When I started planning our Epic European Christmas trip, one of my biggest decisions was where to spend Christmas itself. We knew that it would be a busy trip and we weren’t quite sure how the kids would handle all the moving around so we wanted to slow down a bit and stay in one spot for a few days right around Christmas. And while the whole trip was special, we wanted to find a place to spend Christmas that was a little extra special. Fortunately for us, the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber fit this description to a “T”.
Rothenburg is a small town in Northern Bavaria that was once a major trading centre and a medieval powerhouse. Unfortunately the terrible religious wars of the 17th century destroyed it’s trade and reduced it to a small, rural backwater for the beginning of the modern era. But what was bad luck for Rothenburg was good luck for the tourist trade as the town remained as it was in the 1500’s with an intact medieval wall and no modern construction within the walled city. It was discovered by tourism in the late 19th century and was even spared being bombed during World War II due to it’s heritage status. Today it is a perfect little tourist gem; small enough to feel cozy yet filled with lovely hotels, fine restaurants and charming little shops.
I had visited Rothenburg 13 years earlier on one of my backpacking trips and even on a rainy day in October the place seemed to live and breathe Christmas. While Christmas markets are everywhere in Germany in the Advent season, Rothenburg has focused on Christmas all year round since Kathe Wohlfahrt opened a store there in the 1970’s. There are several locations throughout town now and there is a cute, Christmas vibe all year round.
So when I went looking for the perfect location for our Christmas “home away from home”, Rothenburg ticked all the boxes. It was cozy, it was Christmas-y, it wasn’t too big or too small. All that was left was to find the perfect place.
We decided to spend four nights there over Christmas and we wanted a place inside the town walls and close to all the sights. I looked at a lot of properties and read a lot of reviews and eventually settled on the Hotel Kloster-Stueble. It was a medium sized, family run hotel just down the street from the main square. The two buildings dated back to the 15th century but were connected by a bright modern atrium. The staff were very welcoming and spoke excellent English and overall we felt like we couldn’t have found a better temporary home.
Our room was a sort of mini-suite with a main room plus a small, alcove like room containing a table with built in seating plus a set of bunk beds built into the wall. Like all the rooms at this property the ceilings were sloping, the walls met at funny angles, the floors creaked and the bathrooms were small, but the history and charm of the place more than made up for the quirks of age. The kids loved the little bunks and the seating area was the perfect place to set up our tiny tree and put out our stockings.
The room came with breakfast included, which was served in a lovely stone walled breakfast room. The spread wasn’t quite as extensive as the one at our Munich hotel, but it was still lovely with a selection of breads, meats, cheeses, yogurts and fruits as well as eggs cooked to order and fresh coffee brought to the table. The hotel also had it’s own restaurant which was open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for hotel guests which saved us the stress of trying to organize meals on those days when most places were closed.
The town itself was bustling with people over Christmas, but not uncomfortably crowded. There was a lovely little Christmas market on the square in front of the town hall as well as a selection of touristy, but interesting shops to explore. The kids enjoyed the multiple toy and teddy bear stores as well as the one which sold replica medieval weapons and armour. We spent our first days there browsing the shops and exploring the many quaint back streets.
On Christmas Eve there was a bit of a change in the air. The staff at the hotel had told us that most places would be closing early that day since Christmas Eve was one of the most important days of the year for German families. We spent the morning walking around the wall that surrounds the town and we found a coffee shop that was still open and had a light lunch and generally just enjoyed the quiet, expectant atmosphere that seemed to hang over the entire town.
After lunch we went to the St Jakob’s, the main cathedral in town and attended a special “Kinder Mass” which our hotelier had recommended. It was a lovely service with groups of children reciting and acting out the Christmas story, interspersed with Christmas carols sung by the congregation with the massive pipe organ accompanying. Hearing Stille Nacht sung in the beautiful old cathedral on Christmas Eve was probably my favourite part of the entire trip. When we returned to our room we found a lovely plate of sweets and sparkling wine left in the room by the hotel staff. It was a wonderful surprise and really made us feel at home.
Christmas Day ended up being a lovely, quiet time with family. We spent the morning opening the small presents we brought, reading our new books and playing with new toys. By now the town felt like a familiar second home and in the afternoon we spent a few more relaxing hours wandering around and enjoying the quiet streets. We visited a local playground and just enjoyed spending the day together. We all agreed that it was a wonderful Christmas. As much as we love our friends and extended families, there was something special about spending the day as a foursome, with no gatherings to attend, no food to prepare and no commitments whatsoever.
When we checked out of the hotel on the morning of the 26th, we thanked the receptionist for a wonderful Christmas and asked if it was too early to make reservations for Christmas 2021!