Any visit to Würzburg must include a few hours at the Residenz, built between 1720 and 1744 and now a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The center entryway is big enough for a stagecoach to turn around and leads to a massive grand staircase. Halfway up the stairs, eyes are drawn upward and overhead to "The Four Continents" (only Europe, America, Asia and Africa were known at the time), reputedly the worlds largest fresco. It fills a vast, unsupported vaulted ceiling, which critics of the time said would surely collapse. Not only did it out-last the critics, it was the only part of the Residenz left standing after the 1945 bombing. (Open daily 9am-6pm, tours in English on Sat., Sun. and holidays at 11am and 3pm; admission with tour d6 /$5.65.)
Tours show off just a fraction of the more than 300 Baroque and Rococo rooms, many of which are still under restoration.
The Summer Palace
Of course, any self-respecting prince-bishop needs a summer palace and Veitshochheim just a few miles north of the city limits (40 minutes by boat; departures from the Alter Kranen for 88/$8 round-trip) is well worth the trip. Though the palace is charming, its extensive Rococo gardens appeal most. Their formality is buffered by a strong sense of whimsy. Wooded boulevards branch off to hedge-rimmed pavilions. Statues of gods and mythological beings mingle with those of peasants and shepherds. A winged horse spouts water from an island fountain in an artificial lake. (Bring some bread and watch the giant carp and ducks fight over it). Perhaps most interesting: a grotto inhabited by creatures formed entirely from seashells, like a hideous, razor-toothed monkey. Benches are placed every 50 feet or so for reflection or relief. (Open daily until dusk, no charge.)
This is wine country. Wine and wine-making are central to life in Würzburg. Since nearly 80% of Franconian wine distinguished by the pear-shaped bottle, the Bocksbeutel (goats bladder) is consumed within the region, overseas visitors are often surprised by its quality and variety.
In autumn, the hills surrounding Würzburg and throughout Franconia are dotted with pickers, who fill baskets and dump their grapes into waiting trailers. At the end of the day, tractors tow the trailers to wineries from family operations in the villages to more elaborate facilities in the cities. Even the massive Baroque Residenz, once home to the prince-bishops, still has its own winery, and it is somewhat incongruous to see farm tractors pull up to this ornate masterpiece to unload their grapes.
Würzburg provides the perfect launching point for exploring the delightful towns and villages of Franconian wine country: such as the medieval market town of Dettelbach with its intact medieval wall and 19 towered gates; Ochsenfurt with its ancient fortifications; and Gemünden, the "Three-River Town," where the Sinn and Salle Rivers meet the Main. Culinary delights, hiking and bicycling paths, quiet inns and remarkable architecture abound.