The largest, oldest, and most complete museum of its kind in the world covers every conceivable aspect of scientific and technical endeavor with demonstrations and interactive displays in fifty-five different departments, including musical instruments, aeronautics, photography, physics, textiles, and everything in between.
As absorbing for kids as for adults, it is a hands-on extravaganza of do-it-yourself chemistry experiments and buttons, gears, levers, and handles galore. Built on an island in the middle of the Isar River, a full day can easily be spent in the company of historical originals such as Germany’s first submarine (built in 1906), the first electric locomotive (Siemens, 1879), the laboratory bench at which the atom was first split, dozens of automobiles, including the first Benz of 1886 and luxury Bugattis and Daimlers from the 1920s and 1930s.
Other priceless artifacts include a complete and eerily convincing replica of Spain’s Altamira caves. Judging from the head count, aeronautics is a favorite department; its hangar-sized halls house pioneering planes, from the Wright Brothers’ Type-A Standard, built in the U.S. in 1909, to military aircraft from the 1930s and 1940s.
From here there is direct access to the section devoted to space travel, where the most recent Spacelab exhibits are not half as interesting as the displays of such earlier attempts as Hitler’s V-2, code-named A4.
The American novelist Thomas Wolfe concluded that Munich is “a German dream translated into life”—and the description seems especially apt during Advent, when the capital of Bavaria turns into a three-dimensional Christmas card.
Countless holiday markets crop up around Germany during the holiday season, selling handcrafted ornaments and crèche figures, candles, wood-carved toys, and traditional objects associated with the season, including the Weihnachtspyramiden (the “Christmas pyramid,” a candle-powered merry-go-round found in every German home).
Rivaled only by Nuremberg’s picturesque market (famous for its gingerbread houses and ornaments made from spices), Munich’s Christkindlmarkt is one of Germany’s largest, oldest, and most enjoyable. Hundreds of brightly garlanded stalls sprawl across the Marienplatz, the central square at the heart of Munich’s Altstadt (Old Town), around an enormous fir tree.
Decked with lights donated by a Bavarian town, it stands proudly before the Rathaus. This is the neo-Gothic town hall, with a forty-three- bell carillon; frequent concerts with accompanying dancing figures add to the Yuletide flavor.
Much of Munich’s status as the nation’s “secret capital” is due to its world-class museums. With room after room of Old Master and early northern European Renaissance masterworks in its collection, which range from the 14th to the 18th centuries, Munich’s recently refurbished Alte Pinakothek (Old Picture Gallery) now rivals the Louvre for high- style display.
Those running to catch the young Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin and Child or Titian’s Crowning with Thorns might miss out on works by Memling, Brueghel, Hals, and Durer (the Four Apostles, his final work, is another museum highlight).
The picture gallery boasts one of the world’s largest concentrations of 17th-century Flemish painter Rubens: of his sixty-two works here, Self-Portrait with His Wife and the huge Last Judgment are especially detour-worthy. Van Dyck, his most distinguished student, is also extensively represented here.
The imposing brick building, constructed in Venetian Renaissance style, is itself an architectural treasure, built in the early 19th century to house the personal art collection of Ludwig I. Across the street is the Neue Pinakothek (New Picture Gallery), picking up with major 19th-century works where its sister museum leaves off. For an odd but entertaining juxtaposition of experiences, spend a morning in the two picture galleries, and an afternoon on the Oktoberfest grounds.
Turn back the clock and follow in the tracks of Germany’s eccentric Ludwig II along the “King’s Road” in a horse-drawn coach. Authentic 19th- century carriages hold up to nine passengers, who often choose to ride on leather-covered seats behind the uniformed coachman.
The spectacular, unspoiled beauty of the Bavarian meadows, dense woodlands, mountains, and crystal-blue lakes is enhanced by the sound of cowbells and horses’ hooves. Forgotten coach roads are practically traffic-free and lead you at a leisurely pace past isolated rural villages, historic gasthof inns, and country churches with onion-shaped domes, to the Mad King’s flamboyant Neuschwanstein Castle and its fairy-tale alpine setting.
Neuschwanstein was one of three castles created by Ludwig, and by far his most ambitious and theatrical extravagance. Set on an isolated rock ledge amid heart-stopping scenery, it is the turreted prototype that inspired the castle in Sleeping Beauty and later at Disneyland.
An expert at turning his will and whimsy into reality, Ludwig called upon the royal court’s set designer rather than an architect for the creation of Neuschwanstein. (You can also visit the nearby castle of Hohenschwangau, where Ludwig lived while overseeing the work of Neuschwanstein.)
It would take seventeen years and endless royal funds before it was finished—following Ludwig’s mysterious death at age forty, days after he was forced to abdicate for reasons of insanity. Ludwig lived at the castle only 170 days before he died.
