The Maltese Connection

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Malta’s traditional Luzzu fishing boats.

The Mediterranean island of Malta, sitting between Italy and North Africa, is a melting pot of different cultures and influences. Abbe Bates visits to discover what to include on a group trip.

alta is the largest of the Maltese islands, which also include Gozo and Comino. Its strategic position in the Mediterranean means it has had numerous invaders over the centuries, giving it a rich and vibrant history that could fill a visit on its own. When looking at accommodation, it is advisable to use four or five-star hotels for your group, as the standard below that can be patchy. You can get some good value deals and there are a choice of locations, from the resort towns of St Julien’s, Sliema and St Paul’s Bay to the historic capital Valletta. The climate is pleasant all year round, with temperatures dipping to not much below the teens Celsius, even in winter.

The two main languages on the island are English and Maltese, and the Maltese language reflects the different influences on the island, largely Semitic in origin but using the Latin alphabet, with a smattering of French words picked up during Napoleon’s reign and English from its time under British rule.

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An aerial view of the Grand Harbour in Valletta.

Valletta and the Knights of St John

Malta’s capital Valletta is a ‘must-see’ whilst on the island and it is certainly worth booking a guide for a walking tour or to join your coach. With its grid-like layout and limestone buildings, it was built in 1566 by the Knights of St John, who play an important part in Malta’s story and still exist today, with modern connections to organisations such as St John’s Ambulance in the UK.    

This Catholic order of hospitallers arrived on the island in 1530 and fought off an invasion by the Ottomans known as the ‘Great Siege’ in 1565 before founding Valletta to help fortify the island, naming it after their leader, Grand Master La Valette.

There are numerous places to visit on Malta connected to the Knights of St John. St John’s Co-Cathedral, in particular, includes two famous paintings by Caravaggio in its Oratory, as well as a beautiful interior and many of the tombs of the Knights. You can also visit the Grand Master’s Palace, with its Armoury of around 6,000 pieces and impressive State Rooms featuring Gobelin tapestries. Those looking for a religious theme to a tour are, in fact, very well catered for, with over 350 churches across the islands.

For a very good overview of Malta and its history, Malta 5D is a multi-media audio visual show in Valletta that takes about 15 minutes and provides a good starting point to a visit to the islands.

An insight into the nobility of Malta is given at the well-presented Casa Rocca Piccola, a 16th-century palace still lived in by the family

, who will personally escort groups around the site, and also provide Champagne evening tours. Be sure to meet the resident macaw and terrapin in the courtyard!

Picturesque and wide-ranging views can be taken in from the Baracca Gardens over the Grand Harbour and you will find the Saluting Battery here, where daily gun firings are made at 12pm and 4pm.

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The Grand Master’s Palace.

Valletta is European Capital of Culture in 2018, and for more details of events taking place, see the panel on page 44.

Across the harbour, easily accessible on a boat cruise, is the town of Vittoriosa, where the Knights of St John made their home before they built Valletta. You can still see some of the auberges or inns where they stayed. A walking tour will reveal peaceful streets with houses that are slowly being refurbished – look out for the intricate doorknockers in the shape of fish
and dolphins!

Mdina and Rabat

A visit to Mdina is also a highlight of any trip to Malta. On the way, it is worth stopping at one of the oldest villages on the island, Naxxar, and visiting the 18th-century Palazzo Parisio. It was added to during the 19th century and houses some beautifully decorative rooms and deceptively big gardens as well as an adjoining restaurant, Luna.     

Mdina itself has a history dating back more than 4,000 years and was the old capital of Malta before Valletta was built. It is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city and is often known as the ‘silent city’, mainly because of its lack of cars and subsequent tranquil atmosphere. Winding your way around its narrow streets, you will find numerous restaurants and cafes, as well as shops selling local crafts including Mdina Glass; from the top of its walls, you get a great view of the island.

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The gardens at Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar.

It is said that apostle St Paul lived in Mdina after he was shipwrecked on the islands, and you will find a number of attractions dedicated to him in neighbouring Rabat, including St Paul’s Grotto, where he is believed to have founded the first Christian community on Malta, and St Paul’s Catacombs, a maze of underground Roman cemeteries that represent the earliest archaeological evidence of Christianity on Malta. Rabat was an important site during the Roman period and you can also visit the Roman villa here, Domus Romana, with its fine mosaics.

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Intricate mosaic patterns at Domus Romana.

When on a trip to Mdina and Rabat, the nearby Meridiana Wine Estate is perfect for groups. The attraction provides a tour, which includes a visit to the fermentation room and underground cellar as well as a wine tasting and lunch, which can be enjoyed either inside or on the outdoor terraces. Here you can sample the red, white and rose wines produced at the vineyard, as well as buying the produce in the on-site shop.

