Unlike Ruritania, Franconia really does exist. Lying north and south of the River Main it is sprinkled with some of the most beautiful and splendid houses and gardens in Bavaria, of which it forms a part. The name of the Schönborn family figures large in these building enterprises, by the side of whose endeavours our own Bess of Hardwick, no slouch when it comes to bricks and mortar, pale into insignificance. For the lover of the Baroque this area is to be savoured, minimalists will hate every moment for this is the land of Balthasar Neumann (surely a baroque name in itself), the Tiepolos and Ferdinand Tietz. If these names are unfamiliar, it is because we in Britain did not embrace the theatricality of the style that was meat and drink to the plethora of princelings who so ardently espoused the vogue in 17th and 18th century Germany. The highlight must be the Wűrzburg Residenz, for the aforementioned Schönborns, as the centre of their Prince-Bishopric. It stands in the centre of this small town almost as large as Buckingham Palace built of golden stone, and harbouring within its walls not only State-Rooms of unparalleled magnificence but also the masterpiece of the Tiepolo family who travelled from Venice to paint the frescoes on the staircase ceiling and on the dome of the Kaisersaal. The staircase-vault is a paean of praise to the Prince-Bishops missing no opportunity to magnify their self-appointed importance and their close acquaintance with the gods of Olympus and, incidentally, Our Lord, himself. Nearby at Seehof is their Summer-Residence, where the jolly sculptures of Ferdinand Tietz are scattered around the gardens to enliven the formal parterres and fountains so à la mode in this period.
In Darmstadt, where the last Grand Duke was Queen Victoria’s grandson, there was a pretty little palace to visit containing the Grand Ducal porcelain collection. Meisssen porcelain predominated but also delightful virtuoso pieces from some of the multitude of short-lived German factories which proliferated in the 18th century. Frankenthal, Furstenberg and the more established Vienna. Particularly striking was this Meissen figure of a man suffering from gout. As much a joke then as it is now this figure evokes vividly the agonies of this excruciating complaint. All this set in a delightful garden where daturas flourished amidst the box-edged raked paths. In complete contrast was the visit to Sayn. Home of the splendidly named Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn family in their 19th century “Gothick” schloss. Here was a museum of cast-iron, formerly manufactured in the vicinity. Dull as the subject may at first appear it was compelling in that in the 19th century in Germany cast iron was used not just for roof-trusses but also for jewellery, which by contrast was of the utmost delicacy. Equally fragile were the myriad of butterflies which fluttered round the tropical house in the adjacent conservatory.
All these sights viewed from the deck of our excellent river-boat, the Johann Strauss, as it processed at stately pace through the locks of the river Main, onto the riverine autobahn which is the Rhine and finally the bucolic Moselle with its vertiginous vine-clad banks.