If not everyone knows about Heidelberg, Germany, they should. The city boasts a well-preserved Old Town; Germany's oldest university, plus the nightlife that implies; and, above all, striking castle ruins that overlook its historical center.
The city of 140,000 is characterized as a romantic destination, but for me, it was not love at first sight. I had just come from Weimar and Bayreuth, which are themselves chockablock with charming architecture and colorful street life. Given the brevity of my visit -- less than 24 hours as part of a fam trip operated by the German National Tourist Board -- it was imperative this romance heat up fast.
And so it did. On a sunny morning, there is magic in the view of the city from Heidelberg Castle. That perch affords a panorama of the Old Town, with clear views of the landmark Church of the Holy Spirit and the Market Square next to it as well as the Old Bridge, which stretches across the Neckar River, a few miles from the Rhine.
There is no shortage of reasons to stay longer than we did, whether clients lean toward sightseeing; pub crawls and traditional eateries; or hiking and cycling.
Any itinerary will include the castle in all its ruined glory. During a late 17th century war with France, the castle was converted from a residence with grand gardens into a hull. The town was largely destroyed, too, which means much of the historical center dates from the 1700s or later.
Most clients also will be attracted to the city's churches, the busy town squares, striking university buildings, cafes, beer gardens and the like, but there is an opportunity to point them to still more unusual diversions, as follows:
• The Documentation and Cultural Center of German Sinti and Roma, presenting exhibits that document the persecution of Gypsies during the Nazi era.
• The Max Berk Textile Collection, housed in a former Lutheran church. Manufacturer Max Berk collected women's attire from several countries plus quilts from England and the U.S.
• The Prinzhorn Collection, a gathering of artworks created by patients at psychiatric asylums around 1900. Hans Prinzhorn, a doctor and art historian, was their collector.
• The Students' Prison, the lockup where, between 1778 and 1914, Heidelberg University students were briefly incarcerated for school infractions. The walls were "decorated" extensively by the bored inmates.
Except for the prison, these are atypical choices for a standard tour, rounding out a broad array of client options that remind us Heidelberg is more than romantic castle ruins, or even student pubs, traditional museums and charming red-roofed houses.