Wartime in Malta

Due to its significant geographic position, Malta played key roles in both World War One and Two, especially as at that time it was under British rule. During World War One, the island effectively became a hospital and cared for hundreds of thousands of injured Allied soldiers including those from the Gallipoli campaign, earning the nickname the ‘nurse of the Mediterranean’. During World War Two, the island suffered another siege by enemy forces, with bombers based in Sicily subjecting it to some of the heaviest bombardments of the war during 1942. This almost crippled the island but it held out and in 1943 became the Allied base for the invasion of Sicily. The whole population was awarded the George Cross by King George V for their bravery during this period.    

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The Saluting Battery in Valletta.

The Malta at War Museum in Vittoriosa gives an insight into daily life on Malta during World War Two through original artefacts from the time, multi-sensory displays and original wartime footage. There is also a viewing of an underground air shelter included with a visit.

Across the harbour in Valletta, the Lascaris War Rooms give an excellent idea of how Allied operations were conducted from Malta during World War Two. The original rooms are housed within a network of tunnels, displayed as they would have looked at the time, and an informative film helps you to understand Malta’s role in the conflict. From the Saluting Battery in Valletta, which includes a restored Artillery Store and Gunpowder Magazine, you can take a War HQ Tunnel Tour too to explore the World War Two underground tunnels further.   

For more World War Two connections, in Mosta, the town’s 19th-century Dome houses a replica of the bomb that crashed through the roof in 1942 during the aerial bombardment of Malta, when the church was crowded with people sheltering from the action. Miraculously, it did not explode and no-one was killed.

At Ta’ Qali, a former Royal Air Force station, meanwhile, the Malta Aviation Museum houses a collection of aircraft that includes wartime planes such as the Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX and the Hawker Hurricane IIa.

With all this history on Malta, it is easy to see how you can design an itinerary ideally suited to those with a particular interest in wartime heritage.

Prehistoric temples

Further back into history and the islands of both Malta and Gozo are the sites of imposing prehistoric temples now on the UNESCO World Heritage List along with Valletta and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum.     

Reached by a short ferry journey from Malta, the Ggantija Temples are considered the oldest surviving free-standing monuments in the world and are believed to have been built between 3600-3000BC, pre-dating both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt. A tour of this site will allow you to marvel at the sheer size and scale of the blocks.

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The prehistoric Hagar Qim.

Whilst on Gozo, make sure to visit the picturesque coastal swimming sites and viewpoints such as the Azure Window at Dwejra Point and the Bay of Xlendi. You can also make the trip over to the smaller island of Comino from Gozo, which is car-free so ideal for walkers, and swim in the Blue Lagoon.

Hagar Qim is the main prehistoric site on Malta, dating from a similar period to the Ggantija Temples. A tour will reveal how the stones are aligned for the summer solstice and intriguing features such as table altars. There is an onsite visitor centre showing a short film that gives further insight into the temples. The site overlooks the islet of Fifla and adjacent to it is another temple, Mnajdra. Not far away is another beauty spot, the Blue Grotto, an ideal stop for taking pictures as well as boat trips.

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Traditional Maltese food and drink at the Meridiana Wine Estate.

Maltese food and drink

Traditional Maltese food is making something of a comeback on the island, and is often described as typical peasant food, with favourites such as ‘pastizzi’ – flaky pastry parcels filled with ricotta or peas – sold in abundance on the streets and in cafes. Dishes such as Lampuki Pie (fish pie), Bragioli (beef olives) and Bigilla (a thick pate of broad beans in garlic) are delicacies to try as is the freshly caught fish on Gozo and in the wonderful restaurants and markets in Marsaxlokk, the largest fishing village in Malta and a great place to spot the traditional Maltese fishing boats, the Luzzus.

As well as the Maltese wine, be sure to sample the local beer on Malta, Cisk (pronounced chisk) too.

Malta events

A host of international events take place on the Maltese Islands every year, including the Malta International Fireworks Festival in April, the Malta Jazz Festival in July and the Malta International Arts Festival in July and August, as well as popular sporting events such as the Malta Marathon in February and the Gozo Half Marathon in April. For more details on events in Malta, visit www.visitmalta.com/en/events

You will also find lots of cultural events including exhibitions, theatre and music planned for 2018 during Valletta’s tenure as European Capital of Culture. Visit www.valletta2018.org for more information.

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The Malta Jazz Festival.

Planning your visit

I travelled to Malta with Brightwater Holidays, the Fife-based tour operator, who in conjunction with the Malta Tourism Authority provided an excellent introduction to the island, its culture and cuisine.    

We flew with Air Malta, currently planning 30 weekly scheduled flights from seven UK airports to the island during the coming summer season. The airline offers flexible pricing, including one free piece of luggage and 10kgs of hand-luggage per person, as well as a complimentary snack and small bottle of water onboard.

Our guide during the trip was the excellent Josianne Lenicker who provided a varied and interesting commentary throughout our visit.

