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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Germany.

Cologne Cathedral – Germany

The history of Germany’s greatest Gothic cathedral is unusually long and complicated. The foundation stone of the present cathedral was laid on August 15, 1248, and the presbytery consecrated in 1322. The cathedral was built gradually until around 1520, but remained unfinished until the 19th century. The building was finally completed in 1842-80, according to the rediscovered, original Gothic designs. Once the world’s tallest building, Cologne Cathedral still boasts the world’s largest church facade.

THE CATHEDRAL BELLS

cologne-cathedral-bell

The 3.4-ton bell cast in 1418 in honor of the Three Kings was tuned to the note B. It hung in a belfry adjacent to the cathedral, but in 1437 it was moved to the south tower. Eleven years later, it was joined by Europe’s largest bell, the 10-ton Pretiosa (Precious One), tuned to G. When rung together, the bells produced a G-major chord. In 1449, the 4.3-ton Speciosa (Beautiful One) was added. It was tuned to A, so that Cologne Cathedral would be the first church to have its bells tuned to a melody rather than a chord. The first bell has since been replaced.

THE CHOIR

cologne-cathedral-choir

Around 30 years after the cathedral’s foundation stone was laid, the pillars of the choir were decorated with early-Gothic statues of Christ, the Virgin Many and the 12 Apostles. These larger-than-life figures are clad in splendid robes. Above them there is a choir of angels playing musical instruments, symbolizing the heavenly music played to celebrate the celestial coronation of the Virgin Mary. The coronation itself is depicted in the figures of Christ and Mary. A similar interpretation, dating from 1248, can be seen in the church of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. There, too, 12 of the pillars supporting the building symbolize the 12 Apostles as the most important pillars of the Christian church.

SHRINE OF THE THREE KINGS

shrine-of-the-three-kings-bremen

The Shrine of the Three Kings, the largest reliquary in the Western world, is located near the high altar. Studded with precious and semiprecious stones, this lidded sarcophagus is a masterpiece of medieval gold smithery. Its sides are decorated with images of the prophets and Apostles, the adoration of the kings and the baptism of Christ. The rear features a portrait of Rainald von Dassel, archbishop of Cologne (1159-67). As chancellor to Emperor Barbarossa (r. 1152- 90), the archbishop is said to have brought the mortal remains of the Three Kings from Milan to Cologne in 1164. On January 6 every year, the front of the shrine is opened to reveal the golden-crowned skulls of the kings.

Gothic Stalls

gothic-stalls

The massive oak stalls, built in 1308-11, were the largest that had ever been made in Germany.

Shrine of the Three Kings

This huge Romanesque reliquary was made by Nikolaus von Verdun in 1181-1220 to hold the relics, acquired by the cathedral in the 12th century, put Cologne on the pilgrimage map.

Mailander Madonna

mailander-madonna

This fine early-Gothic carving of the Milan Madonna and Child dates from around 1290. it is currently displayed in the Marienkapelle.

High Altar

cologne-cathedral-altar

The Gothic altar stab, which dates back to the consecration of the presbytery, depicts the Coronation of the Virgin Mary, flanked by the 12 Apostles.

Pinnacles

Elaborately decorated, spirelike structures top the supporting pillars.

Semicircular Arches

These arches were used to transfer the thrust of the vaults onto the buttresses.

Treasury

cologne-cathedral-treasure

Housed in the cathedral’s 13th -century stone cellar vaults, the treasury contains a large collection of golden objects, including the Engelbert Reliquary (c. 1630).

Altar of the Magi

This splendid altar (c. 1445) is the work of Stephan Lochner and is dedicated to the Three Kings, Cologne’s patron saints.

Buttresses

Unprecedented structural height was achieved through the use of flying buttresses, which support th entire bulk of the cathedral.

Petrusportal

The portal of St. Peter, the only one built in the second half of the 14th century, has five Gothic figures.

EARLIER CHURCHES

Several churches had come and gone on the site by the time the first cathedral was completed in 870. Today’s larger Gothic cathedral became necessary because of the number of pilgrims wanting to see the Shrine of the Three Kings.

