The Renaissance swept across all of Germany, but it concentrated its full force on that part of northern Bavaria that had once been a Frankish kingdom. Franconia today contains many of Germany's greatest medieval and Renaissance treasures. Its hillsides are dotted with well-preserved medieval castles, monasteries, and churches. From the region's feudal cities sprang some of Germany's most significant artists -- Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Veit Stoss, Adam Krafft. Today, Franconia draws music lovers to its annual Wagner Festival in Bayreuth.

Franconia owes much of its beauty to the limestone range on the southern edge of the province. Between these hills and the edge of the Bavarian Forest is the upper Danube, which begins about 30km (20 miles) from Regensburg. The Danube gradually builds force from the smaller streams flowing out of the Alps and Swabian Jura, and by the time it reaches the Austrian border, at Passau, it's large enough to carry commercial ships and barges. Although not as important to the German economy as the Rhine, the Danube was responsible for the growth of several influential towns.

Franconia's countryside is equally compelling, especially the forest called Frankenwald. This scenic region stretches from the Bohemian Forest on the border of the Czech Republic in the east to the fringes of Frankfurt in the west. The most beautiful part is Frankisches Schweiz, the "Switzerland of Franconia," bounded by Bamberg on the west, Bayreuth in the east, and Kulmbach in the north.