49 36 01 47 10, goebel-hotels.com
Hotel Elephant An iconic Weimar property filled with local art and a
Michelin-star restaurant. Doubles from £140. Markt 19, 99423 Weimar,
00 49 36 43 80 20, hotelelephantweimar.com
Klausenhof You can be sure of a good night’s kip at one of Thuringia’s
most authentic taverns, located in the sleepy rural village of Bornhagen.
Doubles from £67. Friedensstrasse 28, 37318 Bornhagen,
00 49 36 08 16 14 22, klausenhof.de
Krämerhaus Suites Stay bang on the famous Krämerbrücke in an
apartment that combines chic design with olde-worlde charm.
Double apartment from £124. Krämerbrücke 15, 99084 Erfurt,
00 49 36 15 11 50 386, kraemerhaus.de
Romantik Hotel Wartburg Enjoy soaring valley views and cosy suites here, along with a spa and excellent local hiking trails. Doubles from £150. Auf der Wartburg 2, 99817 Eisenach, 00 49 36 91 79 70, wartburghotel.de
Thuringia is situated in the centre of Germany. Flights from the UK to Frankfurt take around 1.5 hours; from here, the train to Eisenach takes around 2 hours. Time is one hour ahead of GMT. Currency is the euro. In November, the average high temperature is 10C and average low is 4C.
Lufthansa flies direct to Frankfurt Airport daily from London Heathrow Airport. Prices from £85 return. lufthansa.com
Thuringia Tourist Board provides all the information you need to make the most of your trip via its user-friendly website. visit-thuringia.com
Where to eat
Brauhaus zum Löwen There’s only one thing to order at this simple-yet- cosy hotel restaurant and that is the stupendous metre-long bratwurst. (Mustard is optional, but recommended). From £17. Felchtaer Strasse 2-4, 99974 Mühlhausen, 00 49 36 01 47 10,goebel-hotels.com
Gasthaus zum Weissen Schwan (The White Swan Inn) Tuck in to local fare such as the famous Thüringer klösse (potato dumpling) at Goethe’s former favourite neighbourhood spot. From £35. Frauentorstrasse 23, 99423 Weimar, 00 49 36 43 90 87 51, weisserschwan.de
Klausenhof Regional cooking with panache at this rural tavern – don’t miss out on the house-made charcuterie. From £40. Friedensstrasse 28, 37318 Bornhagen, 00 49 36 08 16 14 22, klausenhof.de Landgrafenstube at Romantik Hotel auf der Wartburg Take your taste buds back in time with the exclusive Luthermenü, a celebration of the dishes Martin Luther might have once enjoyed. From £33. Auf der Wartburg 2, 99817 Eisenach, 00 49 36 91 79 70, wartburghotel.de
Maria Ostzone You really can’t beat Maria Ostzone at Bachstelze for elegant, seasonal dishes made with love – and a relaxed afternoon in the wine garden. From £40. Hamburger Berg 5, 99094 Erfurt, 00 49 36 17 96 83 86, mariaostzone.de
Mundlandung A delicatessen and café that serves the finest breakfast on the Krämerbrücke and mulled wine in winter. Krämerbrücke 28, 99084 Erfurt, 00 49 36 16 44 38 44, mundlandung.de Restaurant Anna Amalia at the Hotel Elephant Michelin-star dining comes courtesy of Marcello Fabbri, who has created two menus showcasing his skills. From £65. Markt 19, 99423 Weimar, 00 49 36 43 80 20, restaurant-anna-amalia.com
Food and Travel Review
Thuringia wears the very best of Germany on its sleeve. In its medieval heyday, this central province was known for trading woad, a plant used to make blue dye that was once worth its weight in gold and brought fortune to local traders. Also home to some of the country’s brightest talent through the ages – Goethe, Nietzsche, Schiller and Bach, among others – there’s more to this calm, forested region than first meets the eye. Pay a visit to Thuringia this year and you're sure to become an accidental pilgrim.
Celebrating 500 years since the Reformation, Thuringia has gone Martin Luther mad, with the man who translated the New Testament from Greek into German riding a refreshed wave of celebrity from his former bolthole, Wartburg Castle. Thuringia’s historical legacy abounds and it's used to playing host to distinguished guests. Anyone interested in period TV will be watching the drama Victoria running on ITV on Sunday nights. Her husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha hailed from Thuringia and the pair holidayed to the province regularly with their family. 'I feel so at home here,' she wrote in her private diary on 2 September 1845.
The capital, Erfurt, is one of Germany’s most intact medieval cities, having escaped the Second World War unscathed. The gorgeous higgledy-piggledy pathways of the medieval quarter sit in contrast with architectural additions from the 19th century, and elegant squares, such as the Domplatz, complete with its daily farmers’ market that sells summer cherries and pickled gherkins, along with all types of cabbages, cream cakes and cured meats. Often known as the ‘green heart of Germany’, Thuringia is blessed with fertile soil: beets, barley, cauliflower, white cabbage, broad beans, onions and cucumbers flourish here, and are the anchors of traditional recipes.