Brightwater is a major provider of tailor-made travel for groups and arranges holidays for all types, ranging from social groups to National Trust members centres, NADFAS and U3A, to name just a few. The company also works with many incoming overseas groups. It creates programmes to any specification and is happy to provide quotations and suggested itineraries for groups of any size on request – there is no minimum number of participants. Email ellen@brightwaterholidays.com or telephone 01334 657155 to request further details or ask for a group tour quotation.

Full page fax printFACT FILE

CURRENCY Euro

FLIGHT TIME FROM UK 2.5-3hrs

DISTANCE FROM THE UK 2,553 kilometres

POPULATION 423,282

SIZE 316km2 (total area of the Maltese archipelago

Some pictures courtesy of © viewingmalta.com

The Royal Heritage Route

Marienburg Castle

Marienburg Castle Pattensen-Schulenberg.

The 300th anniversary of the accession of Georg Ludwig of Hanover, Germany to the British throne as King George I is the perfect occasion for groups to discover the cultural connections between the two countries, and to visit Germany to explore the magnificent castles and towns where the royal families ruled, lived and socialised.

The Hanoverian accession to the throne of Great Britain and Ireland is being celebrated throughout 2014 with special events in London, including an exhibition at Buckingham Palace, and in castles and museums in the state of Lower Saxony, Germany. To help groups experience the celebrations in Germany, the Royal Heritage Route has been developed as a way to explore the region taking in the sumptuous royal palaces, castles and gardens at the same time. On the following pages you will find an overview of what’s taking place and why. Plus we include a fascinating ‘Who’s Who‘ introducing the Hanoverian Dynasty – George I George II, George III, George IV and William IV and their families, – with some quirky anecdotes bringing these historic monarchs to life, which is based on extensive research by Mark Goodwin, Managing Director of specialist tour operator Golden Compass.

 

HANOVER AND THE LOWER SAXONY STATE EXHIBITION 2014

The historic city of Hanover, where George I was born in 1660, is leading the celebrations and at the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen, groups will discover one of Europe’s most beautiful baroque gardens. These are a good starting point for the Royal Heritage Route since King George I’s mother, Sophia, loved the gardens, which surrounded the summer home of first the Guelph and then the Hanover family, famously saying, ‘The garden is my life’. She supervised their design, which was inspired by the gardens of the Sun King, Louis XIV, with magnificent fountains and baroque ornamentation in the Great Garden, and many special areas including the English styled garden, the Georgengarten, and the Berggarten – with its displays of stunning orchids and tropical plants. During the summer of 2014 numerous artistic, cultural, theatrical and other events will take place within the gardens, where you can still easily imagine George I strolling around the paths.

As part of the 300th anniversary Herrenhausen Palace, which was destroyed in 1943, has been recreated and it now includes the Palace Museum. During 2014 the museum will be one of five venues – four in Hanover and one in the nearby town of Celle, taking part in a major historical-cultural state-wide exhibition organised by Lower Saxony entitled, ‘The Hanoverians on Britain’s Throne, 1714-1837’. The exhibitions in each venue take place from 17th May to 5th October, and each will showcase different details and elements of the Hanoverian-British union.

Spectacular works of art have been brought together for the exhibition at the Palace Museum, which focuses on the extravagant culture at the court in the early 18th century. The exhibition also explores the power politics of George I’s father – the Elector Ernst August – and tales of his marriage to Sophia of the Palatinate. Additionally, it will look at the early history of George I and reveal the secrets of his marriage to Sophie von der Pfalz.

Another part of the exhibition will trace the life of Count Johann Ludwig von Wallmoden-Gimborn who was the illegitimate son of George II. The Count was raised in England but moved to Hanover, where he established a collection of art and paintings. Many treasures from his original collection have been brought back together for the first time since 1818.

The main venue for the state exhibition, however, is the magnificent Lower Saxony State Museum in the centre of Hanover. Here the exhibition follows the life stories of the five monarchs within a cultural and historical context. Significant events such as the Seven Year’s War and the French Revolution, and influential personalities including Jonathan Swift and George Handel will be included. The intensive exchange of culture that took place between London and Hanover in many different areas from politics to music will be covered, such as the burgeoning splendour of the court in London, the founding of the University of Gottingen and the influence of English fashion in Hanover.

Paintings, medals, furniture, documents and letters, borrowed from 19 international museums, will be on display and these will help to build up a picture of life in Georgian times. Amongst these are the State Crown – made for George I, an oil painting of Queen Charlotte from the collection of Queen Elizabeth II and a valuable silver service, from the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, which is returning to Hanover for the first time in over a hundred years.

