Surprised that I included the words “Gem” and “Germany” in the same sentence? Most people associate Germany with words such as effective, efficient or industrial. I have to warn you though; you may change your mind quickly when you speak with somebody who has recently travelled there. That’s especially the case for anything outside of the two or three main cities — you might not believe that they’re talking about Germany! Let me challenge any “non-believers” and take you on a short trip there. What if I told you that you could go there and back, by car, from the UK, easily, and all during one weekend – intrigued?
The name of this small village is Monschau. It is right on the border between Belgium and Germany and it is squeezed between beautiful natural parks surrounded by the Eifel mountains. We found it by “accident” during our road trip to other Christmas markets in Germany. It was one of our “backup” destinations, set aside should we had enough time to explore.
Tip: It is a good practice to have a few “backup” destination when going anywhere on a planned trip. Should you have time or you fancy seeing something else, or maybe if something you wanted to see is closed, you will always have another option!
We hadn’t seen any pictures of Monschau before we arrived there. What we encountered there was a complete surprise. We did not expect timber-framed houses surrounded by Christmas market stalls, an idyllic atmosphere and narrow cobblestone streets in this part of Europe.
Tip: Don’t drive to the village center. Unless you arrive very early, you will struggle to find a parking space (and you have to pay). It is also likely that the road to the village will be closed off later in the day! Instead, park on the “Burgring” road (Number 258), which is just above the village and only a short walk to the city centre. If you do, you can enjoy beautiful views of the village from above, and you have a chance to examine some ancient fortifications… Not to mention that it’s free to park there!
Monschau can get quite busy during weekends, despite being a relatively small village. For us, it was a great excuse to take a break from the hustle and bustle inside one of the many coffee places and indulge in a hot chocolate (German: heiße Schokolade)! The locals are very friendly and will make you feel most welcome there. Since it had been quite chilly outside, we secured our spot next to the radiator and by the window– the perfect place to unwind and enjoy some people watching. If you’ve never tried it before, give it a go. You will notice things, situations and people you would normally have missed!
Christmas markets in smaller villages mostly offer food (which is fine by us – another excuse not to miss anything!).
I could write an entire separate post (and probably will later) on the delicious food you can find at German Christmas markets. For now, the honourable mention goes to the open fire smoked salmon sandwich which was out of this world! Super fresh and fabulously tasty!
Naturally, there is no real Christmas market without a mug of mulled wine, or two. We like to collect Christmas wine mugs – there is a different mug design for each Christmas market in Germany and now we genuinely need a bigger cabinet to fit them all!
Tip: Check the dates for any street markets before you arrive! – they’re normally during weekends.
What we particularly loved about Monschau was the architecture of the buildings. Many of them looked as if they were from a fantasy film – it looked as if every single one had had a different architect. The shapes of roofs and windows squeezed into any available space were what ‘gave it away’! Just take a look at the picture below. Windows big and small, irregularly placed, some at strange angles… The whole picture was charming beyond belief! Can you spot one of these cute windows below? It even had a curtain – not sure why, as you could hardly see through it anyway!
Tip: There are a lot of steps in Monschau, since it was built on top of a number of hills—a little like Rome! It may get somewhat slippery when the temperature drops or when it rains, so be careful!
Steps from road 258 to Monschau village
You may think that our “Gem” may not shine or offer its full glamour during the winter. But the picturesque beauty of a small German town in winter is a truly unique experience, not to mention the beautiful parks and mountains that surround the town, which look incredible underneath a blanket of snow. And if I can convince you that it is really worth seeing during the winter, imagine what it would be like in the summer! Don’t you dare Google it – just go there and find out yourself.
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