Driving along autobahn A6 from Ansbach toward Nuremberg, I noticed the sign. One of the brown ones used to designate sights and sites near the autobahn.

The sign showed the outline of a castle, with Abenberg written under it.

It was a place — and a castle — I had never heard of, despite many travels through Franconia.

This part of Germany is known for its castles, palaces and medieval towns such as Kronach, Kulmbach, Pottenstein, Nuremberg, and yes, even Ansbach. So on the return trip I decided to get off the autobahn and see what Abenberg had to offer.

As I emerged from a small forest, my first glimpse of Abenberg was modern houses with the towers of a castle peeking above a crown of trees on a hillside.

Following the road around a curve, the old town with the castle towering above it came into view.

Pulling the car into a parking lot outside of town, I walked through the Obere Stadttor, the 13th century upper city gate, and stepped into the past. The cobblestone main street passes the sandstone town hall, half-timbered houses, fountains and small squares to the Untere Stadttor.

Although the castle was the force of gravity in town, I went first in the opposite direction to Saint Jacob’s Church. Originally built in the 11th century, it has gone through many changes and renovations over the centuries. A highlight of the church is its many finely carved statues, inside and out.

From here there is a good view of the castle on the opposite side of town. The climb to it is steep, but not too hard.

You will pass a statue of St. Stilla, the patron saint of Abenberg, that is the centerpiece of the fountain bearing her name. Check out the imposing 17th century half-timbered house and the gardens behind it.

Originally made of wood, it was replaced by a stone castle that was eventually sold and almost razed for its stone. A 19th-century owner saved it and started its renovation, going as far as reconstructing the Luginsland tower.

And a good thing he did.

You have to climb 110 steps to get to the viewing platform of the 109-foot tower, but the view of the town and the surrounding countryside is worth every step.

If you look straight down you see the castle’s competition grounds where knights once jousted, mentioned by famed German poet-musician Wolfram von Eschenbach in his medieval work “Parzival.”

The town bought the castle in the 20th century, and it now houses a hotel and two museums, the Franconian History Museum and the Klöppelmuseum, dedicated to lace-making in the area.

In the courtyard is an interesting piece of art, the Ritterbrunnen, or knight fountain. The knight’s lance moves up and down, spouting water on its way down.

The castle’s other tower, the Schottenturm, was also rebuilt in the late 19th century, and now houses a room of the Franconian History Museum and hotel rooms in its top floor — a nice place for a romantic weekend.

Directions Abenberg is east of Ansbach and south of Schwabach and Autobahn A6. Coming from the west, exit A6 at Lichtenau and head southeast on state road 2220 toward Windsbach and on to Abenberg. From the east, exit at Schwabach West and head south on highway 466 to Kammerstein and then follow signs to Abenberg

Times The castle and the museums are open April to October, Tuesday through Sunday; November, December and March, Thursday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed in January and February.

Costs Admission to the museums is 3 euros for adults, 2 euros for children and 6 euros for a family ticket. If you only want to visit one museum it is 2 euros, 1.50 euros and 4 euros. It costs 1 euro to climb the castle keep.

Food There is a restaurant in the castle’s hotel and many restaurants in town. If the weather is good, the Meteora, a Greek restaurant outside of town, offers a great view of the castle from its beer garden.

Info Here are links to the castle hotel (in English), museums and town (German only):

— Michael Abrams

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