The seat of a historic county in the old Electorate of Mainz, the town of Miltenberg is pressed against a bend in the River Main by the final eastern peaks of the Odenwald range.
The old town is 2.5 kilometres long but only a maximum 150 metres wide. And those slopes bank up to the south and bring a sense of spectacle to Miltenberg’s romantic alleys and squares.
The many half-timbered houses bear witness to Miltenberg’s historic wealth as a centre of commerce on the navigable Main River.
Some epoch-making figures have called in on Miltenberg, including two Holy Roman Emperors and Napoleon. What’s amazing is that the inn where they all stayed is still in business.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Miltenberg:
1. Old Town
Miltenberg is by no means large, but there are over 100 listed half-timbered houses on the pedestrianised Hauptstraße and the little alleys that dart off it.
The oldest has been dated to 1339, but most were built in the 17th and 18th centuries after the Thirty Years’ War.
Miltenberg’s townscape has appeared in period TV shows and movies, and its charming old houses have cafes, specialty shops, traditional taverns and wine cellars for producers from the Franconia region.
The oldest houses are in the Schwarzenviertel to the west, where tiny parallel alleys descend to the riverbank.
Most of best bits are on this list, but one that is isn’t is the Alte Domkellerei, a gabled 15th-century townhouse built for the man who managed the Mainz bishopric’s winery.
2. Alter Marktplatz (Schnatterloch)
Just the place to savour Miltenberg’s endearing townscape, the market square has an irregular plan and is enclosed by half-timbered houses.
One to look out for is the Weinhaus am Markt, which was owned by an important nobleman during the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century.
At the centre is the Marktbrunnen fountain, fashioned from red sandstone in 1583 by the Miltenberg sculptor Michael Junker.
Planted in an octagonal basin is a slender column with dancing cherubs at the top of which is a sculpture of Lady Justice, with Miltenberg’s coat of arms on her shield.
Posted above the market place and Main Valley on a promontory, this hill castle was founded around 1200 by the Archbishop of Mainz to protect the eastern frontier of his bishopric.
A lot of the outer architecture dates to the end of the 16th century following an eventful 100 years in which the castle was taken and damaged in the two Margrave Wars and the German Peasants’ War.
But the palatial, 27-metre keep and its stepped gable at the centre is a bit older and has been here since the end of the 14th century.
Until 1979 Mildenburg was still owned by a local family, before being passed to the town to be restored.
Today the castle houses a joint exhibition of historic icon paintings and modern art by the likes of Joseph Beuys, Sigmar Polke and Ernst Barlach.
At the top of the old market place, the city’s museum is in “Haus Miltenburg”, a glorious Renaissance house with corbelled bay windows and dormers.
The galleries inside are modern and thoughtfully presented, covering the historical and cultural development of the town.
Some of the most engaging exhibits are an inscribed pediment from Germany’s oldest surviving synagogue, a Roman ceremonial shield boss, virtuoso Gothic stone sculptures and a hoard of gold and silver coins from Miltenberg’s Medieval past.
There are also artefacts relating to historic crafts in the town, historic interiors with period furniture and an array of antique toys, including dolls, train sets and block construction kits.
5. Zum Riesen
At Hauptstraße 97 is what could be Germany’s longest continuously operating inn.
The earliest documented mention of Zum Riesen is from 1411, which would rank it high among the oldest hotels in the world.
The building has been renovated many times in its history, but the basic architecture hasn’t changed since a Renaissance update in 1590 for which the city donated 100 logs.
Admiring the facade’s decorative panels, carved timbers and bay window you might wonder about the many world-changing historical figures who have stayed here.
The roster includes the Holy Roman Emperors Frederick I and Charles IV, as well as Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and Johann Tserclaes, Napoleon, Richard Strauss and Elvis Presley.
6. Würzburger Tor
At the eastern entrance to Miltenberg’s old town is the Würzburger Tor, first mentioned in 1379. Miltenberg’s eastern flank was the most vulnerable in Medieval times, and in those days the heavily armed gate was a fearsome prospect.
But at the beginning of the 15th century the crenellated battlements were removed and a decorative hipped roof was built in their place.
On the outside and in the passageway there’s a sequence of stone blocks, which holdovers from the gate’s portcullis mechanism.
7. Mainzer Tor
Found 2.5 kilometres from the Würzburger Tor, the less ornamented gate on the west side of the old town was also first mentioned in 1379. Like its eastern counterpart it was built during the reign of the Mainz Archbishop Adolf I of Nassau, whose coat of arms you can still see above the portal.
The gate’s facade is broken by a series of arrow loops, while on the peculiar upper levels it looks like a house has been dropped on top of the battlements.