Another aspect of life in Georgian times is explored at the third exhibition venue – The Historical Museum of Hanover. The centrepiece of the display here will be a magnificent State Coach in the exhibit, ‘A Coach and two Kingdoms: Hanover and Great Britain 1814-1837’. King George IV used the imposing carriage, originally built in 1782, for the opening of Parliament in London, during a visit to Hanover in 1821.

The exhibition will reflect on the role of the Kingdom of Hanover, established in 1812, against the background of British world power and will cover political debate about the constitution and land reforms. Exhibits also are planned to reveal how the architecture of Hanover changed in the early 19th century to match its new status as a royal seat.

Elsewhere in Hanover, the Wilhelm Busch German Museum for Caricature and Drawing, will host an exhibition entitled ‘The House of Hanover at the Time of the Personal Union as reflected in British Caricature’. At the exhibition groups will learn how cynical caricaturists of the era satirized prominent figures and goings-on in British politics and society. The royals are ­­­depicted with all their human weaknesses, moreover the caricatures relate salacious British celebrity gossip, poke fun at political decisions and development and leave no scandal or intrigue untouched! These caricatures are important as they reached a wide public when they were first drawn and so had a role in shaping political opinion. The museum is housed in the Wallmoden Palace, the former home of the Count of Wallmoden.

 

CELLE

The picturesque town of Celle, with its many half-timbered buildings, is about an hour’s drive north of Hanover, and it has an important place on the Royal Heritage Route.

The history of Celle, and its connections with the Hanoverian royal family is put in context at the Residenzmuseum in Celle Castle, in the exhibition, ‘Ready for the Island The House of Brunswick-Lüneburg on the Path to London’. This is the fifth venue participating in the Lower Saxony State Exhibition 2014 programme, and the exhibition traces the family’s rise to political power, through marriage and the creation of strongholds within Germany. The display presents a fascinating trip through time in a beautiful baroque castle with amazing architecture including ornate stucco ceilings by Italian masters, a Renaissance chapel and a tiny court theatre.

Whilst in Celle groups might also like to visit the local church, St Mary’s, where two royal women, who were banished to Celle for pursuing the course of love, are buried. Sophie Dorothea von Brunswick and Celle, the wife of George I, was exiled – first to Lauenau Castle and then to Ahlden Castle – after her love affair with the Count of Königsmarck was discovered. In all Sophie lived at Ahlden Castle for 32 years, and was permanently separated from her children. Her great-granddaughter – Caroline Mathilde of Hanover, who was Queen of Denmark and Norway for six years – is buried next to her. She was exiled to Celle following a love affair with the court physician. Groups visiting Celle as part of the Royal Heritage Route can discover more about these intriguing love stories.

 

OSNABRÜCK  

Aside from the Lower Saxony State Exhibition there are many more castles and palaces with connections to the Hanoverian and British royal families to explore. Around an hour and half driving time to the west of Hanover is Iburg Castle near Osnabrück, where George I and his sister, Sophie Charlotte, who became the Queen of Prussia, spent a lot of their childhood. At the castle there’s much for groups to see including the Benedictine Abbey founded in the 11th century, and the richly furnished Knights Hall, which dates from the 17th century.

 

BRUNSWICK

An hour away to the east of Hanover is Brunswick. This was one of the most important German medieval cities and in the 12th century was the home of the Guelph Duke, Henry the Lion, hence its popular name as the Lion City. Just outside the city and overlooking the Oker River lies Richmond Palace. This was built by Princess Augusta of Great Britain, who had married the Duke of Brunswick in 1764, because she did not like the family palace in the centre of the city. The building blends south German and French architectural styles with an English landscape garden created by ‘Capability’ Brown.

In Brunswick city centre, groups can also visit the Palace Museum, which is on the site of the original Royal Palace, which was built between 1833 and 1841, but damaged during the Second World War and subsequently demolished. Rebuilt in 2004 the façade uses elements preserved fr­­­­­­om the earlier building, but behind this there is a modern shopping mall as well as the museum. The 15 museum galleries reveal the grandeur of the former palace and are displayed with original furniture from the 19th century.

Although much of Brunswick was destroyed in the 1940s, there are several buildings surviving from earlier times, which convey the charm of the town when the Hanoverians were in residence. The two Courtyard HousesVon Veltheimsches Haus and the Huneborstelsches Haus – were former courtiers’ houses.

 

THE WESER REGION

The fairy-tale like Marienburg Castle is about half an hour south of Hanover in Pattensen. Built in a gothic revival style with many battlements, towers and turrets, the castle is now a museum with magnificent rooms and an impressive library. Here groups can trace the life of Georg V, King of Hanover – who built the castle for his wife Queen Marie – and many examples of furniture, paintings and rarities of art history from the historic collection of the Royal House of Hanover are on display. In 2014, the Hanoverian crown, sceptre and bridal crown will be exhibited for the first time since the end of the Kingdom of Hanover in 1866 at the special exhibition ‘The Path to the Crown’. The stunning gardens around the castle can also be visited.