KEY DATES

1248: Work begins on a new cath to house the relics of the Three Kings.
1265: The outer walls of the choir and adjacent chapels are completed.
c. 1530: Work on the cathedral halts with the south tower 190 ft (58m) in height.
1794: French troops use the cathedral as a warehouse and stables during the French Revolutionary Wars.
1801: The cathedral is reconsecrated and the city’s citizens demand that it is completed.
1842-80: Building work recommences and the cathedral is finished according to the medieval plans.
1996: Cologne Cathedral becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bremen Town Hall – Germany

A brick facade in the style of the Weser Renaissance makes Bremen Town Hall one of the northernmost Renaissance masterpieces to be found in mainland Europe. Behind the facade lies a magnificent late- Gothic manifestation of civic pride. The rectangular building is decorated with medieval statuary, including life-size sandstone sculptures of Emperor Charlemagne and the seven electors, four prophets, and four wise men. The frieze above the building’s arcade is an allegory of human history.

THE STATUE OF ROLAND

statue-of-roland

This 33-ft (10-m) high statue of Roland has been a fixture of Bremen’s Market Square for some 600 years. A Christian knight and nephew of Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor (r. 800-814), Roland symbolizes the town’s independence. His gaze is directed toward the cathedral, the residence of the bishop, who often sought to restrict Bremen’s autonomy. Roland’s sword of justice symbolizes the judiciary’s independence, and its engraved motto confirms the emperor’s edict, conferring town rights on Bremen. The statue was carved in 1404 by a member of the Parler family, a well-known clan of architects and sculptors. It was the prototype for 35 similar statues in other German towns.

WESER RENAISSANCE

Bremen’s Gothic Town Hall owes much of its splendor to its magnificent facade. Having been completely reworked by the architect Luder von Bentheim in 1595-1612, this facade is considered an outstanding example of Weser Renaissance architecture, the predominant style throughout the Weser region of northern Germany between 1520 and 1630. Nobles who had toured Italy returned home inspired by the Renaissance architecture they had seen and attempted to replicate it in their own designs. The ornamental gables and frieze along the arcade are both typical of this style, as are the richly sculptured projecting oriels.

THE RATSKELLER

bremen-ratskeller

To the west side of the Town Hall is the entrance to the Ratskeller. One of the oldest wine cellars in Germany, it has been sewing wine since 1405. Today, more than 650 wines can be sampled here, all of which are from German wine-growing regions and some of which are stored in decoratively carved wine casks. The Ratskeller’s atmosphere has inspired many artists and writers. For example, its setting provided the basis for Wilhelm Hauff’s book, Fantasies in the Bremer Ratskeller (1827), which later inspired the German Impressionist painter Max Slevogt to paint the humorous frescoes in the Hauff Room.

Upper Hall

bremen-town-hall-upper-hall

New laws were passed in the splendid Upper Hall, which occupies the entire first floor.

Model sailing ships

bremen-town-hall-ships

Suspended from the ceiling, these are reminiscent of Bremen’s role as a major port.

Ratskeller

This Gothic wine cellar stores hundreds of different wines. Murals by Max Slevogt (1927) decorate the walls.

Facade

bremen-town-hall-facade

The original Gothic building was clad with a magnificent Weser Renaissance facade designed by Luder von Bentheim in 1595-1612.

The Judgment of Solomon

The 16th -century mural of Solomon’s court in the Upper Hall is a reference to the room’s dual function as a council chamber and a courtroom.

Fireplace Room

bremen-town-hall-fireplace

Adjoining the Gobelin Room, the elegant Fireplace Room owes its name to a high, French marble fireplace.

Gobelin Room

gobelin-room

The room derives its charm from a large, exquisitely wrought tapestry produced by the 17th -century Gobelin workshop in Paris.

Golden Chamber

The lower room of the two-story Guldenkammer offers exquisite examples of Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau), created during a makeover by the artist Heinrich Vogeler (1872-1942) in 1905. The glided leather wallpaper dates from the 17th -century.

Ornamental Gable

The architect Luder von Bentheim gave the Town Hall facade a local touch by adding a decorative Flemish-style stepped gable that is five stories high.

