If classical architecture, wine and historic sights on every street corner are your thing, you opt for a short break in Rome, don’t you? Nein! Get yourself on a plane to Trier – Germany's oldest city
Back in 30BC, the Romans based their Western Roman Empire at Augusta Treverorum, in western Germany. More than 2,000 years later, their legacy lives on in the city on the banks of the River Moselle now known as Trier. Many Roman remains can be seen around the city centre – most of which survived the bombings of World War Two and are in as good condition as those in Rome itself.
The Porta Nigra ("Black Gate") marks the entrance to the city centre, and is claimed to be the biggest city gate in the world. The fourth storey of the tower provides great views of the streets below, allowing you to get your bearings and realise just how small the city is. With a population of just 100,000, Trier is manageably compact and walking is the best way to see all the sights.
Munching on bratwurst sausages, we strolled around the pedestrianised old town along streets such as Fleisch Strasse and Brot Strasse (Meat Street and Bread Street), then spotted in the distance what looked like a mini version of Rome’s Colosseum. It was in fact the remains of the Kaiserthermen, one of the largest bath complexes in the Roman Empire. Trier’s very own Colosseum was slightly less impressive. It hasn’t stood the test of time as well as Rome’s famous counterpart. Not a lot of it remains, since it provided a welcome source of stone for thieves in the Middle Ages.
The main square, the Hauptmarkt, is crowded with tourists making their way from the Kaiserthermen to the Porta Nigra via the city’s huge cathedral known as the Dom. Trier, we noticed, seemed popular with Germans visiting for a day trip, but there were very few non-German visitors. Perhaps the tourist office needs to direct its marketing campaigns further afield.
While classical architecture is the main draw, there is more to the city and the surrounding areas than that. Trier is located next to the River Moselle, and vineyards can be seen on the valley slopes for miles around. The area is world-famous for its white wine, and there are plenty of bars and restaurants in which to sample it. Trier has a big student population, so nightlife here is fun and cheap. As well as white wine, it has another local drink, called Viez – a kind of flat cider. It is probably an acquired taste, but when in Rome…
Trier was also the birthplace of the founder of communism, Karl Marx. The house where he was born, at Brückenstrasse 10, has been turned into the Museum-Karl-Marx-Haus (00 49 651 970 680, www.fes.de/marx/index_e.htm), though we were too busy sampling the local brew to pay it a visit. A walk along the Moselle is a great way to wake up after a big night out. Popular with joggers and cyclists, a riverside path takes you from the Roman Bridge at the south of the city to the Moselstadion – home to the German Regional Liga side, Eintracht Trier, and one of the most romantic locations in the world for a football ground.
As I boarded the plane for my return flight to the UK, I thought how crazy the Romans had been to leave this place. Nor can I understand why Trier is so unknown to us Brits. It should be high on the list of must-see destinations in Germany, and is ideal for a cultured weekend break.
Where to eat
Astarix (00 49 651 72239), Karl-Marx Strasse 11. This popular student hangout is great for cheap eats – if you can get a seat! Mains such as pizza, pasta or casserole start at €6. You'll get a tasty, filling meal at a good price – and in a nice, informal environment. The great thing about Astarix is that it has a separate wine bar attached – perfect for a glass or two of quality Moselle wine.
Krokodil (00 49 651 436 2232, www.le-krokodil.com), Böhmerstrasse 10. This is a far more traditional restaurant, where a three course meal with a drink still only costs about €12.
Where to drink
Bitburger Wirtshaus (00 49 651 436 1880, www.bitburger-wirtshaus.de), Kornmarkt 1-3. Germany's ubiquitous lager is Bitburger – a 4.8 per cent pilsner that actually has a taste. Affiliated to the brewery, the "Bitburger Inn" is a huge, warehouse-style boozer that is jam packed at weekends with the beautiful people of Trier. Enjoy the "Bit" on tap, served in heavy ceramic mugs – or work your way through the extensive cocktail list.
Where to stay
An excellent choice for the budget conscious is the Warsberger Hof at Dietrichstrasse 42. Located just a couple of minutes from the Hauptmarkt, it is nevertheless far enough away to be quiet at night. A good-quality "hostel" double room costs €51, a "youth hostel" double €47 and a four-bed dorm €21.50 per person. Breakfast isn't included but costs €5.80 from the on-site Leonardy bistro bar, which doubles as a cocktail bar at night – an ideal first stop on any pub crawl/wine wander around Trier.
Alternatively, try Nells Park Hotel at Dasbachstrasse 12, on the outskirts of the city centre and backing on to a park of the same name. Doubles start at €90. Be sure to take advantage of the roof terrace.
Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) flies to Frankfurt-Hahn (which is nowhere near Frankfurt, by the way) from Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and London Stansted. The Flibco shuttle bus (timetables at www.hahn-airport.de/default.aspx?menu=by_bus&cc=en) makes the hour-long journey from the airport to Trier for €12 each way. It's best to book ahead on the easy-to-use www.flibco.com.