From Marienburg Castle, groups can go on to visit six more magnificent castles in the beautiful Weser region of Lower Saxony, all with royal connections and tales of courtly splendour. Fürstenberg Castle, Hämelschenburg Castle, Pyrmont Castle, Corvey Castle, Bückeburg Castle, Bevern Castle are architectural gems of the Weser Renaissance and neo-Gothic period and have important porcelain collections, works of art and lovely parks for groups to enjoy.

 

FURTHER AFIELD 

Elizabeth Gate

Heidelberg/Neckar: West side of the castle, illuminated Elizabeth Gate.

In other parts of Germany the royal story continues. In Heidelberg, in the south west state of Baden-Württemberg, Heidelberg Palace was the first German home of Elizabeth Stuart – grandmother of George I. The ruins of this most romantic of German castles attracts many groups and amongst the highlights of a visit are the castle courtyard and the English Garden, which is soon to be restored. The impressive arch, the so called Elizabeth Gate, in the garden is said to have been built quietly and secretly overnight on the orders of her husband, the Elector Frederick V, as a surprise birthday present for her. Three times a year in June, July and September, illuminations bathe the castle in a magical red light. The spectacular evenings finish with a firework display – which were first staged in 1613 by Friedrich as a welcome to his bride, Elizabeth Stuart.

Meanwhile in Bavaria in Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the connections between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert can be explored. The highlight is Rosenau Palace, the summer seat of the Dukes of Coburg and where Prince Albert was born. As well as the impressive marble hall, the main rooms at the palace feature brightly coloured wall paintings in the neo-Gothic style and the original black-stained, polished Viennese Biedermeier furniture. Surrounding the palace is a delightful garden in a romantic English landscape style. When Queen Victoria visited the palace for the first time in 1845 she wrote in her diary, “If I were not who I am, my real home would be here”. She returned to visit several more times – even after Albert’s death.

Of the once numerous park buildings, the neo-Gothic farm building, a grotto with a waterfall and a tournament column have been preserved. The neoclassical tea house is today used as the park restaurant, and the orangery houses a museum of modern glass. The viewing terrace is particularly attractive with its flower parterre, fountain and balustrade.

To find out more about the Royal Heritage Route visit www.germany.travel/royalheritage or www.goldencompasstours.co.uk

Nine cities in Niedersachsen

A trip to Hannover and its surrounding eight historic cities means that groups can pick and choose an itinerary ranging from UNESCO World Heritage Sites to the Brothers Grimm and the Pied Piper. Abbe Bates reveals more.

The nine cities of Niedersachsen or Lower Saxony are a selection of heritage areas in northern Germany that have joined together to market themselves as a collective tourism destination. Together, they present an impressive group offer, with each city providing special packages and tours. On the following pages, you will find an overview of each city and the major highlights, as well as information on partner attraction, Autostadt, the innovative theme park centered around the main Volkswagen car factory in Wolfsburg.

The region is easily accessible via air from the UK, with Hannover Airport right at the centre of Lower Saxony. The airport has good connections to major traffic routes once you arrive and also offers guided tours. Connections via rail are also convenient, with Hannover one of the most important railway hubs in Germany; each city also has comprehensive information available on coach parking.

 

BRAUNSCHWEIG – THE LION’S CITY

Braunschweig, also known as Brunswick, is the largest city between Hannover and Berlin. One of its main draws is its history as an important trading centre during the Middle Ages. This began during the time of Guelph duke Henry the Lion in the 12th century and continued under the rule of his son Otto IV. A close association with the Guelphs or Royal House of Hanover, the European dynasty from which Queen Victoria was descended, is why the destination is known as the Lion’s City today.

You will find the Lion Statue on Burgplatz, the historic castle square. It was erected in 1166 by Henry the Lion as the emblem of the city. Around the square are a number of key heritage attractions including St Blasii Cathedral and Dankwarderode Castle – both built by Henry the Lion. The former is where he is buried.

On the Schlossplatz or Palace Square is the recently rebuilt Residential Palace, which documents Braunschweig’s role as one of the main residences of the Guelphs. Badly damaged in World War Two, it was demolished in 1960 and rebuilt in 2007 using many of the original parts of the historic 19th century Guelph Palace.

In all, more than 30 medieval sights can be discovered in Braunschweig and a number of tours help you to do this.

TOURS Groups can take a guided Old Bower tour, which describes the history of these medieval stone structures, built between the 12th and 14th centuries, and used for storage and living. Re-enacted scenes and music are used to tell the story of the 150 that existed in the city during the Middle Ages, eight of which still remain. An audio-visual tour of the city is also available. Machines can be hired at the tourist information centre on the Burgplatz. The package Getting to Know Braunschweig combines an historical guided tour with a guided museum tour, a welcome drink and one or two nights accommodation in the city.