THE MUSICIANS OF BREMEN

musicants-of-bremen-statue

On the northern side of the Town Hall is a bronze statue of the four animals — a donkey, dog, cat, and rooster — immortalized in the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale of The Musicians of Bremen. It was cast by Gerhard Marcks in 1951.

KEY DATES

1251: Inauguration of Bremen’s first civic building, the domus coosulum.
1405-10: The dilapidated town hall is replaced by a new Gothic structure.
1595-1612: The structure is renovated and a new facade built overlooking the Market Square.
1620: The Bacchus and what is now the Hauff Room for the storage of wine are built.
1905: Completion of the Golden Chamber in German Art Nouveau style.
1909-13: Addition of the New Town Hall on the east side of the building.
1927: Completion of the murals in the Hauff Room.

Mini Guide – Autumn in Bavaria

Visitors flock to Munich for Oktoberfest, but those who spread their wings a little further find medieval villages, forests of autumnal golds and cities waking from summer slumber

History

Fairytale Castles

Southern Germany is famed for its castles and two of the most fantastical are near Füssen, below the Bavarian Alps. Start at Schloss Neuschwanstein (above), King Ludwig II’s 19th-century pile, also the model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. Next, hop across to the Neo-Gothic Schloss Hohenschwangau, where Ludwig grew up.

Wieskirche

In 1730, a farmer in Steingaden witnessed the miracle of his Christ statue shedding tears. Pilgrims poured into town in such numbers over the next decade that a new church was built to house the weepy work. The Wieskirche is Unesco-listed and one of Bavaria’s best-known Baroque churches. Inside the circular structure, eight white pillars are topped by gold capital stones and swirling decorations.

Romantic Road

From the vineyards of Wurzburg to the foot of the Alps, the 250-mile-long Romantic Road is a popular journey through southern Germany that ends at Ludwig II’s crazy castles. The route can be done by tour bus, but a car will give you more flexibility to see the ostentatious palaces, Bavarian churches and chocolate-box medieval towns and villages, such as Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Outdoors

Bavarian Forest National Parkbavarian-forest-national-park

The dreamy haze of the Bavarian Forest National Park extends for around 24,250 hectares along the Czech border. Its thick forest is home to deer, wild boar, foxes, otters and birds, and is crossed by marked hiking and cycling trails. For information, go to the park’s website or the visitor centre close to Neuschönau village.

The Real Deal

Traditional-style Christmas markets can be found all over, but for an authentic experience seek out the best of the German originals

Across Europe, countries have their own Christmas traditions, but some leapfrog borders and become annual staples for people the world over. One such custom is the German Christmas market. Characterised by stalls of handcrafted gifts, baked regional specialities and cauldrons of glühwein, German Christmas markets are atmospheric and festive events enjoyed by many. Aromas and tastes are a key part of the experience, as are the sounds of musicians playing and choirs singing.

But the history of the Christmas market is more prosaic. Rooted in the late Middle Ages, European winter markets allowed townspeople to stock up on vital supplies before the cold months set in. Take a look at some of Germany’s earliest and most authentic Christmas markets, which all have their own backstories and fascinating peculiarities underpinning the extravaganza as they have become.

Dresden Striezelmarkt

Taking its name from the original Dresden Christmas stolen, the Striezel, this market has at the core of its celebrations the cutting of the giant stolen. If that’s not eccentric enough, the market is also host to Pflaumentoffelfest – an event honouring the history of the Pflaumentoffel, a decorative chimney sweep figure made out of prunes once sold by children as a good luck charm. Carved wooden ornaments also play a significant part in Striezelmarkt’s history – they were first sold here after the German Peasants’ War when unemployed miners took to hand carving as a way of earning money.

Frankfurt

Frankfurt is one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany, at over 600 years old. Traditionally, religious mystery plays were performed here, but today you’re more likely to be greeted by merry music around a 30m-tall Christmas tree. Track down Bethmaennchen – traditional Frankfurt Christmas confectionery – loved by writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Darmstadt

This year the market brings an international flavor to proceedings with the help of its European neighbours and twin towns. Alongside arts and crafts from local artists, find influences from Latvia, Hungary and Switzerland. The market spreads across several of the town’s central spaces, but the main square is where Santa makes his annual entrance on 6 December. The market can be explored on a guided tour, during which you’ll uncover its history as well as come across traditional local crafts.

