Travel editor Neil Sowerby travels beyond Albert Square in search of Christmas Markets and mammoth meat feasts and finds himself up to his expandable lederhosen in them.
I’M a sucker for those glossy travel mag lists. The likes of The World’s Ten Best Hotel Room Views. But it’s always the usual suspects – coral atolls, snow-capped peaks, maybe the Manhattan skyline.
I give you instead: A small nun carrying a large ham across the Viktualienmarkt (Food Market) in Munich. She was swaddling it in her arms like some porky Christ child.
I haven’t the photographic evidence, alas. I was on my balcony wiping the sleep from bleary eyes as church bells boomed across the bustling square below. By the time I’d thought “camera”, she was lost in the Saturday shopping crowds. Still a Schmeckt Gut moment to kick-start a top weekend in the Bavarian capital.
Situated in the heart of the Altstadt (Old Town), the Hotel Louis may be a Design Hotel with all the leftfield affectations that might imply, including its own top notch Japanese restaurant, but it’s also got Lage, Lage, Lage (location, location, location, not beer).
The best rooms overlook the Viktualienmarkt with its live trout stalls, fruity cheese counters and inevitable beer and wurst stands. It lacks the food treasures of a great market like Barcelona’s Boqueria, but it’s the living embodiment of hearty Bavarian appetites. Of which, more anon.
In December there are rival markets all over the city – all of the Christmas variety. Even the futuristic airport musters a suitably rustic squadron of stalls. Gluhwein’s better than in Manchester – its spicy incense is everywhere – while the prices for festive knick-knacks are more than double. And the startling array of stalls and general oompah puts the exported “German Markets” in their place.
The main Christmas Market spreads out from the Marienplatz main square, even invading the courtyard of the glorious Neues Rathaus (town hall). In the evening choirs gather on the long Gothic balcony and serenade the throngs. We took in some lusty cabaret and carousing at the Residenz palace market before travelling two underground stops to the wide open spaces of the Theresienwiese, where the annual Oktoberfest takes place,
Now it was hosting the Tollwood Winter Festival, an eco-conscious jamboree that runs in a series of mammoth marquees until December 31. Expect circus acts, world food, alternative shopping, serious ethical seminars and a very unserious bar called Tief Im Wald (Deep in the Wood with a recreated forest and recycled ska acts inside a tent). It’s like Glastonbury without the indie music, mud or Jo Whiley. A must if you can make it over before it closes with a New Year’s Eve Party, which promises to be mega.
Mega’s the word I’d use to describe our lunch at the historic Augustinerbrau Gaststsatte in Neuhauserstrasse. It’s the flagship beer hall for the best-loved brewery in town. The Hofbrauhaus is a national treasure, inevitably attracting the tourist hordes but the still privately owned Augustiner brewery supplies Hell, Dunkel, Weissbier and Bock (light, dark wheat and strong spring beers) that most Muncheners rate as the best.
In summer the Arkadenhof out the back is the place to be, but with a frosty nip in the air we settled back in a cranny of the art nouveau restaurant, relishing the foaming Hell straight from the barrel, and ordered from the daily specials a feast that would make a giant wood troll blench. Only two main courses, yet they demonstrated why homely German fare will never (diplomatically put, this) be my cuisine of choice. Bizarrely my companion’s dish arrived 20 minutes after mine. The ageing dominatrix-in-a-dirndl who served us brooked no complaints.
We had Jagerpfanderl mit Schweineruckensteak und Speckscheibe vom Grill, Hirschkalbspflanzerl, Rahmschwammerl und Eierspatzle – phew – and
Bratenpfanderl mit Gelflugel, Schweinebraten und Haxe, Kartoffelknodel und Krautsalat. Loosely translated, if not entirely digested, this consisted of overbrimming platters of pork, chicken, veal, sauerkraut salad, creamy sauce, dumplings and egg noodles. Leaving no room for a strudel pud.
Contrast dinner in the Louis Hotel later. Showered, in dressing gowns, we sat in our chic but comfortable mini-suite overlooking the market lit by the glow of a thousand faces fuelled by gluhwein. After this a half hour in the most relaxing bar I can recall and then a parade of Japanese delicacies, utilising local ingredients bought from the market that morning. Now that’s what I call real designer cool.There wasn’t an awkward dish – and nothing was near the (veal) knuckle! Even the local Bavarian heifer steak, chosen ahead of wagyu, was meltingly tender and fine flavoured.
The Louis Hotel, the best of both worlds, truly sets out its stall in this City of Christmas Markets. Bring on the snow.
Our room with a viewNeil Sowerby stayed at the Louis Hotel, Viktualienmarkt6, 80331 Munich (+49 89 411 190 8-100, www.louis-hotel.com). Room rates vary from 195 euros a night to 450 euros for one of the market view rooms. You could easily spend up to 80 euros a head with wine in the Japanese restaurant Emiko. Be assured, it’s worth the splash-out. The hotel is a member of Design Hotels (www.designhotels.com), a worldwide guarantee of cool lodging.
For details of Tollwood visit www.tollwood.de/en/.
Munich’s official tourism website: www.muenchen.de/int/en/tourism.html.
easyJet flies to Munich direct from Manchester from just £20.99 (one-way, including taxes). For more information or to book visit www.easyJet.com. Munich Airport is 17 miles out of the city centre. Quickest way in is via the S-bahn line S8. About 35 minutes to Marienplatz.
Hassle-free parking at Manchester Airport:
Leaving our car at Manchester Airport, we took advantage of their affordable and convenient Short and Long Stay, Valet and Meet & Greet parking. This is available for all three terminals. You can pre book up to 11.15pm the night before you depart or turn up and pay on arrival. All car parks have been awarded Park Mark security status giving reassurance that your car is safe while you are away. Free AA ‘Get You Moving’ service to give you peace of mind should your car fail to start on your return. Free of charge, 365 days a year.
VIP Valet – drop and collect your car right next to the terminal and get fast tracked through security. Your car is parked on site.
Meet and Greet – drop your car off with staff next to the terminal and collect on your return. Your car is parked on site.
Multi Storey car park at T1, 2 and 3 – ultra-convenient multi-storey car parking right next to the terminal. Park and walk under cover to reach the terminal.
Long Stay car park at T1, 2 and 3 – ground surface car park offering free, regular 24 hour bus transfers direct to the terminal.
Shuttle Park – secure parking at great rates for cost-conscious travellers. Free, regular 24 hour bus transfers direct to the terminal.
JetParks – low-cost parking option run by Manchester Airport, fully manned 24/7, parking from £2.99 per day.
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