Another staple of Thuringian cuisine and possibly its most successful export is the bratwurst. Fresh off the grill and served with a slick of mustard, these sausages are impossible to resist – but be warned, the bratwurst comes with controversy, and local opinion remains divided over the contentious addition of caraway seeds. Make your own mind up over a beer at the Zum Güldenen Rade, a traditional pub complete with an original medieval marketing tool. Above the entrance is a hole: when this was stuffed with barley, punters knew beer was available. Today a tipple is always on tap and drinkers will be joined by locals keen to chat over a refreshment.
The most romantic spot in town is Krämerbrücke or ‘merchants’
bridge’, one of Europe’s last-remaining fully preserved and inhabited
medieval bridges. Home to creative and independent businesses
– jewellers, antiques traders, galleries – this bridge thrives in all
seasons. Cosy mulled-wine sessions spill out of café and deli
Mundlandung in winter, then in the warmer months it serves
alfresco breakfasts of organic eggs with fried tomatoes and wild
herbs – or for a sweeter option, try the homemade buttermilk
pancakes with blueberries and rosemary cream.
The sweetest spot on the bridge, however, has to be Goldhelm Eiskrämer. With three locations in the town, this ice cream and chocolate shop has become an Erfurt institution, offering more than 50 seasonal varieties of filled chunky chocolate slabs, in flavours such as cassis and balsamic vinegar, and marzipan and pistachio nougat, with ice cream in a similarly inventive vein.
The shop's unusual name, Goldhelm, translates to ‘house of the golden helmet’: one has hung above the door of the premises for centuries. During the middle ages, when most people were illiterate, houses and locations were given symbols instead of words, and many of these names remain today. Names aren’t the only memories of the past that have lingered on the Krämerbrüke. Christian Simoneit, who works in sales support at Goldhelm, lives on the bridge with his partner and has been privy to some rather unusual and interestingly spooky goings-on.
‘One evening in bed I saw a figure approach me,’ he recalls. ‘It felt like the presence of a man: I felt a chill run down my spine and hid under the blanket. When I mentioned what I’d seen to my boyfriend, he said he’d experienced exactly the same thing.’
Erfurt can’t promise friendly ghosts, but it can deliver some of the best food in Thuringia, with chef and TV personality Maria Gross one of the scene’s leading lights. In Maria Ostzone at Bachstelze, just 15 minutes out of the centre, a fairytale setup greets diners: a cute brick house surrounded by rambling lawns and beds of flowers and herbs, including a dedicated German wine garden with an outdoor barbecue station. By her own admission, Maria came to cooking late, training first in Berlin, then with a nine-year stint at Attisholz in the Swiss Riedholz, followed by Heimberg in Zermatt. But despite her Michelin background, Maria has given short shrift to fancy food, preferring a more back-to-basics approach.
‘In my time I’ve been fascinated by the big gods of cooking, such as Thomas Bauer and the three-star scene,’ she admits. ‘But as time goes by you start to develop your own style. Where I used to cook with hundreds of ingredients, now I use only a few.’
An example of her less-is-more philosophy is delivered in an exquisite dish consisting of local pork chop with pearl barley, peach and seasonal veg, served with mustard sauce. Maria uses as much of what is seasonal and fresh as possible, with meat the ‘star of the show’. A family affair, Maria and her husband, maître’d Matthias, recently moved into the house above the restaurant, so not only is this a business, it’s their home. And that’s exactly how it feels: a much-loved if slightly ramshackle collection of their favourite things, with a zero-tolerance policy for pretence or trends. ‘I cook without games,’ Maria states, ‘nothing too schickimicki [snobbish].’ Maria Gross is a woman who communicates as she cooks – simply, but with passion.
Unusually for a TV chef, she has yet to release any cookbooks. 'Male egos suit cookbooks,' she says. Having been schooled in a hyper-male-dominated environment, what are Maria's tips for surviving in restaurant kitchens as a woman? ‘The most important thing to learn is to be vocal and to observe how men use their body language – never be intimidated.’ It’s easy to see why Maria Ostzone – a slice of boho paradise with real character at its helm – has become a destination restaurant. The garden is a euphemism for the establishment – ‘I do it in my own hippie style, where plants are free to grow next to flowers and herbs, there’s less control’ – and what Maria has built follows this philosophy. In the kitchen, however, she always has the last word. Why? Because Maria is the only chef. Extraordinarily, she works without a
team. ‘That’s why I have my own restaurant. So I can be alone.’ The set menu includes three courses, beginning with homemade bread accompanied by three types of butter (curry, tomato, natural) in summer and goose fat in winter. Starters are usually vegetarian, sometimes a soup served in a teapot and mugs, mains are meat or fish with seasonal side orders, and ice cream is made in a Thermomix, ‘à la minute’. Other desserts hark back to Maria's childhood and the pastries her grandmother would make, cooked in the dining room so guests can enjoy their nostalgic aromas.