Muncheners went into withdrawal when the country’s finest chef left the kitchen of Tantris (and Munich) to set up a place of his own. Residenz Heinz Winkler is close enough for them to make the trip for a gastronomic fix; the chef has set up shop in a charming 600-year-old coaching inn in idyllic Bavarian country, with Austria just down the road.
Diners can experience much of the alpine beauty the area has to offer without even leaving the dining rooms magnificent open-air terrace, but there’s no doubting that the best activity available is eating. Trailing his stars, toques, and accolades behind him, Winkler explores the frontiers of lighter German cooking still redolent of classical French principles, but enhanced with the Bavarian flourishes for which he is world-famous.
A signature seasonal dish that embodies his philosophy in the kitchen is his venison souffle with celery mousse. Plan to dip into Winkler’s excellent collection of great wines, whether from Germany’s Rhine Valley or farther afield. And save room for the iced Grand Marnier souffle with fresh strawberries, knowing you needn’t go far to sleep it all off (hope for a balconied room with mountain views).
But keep in mind that Herr Winkler thinks that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Once fortified, head out to explore the surrounding area. Germany’s southeastern comer is famous for Ludwig II’s sumptuous Schloss Herrenchiemsee, created in 1885 after his trip to France to mimic Versailles (in particular its Hall of Mirrors, reproduced here to scale and overlooking Ludwig’s gardens) and built on its own island, one of three in the middle of beautiful Chiemsee, Bavaria’s largest lake.
Welcome to French Polynesia, and one of the Pacific’s most desirable destinations- or even, as the island’s website proclaims with typical Gallic understatement, ‘the most beautiful island in the world’. Even if that’s going a bit far, this is certainly a romantic faraway place that attracts lots of people, and to be sure everyone gets the point there’s plenty of the grass-skirt dancing that has become a Polynesian trademark.
Bora Bora is in the Leeward Islands, 230 km (140 mi) northwest of Tahiti, and now depends on visitors for its economic wellbeing.
The only other commercial activities are fishing and harvesting coconuts, so the advent of tourism has given the island a huge fillip. The locals speak French and Tahitian, but most have a good grasp of English.
Set like Rome on seven hills and justly known as one of the most beautiful small towns in all of Europe, Bamberg’s magic is inextricably linked to its rich history as capital of the Holy Roman Empire under Heinrich II, the town’s most famous son.
A treasure chest of architecture of all periods encased within a city that is by no means a static museum piece, Bamberg is a lively joy to visit for its history, antiques stores, and nine breweries. It’s been called a beer drinker’s Eden, producing more than thirty varieties, one of them (the smoky Rauchbier), first brewed in 1536. Even Munich can’t match that.
The wonderfully picturesque Altes Rathaus (town hall) must be one of Europe’s most photographed: half-timbered, frescoed, and built on its own little island in the middle of the River Regnitz. The imposing four-towered Kaiserdom, the city’s great cathedral, built under Heinrich II and site of his coronation in 1012, is testimony to Bamberg’s affluence as a powerful, ecclesiastical center and famous for its interior’s elaborate sculptural decoration.
The spacious, sloping Domplatz square is a textbook illustration of the town’s architectural evolution from Romanesque to Gothic and Renaissance to Baroque. There are more luxurious hotels in town, but for pure atmosphere, the classy Hotel St. Nepomuk wins out for its history as a former mill built in 1410, with many cozy rooms overlooking the river and the Rathaus, and a well-known restaurant specializing in regional cuisine.
The Romantic Road (Romantische Strasse), stretching for 180 miles from Wurzburg southward to Fitssen, on the border with Austria, is more aptly named for the dozens of medieval towns, villages, and castles that line its way than for the scenery in between.
Pity the people on the jam-packed tour buses who see it fleetingly in a day. They’ve missed the essence of what makes this road trip unique— the handful of towns forming a romantic chain of pearls must be appreciated slowly. Before you even set off, a visit to Wurzburg and its glorious Baroque palace, the Residenz, sets the tone for the rest of your trip.
Created when great wealth came together with the genius of architect Balthasar Neumann, the Residenz was commissioned in 1720 by the powerful and pleasure-loving prince-bishops who would make this their home and who apparently saw little conflict between religious service and flagrant ostentation. As you enter the Residenz, a monumental vaulted staircase, the largest in the country, is a not so subtle reminder that you are in one of Europe’s most sumptuous buildings.
To gild the lily, Giovanni Tiepolo was called in from Venice to cover the staircase ceilings—and others—with his colorful frescoes. The artist outdid himself in the already elaborate Throne Room, a profusion of delicate stucco and grandiose architecture enhanced further by his work, creating a space that is airy, opulent, and magical.