Thuringia

The Thuringia region offers a varied choice of Christmas markets. Take Erfurt, which brings bags of historical charm with its blend of medieval and Gothic architecture. St Mary’s Cathedral and the Church of St Severus make a magnificent backdrop to this quaint market. Also in Thuringia is the Unesco World Heritage town of Weimar, where you can skate on ice before relaxing with a warm drink in the winter village.

Germany: Culture, History And Entertainment

Located in North Germany, Worpswede is a charming small town tucked away in the countryside. More precisely, it is situated in the legendary “Teufelsmoor” – Devil Moors, northeast of Bremen, near Weyerberg Hill and has been the home to a lively artistic community since the end of the 19th century, with over 130 artists and craftsmen in residence there. The reason so many artists retreat here is evident when you arrive. The town is very calm and friendly with plenty of old-style houses, beautiful gardens and pretty woods to inspire and motivate the artist’s inner voice. As a visitor, the town offers a myriad of artistic masterpieces and some fun little experiences outside museums as well.

Our first stop was the Wormseed museum, where a well-versed guide led us through the impressive collection and told us many stories behind the pieces of art and a lot of anecdotes of local lore. Among the paintings we were able to see was the famous major work, The “Sommerabend” (summer evening), by Heinrich Vogeler from 1905. It is unfortunate that pictures and words come up short when describing masterpieces… needless to say; it is a beautiful piece of art! The museum also has a room dedicated to the versatile sculptor, architect and painter Bernhard Hoetger, where his genius is clearly on display! Aside from the museums, we also enjoyed a guided walking tour through the town which focused on Worpswede’s development from a farming village into an artists’ colony, a long and winding story as fascinating as the art that has been created here!

"Torfkahn"

“Torfkahn”

Later, we were treated to really unique experience – a ride on a “Torfkahn” peat tub over the River Hamme. In the period between the mid-18th century and early 20th century, these oak boats with brown sails were the only means of transportation in the marsh-filled land north-east of the city of Bremen and were originally used to haul peat to the more remote regions, but are now a must-do tourist attraction. This is a wonderful boat ride along the river, and the gentle journey on a sunny day was an excellent start to this laid back and pleasant tour. With that mellow day behind us, we enjoyed a dinner at the Restaurant Hammehutte Neu Helgoland.

Perfectly placed, this restaurant was beside the canal with a view of the beautiful forest countryside. Its was typically German, not only because of the wonderful local beers, delicious sausages and scrumptious deserts on the menu, but also due to the second to none service and ambiance. Our evening was spent at the historic Hotel Buchenhof, which was a treat, indeed. The very well maintained building with antique furniture is surrounded by lovely forests and gardens. The hotel is a great base of operations to visit all the museums and galleries in town or even to come back to after a cycling tour into the moor.

Our next stop would be the seaside town of Cuxhaven, and it was a highlight of the trip. With the low tide, we could walk on the ocean floor for a couple of hours with a beautiful warm breeze to accompany us. The soft, sandy soil and a bright sun made it quite the memorable moment. We could have walked for hours along a marked trail and visit other sand bars or, as some others did, take a horse drawn cart along the way. It is clear why this is vacation land for Germans, as it is the only place within the country that meets the Atlantic. Our guide talked for ever about the many sea creatures that live in these waters.

We had a chance to visit the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Wadden Sea Visitor Centre, which is perfectly placed in the Wadden Sea national park itself, right at the entrance to Sahlenburg beach and the Wadden Path to Neuwerk. From here we had a guided tour among the 2000 square metre exhibition, the 100 year old bird warden’s hut, and the bird collection of Heinrich Gâtke, founder of the bird observatory on the island of Helgoland, among many other interesting exhibitions. After that, we had a great lunch of herring and other fresh, locally sourced seafood at the visitor centre. Once full, we went on a guided city tour Cuxhaven. Situated on the shores of the North Sea at the mouth of the Elbe River, and including the northernmost point of Lower Saxony, its town districts Duhnen, Dose and Sahlenburg are especially popular vacation spots on the North Sea.

