Three reasons to visit Monschau
In my article ‘Top city sight in Aachen’ I mentioned how one can make a day trip from Aachen to Monschau.
This is exactly what I did last week when I visited my mom for her 83rd birthday in Aachen. I also thought it will also be a good idea to ask my dad (age 85) to accompany me on my road trip to Monschau as I needed a photographer.
My dad was very excited about the invitation and offered to take me on a journey back in time, in his silver Jaguar XK 8 convertible. I think he looked forward to reminiscing about the good old days and to sharing his memories of this 12th Century town with me. We left Aachen around mid-morning and drove along the most picturesque road for about 30 km to reach Monschau.
If you’ve never been to Monschau, it is not a place you will easily drive past because it has such a unique appearance. This hilly medieval town lies on the border of Belgium and the northern edge of the German Eifel. It is basically right on the banks of the Rur river. You may notice from the many photos of the town that the river flows almost directly on the same levels as the houses.
History of Monschau
Monschau Castle was built at the end of the 12th century and became a town in 1352. In 1543, it was conquered by imperial troops and almost destroyed. Then, at the start of the 18th century, the town was revived due to the rise of several textile mills causing the industry to flourish.
How to get to Monschau
There is no direct train from Aachen to Monschau, but there is a bus connection. However, I find it the easiest by car.
It is important to remember that the old town is traffic-calmed (meaning no cars are allowed in the centre of town). Therefore, you must find parking on the outskirts of town in one of the parking areas. These areas are conveniently located within a few minutes’ walk to the old market square (where you ideally want to be).
Monschau has a tourist train that departs from the market square, according to a fixed schedule, for those who are not keen on walking the hilly parts of the town. The tour lasts about a half-an-hour and costs a few euros. However, it was not running at the time I visited Monschau.
Why visit Monschau?
There are 200 historically listed houses, of which most are half-timbered houses connected to each other in narrow, cobblestoned streets. The fact that these half-timbered houses date back to the 18th century makes them extraordinary.
As you walk through the town, you really get the feeling as if though time stood still.
My father pointed out to me the Hotel Zum Stern where he as a young man used to go on holiday with my grandparent, when my grandfather was released from the war front in 1940.
One of the most famous sights in Monschau is the red house. It was named after the red bricks it was built with in 1752.
The house was owned by the master textile manufacturer, Johann Heinrich Scheibler, who built it as a residential and commercial building. His textiles was so sought after that he even supplied the French king and Turkish sultan.
Today, this building is an open museum with impressive furnishings, that allows you to be transported back in time to the 18th century with its Rococo, Louis XVI and Empire style furnishings. You may wish to visit The red House’s website for opening hours.
Monschau is well known for its mustard mill (senfmühle). Their celebrated 100 years old mustard is called Moutarde de Montjoie.
Mustard Mill Monschau was founded in 1882 and is still today owned by the same fourth and fifth generation families.
They provide guided tour of the mills. There you can see how mustard is made from mustard flour, using the same traditional methods as in the early days.
There is also a small shop where you can buy various items that involve mustard and a restaurant where dishes are refined with the mustard. Unfortunately, I was not able to visit the mill due to my 85-year-old father not being able to walk the distance.
If you would like to know more about the history of the Monschau mustard please click here.
Other interesting sights
If you still have some time left to explore the town, you may wish to visit Monschau glassworks. It is located at the end of the old town. Here you can watch a glas blower at work and learn more about this ancient craft. There is also an exhibition centre and a sales room.
Although many German towns have Christmas markets during the Winter. The Monschau market is set apart by the fact that many local shops, restaurants, galleries and antique shops participate in the Christmas festivities. For example, there is a shop called House of Christmas in Monschau, that sells Christmas decoration on 3 levels.
What was special about Monschau for me?
There are many traditional cafés and restaurants with tables in the town square.
As Monschau is situated in a valley, there are many vantage points around the town that offer great views of the town.
The approximately 2 km long panorama trail leads along the mountain slopes above the town once around Monschau.
If you’re like my travel buddy Bernie and don’t enjoy walking too far, you can also walk up the stairs from the market square to the right side of restaurant La Fontana. Just keep following the path upwards.
At the top of the panorama path, keep to the right and take the next path down to the right again, ending behind the restaurant. On this short loop, there are many beautiful spots where you can rest and take great pictures of Monschau.
Other vantage points are the castle and the Haller ruins.
Monschau attracts almost two million visitors yearly. Therefore, try to avoid school holidays and weekends as during these times it gets quite crowded.
I would also suggest visiting rather during the early or late season (European high season is from June to August).
I visited Monschau this time on a Friday in May and found it to be very pleasant.
Monschau is a wonderful place to visit, whether you are on a walking holiday in the Eifel, visiting Aachen or living in the area.
It is a lovely experience to walk through the cobbled stone streets and then sit in the market square while enjoying the view of the beautifully timbered houses.
A stroll through the old town reveals many quaint shops selling souvenirs, regional specialities, handicrafts and much more.
I strongly recommend that you visit the Monschau tourism website to get more information about their popular guided city walks and hiking tours because they have great routes in the area. For example, cycling enthusiasts will be spoiled for choice with the Fen-rails which refer to the Vennbahn Cycle Route, which is one of the longest railway track cycling routes in Europe. It leads through three countries, namely Germany, Belguim and Luxemburg.
I can honestly say that I had a wonderful day trip to Monschau and truly enjoyed spending the day with my father.
When last have you done something in the spirit of the moment with your parents? You would be surprised to know how much we can still learn from the older generation. I know I did.
Only one more week ’till my trip to South Africa and meeting with my travel buddy. Excitement building.
‘Till next time