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Holiday Guides for Europe - Germany

Aachen: the best of three worlds

Close to the borders of France and Belgium, the German city of Aachen has it all

If you believe in lazy national stereotypes, then the Germans are efficient as well as quite cutting-edge culturally, the French are romantic with excellent culinary skills, while the Belgians are quite handy when it comes to making beer and chocolate.

In an ideal world, it would be possible to take a couple of months off work and take in the delights of all three of our Western European neighbours, though, given that for many this is pretty much an impossibility, the city of Aachen is probably the next best thing.

As the most westerly city of Germany, Aachen lies just a stone's throw from the borders of both France and Belgium, making it a true melting pot of cultures and influences – indeed, don't be surprised to hear it referred to as Aix-la-Chapelle.

While I was certainly tempted by the number of cheap flights on option, I chose to travel in style, taking the train from London and arriving in less than four hours, sufficient time to get started on the champagne and sausages.

Despite reading up on the fascinating history of Aachen while speeding under the Channel and through the French countryside – the city boomed after it was taken over by the Emperor Charlemagne back in 768AD, with pilgrims visiting his burial site in the famous cathedral fuelling its growth - the architectural grandeur of the city nevertheless proved somewhat overwhelming.

As the postcards and the World Heritage Site status attest, it is Aachen Cathedral that dominates the old city.

Built on Roman ruins, the cathedral is the oldest in the whole of Northern Europe, having hosted the coronation for 30 German kings and 12 queens since the year 936, and my friendly German guide kept me easily entertained for the afternoon.

Likewise, the 14th-century City Hall also proved to be a cultural highlight, particularly the frescoes by the Aachen artist Alfre Rethel depicting scenes from the life of the city's most famous resident, Charlemagne.

However, call me un-cultured but it was the beer that truly made my weekend.

Traditional German pubs are seemingly on every corner, with whole steins of locally-produced specialities neither breaking the bank nor hurting the head the morning after.

Best of all, though, is to sacrifice the comfort of a bar stool for the thermal spas which persuaded Charlemagne to set up camp here.

Two hours into my session at the Carolus Therman, I could practically feel the previous night's excesses and the stresses of everyday life sweating out of me, recharging my batteries for the week ahead.