In neighbouring Weimar, there's one chef who won’t deviate from the Michelin-star formula. Marcello Fabbri is head chef at Restaurant Anna Amalia at Hotel Elephant, which has held a star since 2003. The hotel, which opened in 1696, was torn down in the 1930s and rebuilt under Hitler’s instruction. Its guests have included Helen Mirren, Angela Merkel and Sting. Most visitors who come to Weimar drink in its musical and cultural heritage, although a growing number are also coming for the food, with Restaurant Anna Amalia a must- visit. A ‘love refugee’ from Rimini, Italy, Marcello met his wife in Weimar and never left. Twenty-four years later, he remains at the Restaurant Anna Amalia helm, rustling up unapologetically classic, seasonally driven tasting menus. You can take the man out of Italy, but in this case you can’t take the Italian out of the man: two types of pasta are always on offer as well as foie gras, another Fabbri favourite. As an adopted German, he mixes both cultures in his cooking – and in the kitchen. Shouting, he admits, is the norm: ‘usually in German. When I shout in Italian, the guys know it’s dangerous.’
From haute cuisine to humble pie, you’ll find it in Weimar. At the White Swan Inn, a 500-year-old pub once frequented by Goethe, Thüringer klösse is king. ‘A Sunday without dumplings is no Sunday at all,’ as they say, and here the dumpling comes with red cabbage and a roulade of beef stuffed with leeks, cucumber and bacon, lashed in rich gravy. A classic winter warmer, there’s nothing better than this dish after a hike, washed down with a dark brew.
In this forested province, rustic, earthy meals impress most, and perhaps the most authentic place to experience these is Klausenhof, a tavern and smallholding in Bornhagen. At the foot of the Hanstein Castle ruins, Klausenhof is a paean to German folk tradition, fashioned in naïve, heavy carved woods, candlelit even in summer. The tavern is stuffed with trophies – animal heads and hides – as well as olde-worlde items such as 18th-century rifles. The tavern hides a 12m-deep well and a secret passage that once led to the castle, complete with resident skeleton. The banqueting rooms are always booked for weddings, with couples staging a medieval moment on the boarskin thrones. Run by Klaus Röhrig and his family since 1992, Klausenhof is on the faultline of the wall; during the GDR modern additions to the property were made, but thankfully the old atmosphere remains.
Klaus is a mad-keen hunter, shooting local game – wild boar, deer – that is then hung for approximately five days, depending on the season. Wander around the space and you’ll see the beasts in the throes of rigor mortis, hanging behind glass like some kind of edible Damien Hirst art installation. These ghoulish creatures are then roasted, pan-fried, cooked sous-vide, or turned into ragout by the talented kitchen staff – nothing is wasted.
Two pigs at a time are reared and slaughtered on site for personal consumption, usually with another 15 butchered at a local abattoir, but sent ‘home’ still warm. ‘This is very important,’ says chef Martin Röhrig, as he shows us around. ‘It’s a key difference to our sausages – the seasoning mixes best when the meat is still warm, and this is when the natural fermentation process starts to occur.’
What this family does to pork is phenomenal, and best appreciated with the sausage platter, which showcases one raw pâté, two salamis, a pig’s head ‘cheese’ and black pudding.
The Röhrigs, who are Catholic, use Lent as a time to reflect on and pay respect to their meat consumption, going fully veggie for the duration. Klausenhof also serves excellent plant-based food, including an out-of-this-world vegetable consommé with ravioli.
The property is blessed with its own herb garden, an organised chaos where absolutely everything has a use. ‘We produce a herbal lemonade with the essences of the garden, and we use wild roses for colouring food naturally,’ says Martin.
Martin trained as a chef at Michelin-starred Clara in Erfurt, then spent time working in Melbourne kitchens. ‘I tried to bring back another layer of style and taste from my travels,’ he says, ‘to add another dimension to the business.’ And he's succeeded.
A sophisticated and sensitive touch is evident in a range of gutsy favourites, such as plates of deer, savoy, and shallots, and game soup with blackberry foam. Young kid goat with cep and beans is another storming dish, and in the summer it’s all about the yoghurt soup with dill, a sort of Thuringian gazpacho.
Klausenhof has been on the map since tourism first developed in the 18th century. ‘But we don’t cook for tourists,’ asserts Martin. ‘We cook for locals.’ Though, of course, visitors lap it up too.
In Thuringia, it’s this very sentiment and expression of cuisine that will truly nourish visitors to the region, where the ghosts of a cultural past are busy ushering in a new edible future.
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