 

CELLE – EUROPE’S LARGEST COLLECTION OF HALF-TIMBERED BUILDINGS

Soaking up the historic architecture of Celle.

The city of Celle is known as the gateway to Lüneburg Heath nature reserve, and a major claim to fame is its collection of over 450 restored timber-framed buildings, dating mainly from between the 16th and 18th centuries. The largest ensemble on a single site in Europe, they form the heart of the city in the Old Town. Look out in particular for the Hoppener Haus, probably the most impressive of these buildings.

As well as the Old Town Hall, the brick-built 19th century New Town Hall is worth a look as it is one of the largest structures of its kind in Germany.

Celle is also a former Ducal seat, and one of its other great highlights is the Ducal Palace, once the residence of the Duchy of Lüneburg. It is the oldest building in the city, with foundations dating from the 13th century, and on a guided tour, you can explore the Renaissance chapel and Germany’s oldest theatre still in use.

TOURS As well as tours of the Ducal Palace, groups are offered guided city tours and a Helpers and Healers, Misjudged and Burned tour, which takes visitors by foot on a witches trail to discover the superstitions of the 16th century. A day trip itinerary is also available, Celle in One Day, which includes a guided tour of Celle and the Ducal Palace with lunch.

 

GOSLAR – AN INDUSTRIAL LEGACY

The medieval town of Goslar can be found at the foot of the Nord Harz Mountains. Its historic centre or Altstadt, characterised by numerous towers and churches, was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 along with the Rammelsberg Ore Mine. The 1,000-year-old mine is now a museum and guided tours can be taken underground.

The historic Old Town is where you will find the Kaiserpfalz, the city’s imperial palace. Built in the 11th century during the reign of Heinrich III, it was the meeting place of imperial and royal councils for more that 200 years. The St Ulrich Chapel here houses a gold capsule containing the heart of Heinrich III, who died in 1056. Look out too for ‘Up into the Air’, the viewing experience from the 60-metre tower of the 12th century Market Church.

TOURS As well as visiting the ore mine, groups can also discover the 500-year-old Miners’ Residential District in Goslar, exploring the interior of a former miner’s house on a tour, whilst medieval daily life for women is revealed on a tour looking at The Role of Women in the Middle Ages, where your group will learn about the lives of women from midwives to whores. Traces of Jews in Goslar, meanwhile, is a chance to learn about the history of the Jewish community in Goslar, visiting the 400-year-old Jewish Cemetery with its many well-preserved tombstones. A half-day programme looking at beer brewing in Goslar and visiting the ancestral home of the famous Siemens family with its brewery is also available.

 

GÖTTINGEN – ON THE TRAIL OF BROTHERS GRIMM

The traditional university city of Göttingen was first mentioned in documents in 953 and flourished as a member of the Hanseatic League – the commercial federation of merchant guilds and their market towns – in the 14th and 15th centuries. Its emblem is the Gänseliesel statue, which stands on the market fountain in front of the Altes Rathuas (Old Town Hall). The statue of a girl herding her geese is known as ‘the most kissed girl in the world’ as new doctoral graduates have created a custom of kissing her bronze cheek on passing their exams.

2013 is the 200th anniversary year of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales and a programme of celebratory events will be held throughout the year. The city has strong connections with the duo, Jacob and Wilhelm, who worked at the university as librarians and professors during the 19th century. The Georg-August-University was founded in the 1730s and is a world-renowned centre of science. More than 40 Nobel Prize winners are associated with it and its impressive buildings can be toured. The Brothers Grimm went on not only to develop their collection of famous fairy tales, but to create the German dictionary. The stations of work and life of the duo – such as Goetheallee, the street where they lived and worked, and St Paul’s Church where there is an original edition of the Grimm’s German dictionary – are the focus of a walking tour, On the Trail of the Brothers Grimm.
TOURS As well as ‘On the Trail of the Brothers Grimm’, groups can also take advantage of guided costumed tours on request. A Brothers Grimm and Wilhelm Busch Tour is also available as a day trip, which as well as exploring the traces left in the city by the Brothers Grimm, also travels to nearby Ebergötzen to see the old mill where Wilhelm Busch, the famous 19th century German caricaturist, lived in his youth.

 

HAMELN AND THE LEGEND OF THE PIED PIPER

Hameln, or Hamelin as it is known in English, is well known in England due to its associations with the Pied Piper folk story. It straddles the River Weser, and the Old Town is described as a treasure of the Weser Renaissance style of architecture, with its sandstone buildings dating from the 16th to 18th century featuring scrolls, pyramids, obelisks, globes, wooden friezes, masks and protruding bay windows (Utluchten).

An example of this type of architecture is the Rattenfängerhaus or Pied Piper’s House, which dates from 1602/3 and bears an inscription about the procession of children from the town in 1284, when 130 youngsters were reported to have inexplicably disappeared. The Pied Piper legend was then born, a rat catcher who is said to have led the children away with the sound of his pipe out of revenge for non-payment.

