KASSEL is the largest city in northern Hesse, and a rather nicer place than it's generally given credit for. Internationally, it's renowned for the documenta contemporary art exhibition, which rolls in every five years, takes over the city and is next due back in 2012. Between times it's as if Kassel falls off the radar. True, the city centre is dull – as single-mindedly devoted to shopping as any Fussgängerzone (pedestrian zone) in Germany – but the city's interesting museums include one devoted to the Brothers Grimm, the parks are among the most extraordinary eighteenth-century garden landscapes in Europe, and at Schloss Wilhelmshöhe there's a first-rate collection of Old Masters. And for those who don't relish hanging out in shopping centres, the leafy, attractive Vordere Westen quarter – between the city centre and Wilhelmshöhe – has all the sinuous Jugendstil architectural details and relaxed café life you could wish for.
For visitors, Kassel is a linear city, with most of the sights at either end of Wilhelmshöher Allee – in the east are the city centre's museums and a beautiful park, Karlsaue; in the west there's the exceptional landscape and art collection of Wilhelmshöhe. Hotels and places to eat and drink are scattered between the two.