If your head is swimming, restore yourself with a sampling of the local white wines in the cozy tavern in the cellar of the Residenz, then move along to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Red Castle on the Tauber), which is in love with its own image as the best-preserved medieval town in Europe. A tourist trap, yes, but a gorgeous one, with flowers spilling from window- boxes. Leaning half-timbered houses, cobblestone alleyways, city walls more than a mile long, and a 13th-century Rathaus.
The beauty, history, and charm of Rothenburg are echoed in the world-renowned Hotel Eisenhut—you may never want to leave the front lobby, where remnants of a 12th-century chapel can be found. The inn is maintained by the great-grandson of the original owner who first offered rooms to travelers in 1876, joining four 16th-century patrician homes on the ancient marketplace.
The three- story, galleried dining hall is one of the best tickets in town—at least until the warm weather arrives and everyone heads out to the hotel’s flagstone terrace on the Tauber River. It’s just the place to stay on the Romantic Road, and many call it the best boutique hotel in Germany.
The next day head to Dinkelsbtihl, a less touristy version of Rothenburg. Be in Nordlingen in time to hear its town crier from high in the church tower, and visit Germany’s best example of rococo architecture, the gemlike Wieskirche, which stands alone in its own alpine meadow. Begin and end your experience with a bang, touring Mad King Ludwigs two royal castles, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein, which cap the southern end of the Romantic Road.
The Canaries are a group of seven volcanic islands off the Atlantic coast of North Africa. They cover a total area of 7,450 sq km (2,900 sq mi) containing some of the world’s most dramatic scenery.
Each island has its own unique landscape and endemic flora and fauna, ranging from the desert of Fuerteventura to the lush mountainous forest of La Gomera. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is the cosmopolitan capital of the archipelago, reputed to have the best climate in the world.
The Spanish first invaded the Canaries in 1402 but it took the better part of a century to gain complete control of this strategic point on the Atlantic trade route.
For the next 300 years, the islands grew increasingly wealthy from trading profits until, in the 19th century, a recession led to mass emigration to America. The development of the tourist industry eventually turned the tide and today, around 10 million tourists visit every year.
Tenerife, the largest island, has the most varied scenery – a landscape of fertile valleys, steep cliffs and wide sandy beaches dominated by the towering outline of El Teide, the third largest volcano on earth at 3,718 m (12,195 ft) high.
La Palma, the ‘green island’, has the world’s largest volcanic crater, La Caldera del Taburiente with a diameter of 9 km (6 mi) and a depth of 770 m (2,525 ft).
The smallest island, Hierro is also the rockiest with a dramatic coastline plunging straight into the sea. Lanzarote is the most extraordinary of all – a surreal volcanic landscape of petrified lava from 18th and 19th century eruptions.
The stark beauty of its eerily empty scenery dotted with ancient vineyards, brilliant colored flowers and sparkling white houses is unlike anywhere else on the planet — a truly memorable experience.
Population: 1,995,833 (2006)
When to go: All year, The Canaries have a subtropical climate with very little variation in temperature and warm seas whatever the season.
The German Alpine Road (Deutsche Alpenstrasse) is one of Europe’s most ancient and scenic routes, winding along the Bavarian Alps, the spectacularly beautiful natural border between Germany and Austria.
For 300 view-filled miles east of the Bodensee (Lake Constance), past ancient castles, quaint chalet-inns, and mountaintop villages with elaborately painted houses the Bavarians call Luftlmalerei, the road gives travelers a look at some of the best of Germany. A good halfway stopping point is Garmisch, host of the 1936 Winter Olympics and home of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain.
It’s an easy ascent to the top of this 9,731-foot peak with heart-stopping views, either by the cog railway, which departs from the center’s train station for a leisurely seventy-five-minute ride, or, for those who know no fear, by the cable car, which leaves from Eibsee, just outside town.
Finally, there could be no greater finale to the Alpine Road than the lake, Konigssee. With vertical escarpments of the Wartzman Mountains almost completely surrounding the lake, the most enjoyable—and only—way to see Konigssee is by boat.
Electric and quiet, the boats do not disturb the deep, cool waters as they drop visitors off at the pint-sized pilgrimage church of St. Bartholoma, wedged into a small cove. Originally constructed in the 11th century, Bartholoma was rebuilt some 600 years later.
With the Konigssee as its highlight, this gorgeous little slice of Germany that protrudes into Austria is the centerpiece of the stunning Berchtesgaden National Park. The 120 miles of hiking trails are sprinkled with high-altitude restaurant-huts, and the region abounds with chalet like guesthouses and rooms for rent.