On arrival in Hameln, groups interested in the legend can book a Pied Piper Greeting lastings 10 minutes, where the costumed character greets you with music and poetry. You can then go on to enjoy an hour-long guided tour with the Pied Piper. A visit to the Museum Hameln also teaches visitors about the Pied Piper story in its mechanical theatre.

TOURS As well as tours on the subject of the Pied Piper, groups can take advantage of a tour of the city at night and boat trips on the River Weser. A package called Pied Piper meets Münchhausen includes two nights accommodation, two evening meals, a welcome by the Pied Piper, a guided tour of the town, a boat trip, admission to the Münchhausen Museum in Bodenwerder, which tells the story of the 18th century nobleman Baron Münchhausen, and a toboggan ride.

 

HANNOVER – THE STATE CAPITAL AND ROYAL SEAT

The beautiful Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen and the Herrenhausen Palace in Hannover.
© HMTG/Jörg Wohlt

Hannover is the capital city of Niedersachsen and has a huge range of attractions for groups to explore and an eclectic history. The jewel in its crown is the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen created by Sophia, Princess Palatine of the Rhine, who was Electress of Hanover from 1692 to 1714. The Great Garden, designed in the French style, is one of the best-preserved Baroque gardens in Europe whilst there is also a landscaped English Georgengarten and a botanical Berggarten.

The gardens surround the former seat of the Royal House of Hanover, the Herrenhausen Palace, which has been undergoing painstaking restoration and re-opens in March. It will now be used as a conference centre and museum, with exhibitions on the Guelph family and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, the German mathematician and philosopher who died in Hannover in the early 18th century.

For 123 years, the Electorate of Hanover and the Kingdom of Great Britain were linked by a single monarch. The Lower Saxony State Exhibition in 2014 will celebrate the 300th anniversary of this union with ‘Hanover’s Rulers on the British Throne: 1714-1837′. From 17th May until 5th October 2014, five exhibitions will showcase the story that began in October 1714, when the Elector of Hanover ascended to the throne in London as King George I, thereby becoming ruler over two empires; he was succeeded by four further kings from the house of Hanover. The site of the exhibitions will be the Herrenhausen Palace, the Lower Saxony State Museum, the Historisches Museum, the Wilhelm Busch – Deutsches Museum für Karikatur und Zeichenkunst in Hannover and the Residenzmuseum at Celle Castle. A complementary programme of events will also bring to life the period when the Royals came from Hanover.

Moving further on in history, the New Town Hall is a good example of the opulent architecture popular in Hannover during the Wilhelminian era at the beginning of the 20th century, when the last German emperor was on the throne. Groups are able to tour one of the ornate chambers and ride in the curved lift to the top of the 97-metre high dome.

Hannover’s Adventure Zoo, meanwhile, is one of the most impressive in Germany. Split into seven themed worlds, a highlight is the Indian Jungle Palace, home to one of the largest herds of elephants in Europe. Groups of 15 or more are offered a special price on day tickets and a package including tours of both the zoo and the Royal Gardens is available.

Picturesque scenery is another of Hannover’s main draws for visitors. The man-made Lake Maschsee sits within view of the New Town Hall in the city centre and passenger boat trips for groups allow time to relax and enjoy coffee and cake as you make a pleasant round trip.

TOURS Hannover – the Grand Tour with your coach, Hannover – A Walkabout and Garden Wonder & Flower Power, which includes a visit to the new Herrenhausen Palace Museum, are all tour options.

 

HILDESHEIM – RELIGIOUS SPLENDOUR

Hildesheim is another of the nine cities famous for its UNESCO World Heritage. Both St Mary’s Cathedral and St Michael’s Church are designated World Heritage Sites and have been since 1985.

St Mary’s Cathedral is an outstanding example of Romanesque architecture and one of the oldest cathedrals in Germany, dating from the 9th century. Its bronze castings from the Middle Ages are an artistic highlight and a 1,000-year-old rosebush can be found in the apse. The cathedral is closed for renovation until August 2014 but it is still possible to view the rosebush and the bronze castings and exhibits from the treasury at St Michael’s Church and the Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum.

St Michael’s Church is another beautiful early Romanesque church, dating from the 11th century. One of its main showpieces is the 13th century painted wooden ceiling, depicting the lineage of Christ. It is the oldest example of this type of artwork still in existence north of the Alps. Along with the cathedral, the church stands as a testament to the creative powers of Bishop Bernward, who oversaw the building of each and after whom the important Bernwardian Period of art history is named.

Important Egyptian artefacts are the highlight of the Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum, with one of the largest collections of Egyptian antiquities in Europe.

