Serenely tucked within beautiful Eifel countryside, Abteikirche Maria Laach is one of the finest examples of a Romanesque church in Germany. Part of a 900-year-old Benedictine abbey, it is next to a volcanic lake, the Laacher See, surrounded by a 21-sq-km nature reserve. Attending prayer services is worthwhile if only to listen to the monks' ethereal chanting in Latin and German. Before entering the compound, drop by the visitors centre for information on the abbey and the lake area.
You enter the church via a large Vorhalle (portico; restored in 2009), a feature not usually found north of the Alps. Note the quirky carvings on and above the capitals and the Löwenbrunnen (Lion Fountain), reminiscent of Moorish architecture. The interior is surprisingly modest, in part because the original furnishings were lost during the 1800s. In the west apse lies the late-13th-century, recumbent, statue-adorned tomb of abbey founder Heinrich II of Palatine. The east apse shelters the high altar with its wooden canopy; overhead is an early-20th-century Byzantine-style mosaic of Christ donated by Kaiser Wilhelm II. The entrance to the 11th-century crypt is to the left of the choir.
Across the path from the Klostergaststätte restaurant, a 20-minute film looks at the life of the resident 46 monks, who take the motto Ora et labora (pray and work) very seriously indeed. They pray five times a day and earn a living from economic activities such as growing organic apples and raising house plants, available for purchase in the Klostergärtnerei nursery.
Various trails take walkers up the forested hill behind the abbey; options for circumambulating the Laacher See include the lakefront Ufer-Rundweg (8km) and the more strenuous Höhenrundweg (15km).
Next to the car park, a small shop sells fruits and vegetables grown by the monks, as well as other organic edibles.
Maria Laach is about 30km northwest of Koblenz and 22km southeast of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. The nearest train station is in Andernach from where bus 310 travels to the abbey in 25 minutes. Parking is €2.