8. St. Jakobus
This church first went up in the 13th century when Miltenberg was granted city rights and was updated a century later.
By the late 18th century this building was dilapidated and over the next 100 years St. Jakobus would be totally reworked in a Neoclassical style, with a long barrel arch in its nave.
Under the stunning wheel chandelier by the main entrance is a baptismal font from 1608 that was crafted by Michael Juncker who was also responsible for the fountain in the market square.
On the wall of the northern aisle there’s also a sculpture group of the Three Kings, dating to 1400.
9. Mainbrücke Miltenberg
From its earliest days, Miltenberg was a crossing point on the Main by ferry.
But it wasn’t until 1900 that the town had its own bridge.
The Mainbrücke, with six arches came at the end of 25 years of fund-raising and planning.
The design embraced Miltenberg’s Medieval heritage with a replica of fortified sandstone gatehouse that looks like it could be the real thing.
That gatehouse and the abutments on the banks would be the only elements left after the first bridge was detonated by retreating German troops in 1945. Work started on the current bridge in 1947 and it officially opened in 1950, reconnecting Miltenberg with its northern municipalities.
Once a Franciscan monastery church, Franziskanerkirche dominates Engelplatz, the largest square in Miltenberg and site of the current town hall.
It was built a few decades after the monastery was founded, in the 1660s, by Antonio Petrini, the Italian court architect of the Bishopric of Würzburg.
The architecture is clean and simple, with a long barrel vault and a round arched portal.
A couple of Baroque fittings that have been here since the church was built are the pulpit, with figures of saints, gilded scrolls and Solomonic columns, and the elaborate organ casing.
Löwengasse in Miltenberg’s oldest quarter, the Schwarzenviertel has a long row of romantic half-timbered houses.
The most interesting of these is a gorgeous five-storey house with timbers painted red.
If you phone in advance you’ll be able to go down to the house’s basement to see something unusual: A preserved mikvah, a centuries-old Jewish ritual bath, which was used by Miltenberg’s Jewish community up to 1910. It was filled in after Kristallnacht, but was restored in the early 2000s and has been a minor visitor attraction since 2004.
12. Fürstliche Abtei Amorbach
One of Franconia’s earliest monasteries is a breeze in the car from Miltenberg.
On the edge of the Odenwald range, the Fürstliche Abtei Amorbach’s origins are vague but the founding date is estimated to be 734 as the monastery marked its millennium anniversary in 1734. In those early centuries the monks were tasked with clearing what was then a vast forest, and encourage the spread of Christianity and then support for the Holy Roman Empire.
The monastery church was given a new Rococo design, with abundant stuccowork and radiant frescoes by Matthäus Günther in the 18th century.
He also painted the altarpiece, which is held up by six marble columns.
There’s also a superb wrought-iron rood screen, a marvellous pulpit and one of Europe’s largest surviving Baroque organs, assembled in 1782.
13. Altes Rathaus
Another of the venerable sights to mark on your map, Miltenberg’s town hall was also first documented in 1379. In those days it was also a warehouse and store.
In what was known as a Staple Right, the city was able to hold merchants’ goods here for three days.
During that time they would be offered for sale to Miltenberg’s citizens, before the merchants could continue on their journey along the Main.
Laws like this helped Miltenberg to flourish in the Middle Ages.
Built from stone, the old town hall catches the eye thanks to its unadorned facade, with four mullioned windows underneath a classical pediment.
14. Fränkischer Rotwein Wanderweg
Miltenberg is near the southern end of a themed walking weaving along the Main riverside for 30 kilometres to the town of Großwallstadt.
As the name, “Rotwein Wanderweg”, the route with beckon you through idyllic terraced vineyards growing the Franconia wine region’s red grapes like Domina, Pinot Noir, Dornfelder and Regent.
In places, old vineyards have been abandoned and the land has been set aside for species-rich dry nature reserves.
if you want to take a shortcut to a picturesque stretch try the middle section between Erlenbach am Main, Klingenberg am Main and Großheubach.
15. Franconian Cuisine
Take the chance to try some comforting traditional Franconian cooking at one of the taverns in Miltenberg.
First up, a Fränkisches Hochzeitsessen (Fraconian Wedding Meal) is veal or beef steak simmered in broth and accompanied by lingonberry puree, horseradish and boiled potatoes.
Frankische Sauerbraten is pot roast meat, marinated beforehand in vinegar, wine and herbs and served with potato dumplings and salad.
For a cold platter, Frankisches Vesper is pickled gherkin, farmhouse bread and a medley of cooked and cured meat and cheese.