TOURS Themed tours such as the Footsteps of Bishop Bernward can be enjoyed by groups – there are 17 to choose from in all – whilst historical costumed guided tours are an additional option. Packages include Cultural Experiences in Hildesheim with two nights accommodation, a welcome drink, a guided Getting to Know Hildesheim tour and admission to the Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum all part of the deal.

 

LÜNEBURG – THE HANSEATIC CITY OF SALT

Lüneburg’s history goes back over 1,050 years and its most precious commodity was once salt. The northern German red brick architecture and gabled houses are a reminder of the heady days in the Middle Ages when the city was at the height of its wealth trading on what was known as ‘white gold’ and its importance in the Hanseatic League. Lüneburg is still a hive of urban life, and has the highest density of bars and restaurants in Europe outside Madrid.

The German Salt Museum features exhibitions set in the former salt works of the city, which remained in operation for over 1,000 years. The museum describes the importance of salt to Lüneburg and worldwide.

You can also take a stroll through the Old Town, where the consequences of salt working can be seen. The sunken streets and crooked buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries are a stark reminder of the subsidence the trade caused.

The former port, which was once a key part of the salt industry, is now the backdrop for the picturesque canal district of Wasserviertel, where you can still see the wooden, copper-plated Old Crane on the River Ilmenau. You can view it as part of a city tour.

TOURS A Day Worth Its Salt is ideal for groups wanting to delve further into Lüneburg’s salt mining heritage. Your group will learn all about the trade and its importance to the city as well as how salt was first found
in Lüneburg. The package includes a city tour, lunch, entry to the German Salt Museum and the option to spend two hours in the thermal salt baths, SaLü.

 

WOLFENBÜTTEL – CITY OF THE GUELPHS AND HOME OF JÄGERMEISTER

For more than three centuries between 1432 and 1752, Wolfenbüttel was the main residence of the Guelph Dukes of Braunschweig and Lüneburg and a centre for fine arts and intellectuals. Today, traces of artists, writers and composers can be seen around the city, particularly at the Herzog August Library, once Europe’s largest. It features the Gospel Book of Henry the Lion, worth nearly £13 million, and the house of the writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, the Lessinghaus.

The Church of St Mary pays tribute to the 16th century composer Michael Praetorius, meanwhile, with an exhibition devoted to him. There is a vault for the Guelph dukes here and the composer’s grave can also be found at the site.
The Residenzschloss, the former residence of the Guelph dukes in the city, can be found within the city’s Old Town, which includes over 600 timber-framed buildings. The late Baroque state apartments of the palace characterise what court life was like under Guelph rule.

© WMTS/König

In recent times, Wolfenbüttel has become known for producing the alcoholic drink, Jägermeister, now found in 80 countries. The company Mast-Jägermeister AG originated as the firm W. Mast, which was founded in 1878 and produced vinegar. Production of Jägermeister was taken up in 1935 and today it is the biggest herbal liqueur in the world. The original headquarters of the brand and a gift shop can be found in the middle of the Old Town, and the modern headquarters and distillery are on the outskirts of the city. Groups can book a package consisting of a guided tour of the distillery, lunch, a guided city tour, a visit to the gift shop and a taste of the product itself.

TOURS As well as the Wolfenbüttel and Jägermeister day trip package described above, you can also choose themed tours of Wolfenbüttel including topics such as Lessing, the Guelph dukes and the women of Wolfenbüttel. A three-day programme can also be arranged that includes two nights accommodation, a Jägermeister welcome drink, entry to the museum at the Residenzschloss and the Herzog August Library, a guided city tour and two evening meals.

 

AUTOSTADT IN WOLFSBURG

© Martin Kirchner

In Wolfsburg near Braunschweig, you will find the impressive Autostadt theme park. ‘People, cars and what moves them’ is the attraction’s motto, and the site is devoted to all types of human mobility. Set around the region’s Volkswagen factory, it features eight different pavilions dedicated to brands in the group such as Audi, Seat, Porsche and Lambourghini. Attractions such as the Zeithaus automobile museum follow the engineering feats of different car manufacturers through the ages and the GroupWorld area includes a ‘LEVEL GREEN’ multimedia exhibition based on the concept of sustainability. Two 48-metre CarTowers made of glass, where 800 new cars produced on site are stored and which visitors can ride up, add to the aura of the site. You can even test your driving skills on the All-Terrain Tracks. A number of packages are offered to groups including one-day summer and winter arrangements, which include admission and a 60-minute Maritime Panorama Tour on board the FGS Havelland. The winter package also includes a visit to the traditional winter market and the Ice Revue whilst the summer package includes a viewing of the summer show at the park.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

the _9 wonderful cities in Niedersachsen
Hannover Marketing & Tourismus GmbH, Vahrenwalder Str. 7,
D-30165 Hannover

Tel: 00 49 (0)511 16849746

Email: 9cities@hannover-tourismus.de

Web: www.9cities.de