 Wadden Sea

Wadden Sea

This is a city known for several reasons, including as a port for Germans leaving for the new world and for its very long, sandy coastline with many hotels. It is extremely popular with summer sunbathers and Duhnen also offers access to the Thalassozentrum ahoi complex, a spa and wellness centre – a great way to relax in a well maintained and popular pool complex. After the tour, we enjoyed the Thalassozentrum’s bath and sauna area, very, very much… Please do not forget to bring your swimwear! Our next destination was Luneburger Heide -Luneburg Heath, which is a large area of heath, geest and woodland in the northeastern part of the state of Lower Saxony. A historical anomaly, the dialect of Northern Low Saxon is still widely spoken in the region! Very unique.

The area forms part of the hinterland for the cities of Hamburg, Hanover and Bremen, and is named after the town of Luneburg. Most of the area is a nature reserve which was shown to us by Ms. Marianne Draeger from Naturparkregion Luneburger Heide e.V., a certified guide for nature and landscapes. Marianne briefly introduced the barrier-free hiking trail then guided us along the Heidschnuck sheep trail from Niederhaverbeck to Wilsede.

She was a well-spring of information about the preservation of the heath and its amazing flora and fauna. We enjoyed a light lunch along the hike, and after the nature walk we found ourselves surrounded by some of the most charming German historic houses I have ever seen, wooden structures with wonderful thatched roofs where we would stop for a wonderful coffee break with cake. To round out the day, a horse-drawn carriage took us from Wilsede back to the hotel…what a relaxing and special to see the countryside in an old fashioned way!

Elbtalaue would offer a whirlwind of activity, starting with a trip to the ‘Niedersâchsische Elbtalaue’ Biosphere Reserve in the Elbe valley of Lower Saxony, its nature and landscape is something to see, with its meandering river and oxbow lakes. We also learned that the Lower Saxonian Elbe valley is an ancient cultural hub as well, with traces of human activity dating back to the Bronze Age! After that, we arrived in Hitzacker, a spa town located on the River Elbe and enjoyed a guided walk around town, and then we got to experience the romantic landscape of the Elbe valley from a different perspective while riding a motorized raft along the river.

After lunch we took a tour through the cultural site of one of the last remaining Rundling villages in Europe and took in the open-air museum in Lubeln and visiting Satemin for an afternoon coffee. The fascinating Rundling villages, a primitive form of circular village, are a curious reminder of the interaction between German rulers and their Slavic subjects in the early Middle Ages. Although still being studied, and under consideration to be granted World Heritage status, most researchers believe they were round to close the village in and offer only one road in from the outside, strengthening the community. Really interesting and unique.

Lubeln, Germany

Lubeln, Germany

Just before returning home, we had a short visit in the city of Bremen’s old town. This city is known for its link to The ‘Town Musicians of Bremen” (German: Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten), a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster who leave their homes, unite and defeat a den of thieves. Gerhard Marcks sculpted a statue in honor of the Bremen Town Musicians, and it is said that touching the front hooves can make dreams come true! Needless to say some wishes were made, including one to return to Germany!

Munich at its Best

Small-Town Charm and Free-Flowing Beer

Despite its population of 1.4 mil­lion, Munich (or “München,” as it’s called in German) feels small. This big-city elegance is possible, in part, because of its determination to be pedestrian- and bike-friendly, and because of a law that no building can be taller than its church spires. There’s ongoing debate about changing this policy, but there are still no skyscrapers in downtown Munich.

Walking through Munich, you’ll understand why it is consistently voted one of Germany’s most livable cities – safe, clean, cultured, a university town, built on a peo­ple scale, and close to the beauties of nature. Though it’s the capital of Bavaria and a major metropolis, Munich’s low-key atmosphere has led Germans to dub it “Millionendorf” – the “village of a million people.”

Dawdling in the sunlit main square called Marienplatz (“Mary’s Square”), I love to take in the ornate facades of the gray, pointy Old Town Hall and the Neo-Gothic New Town Hall, with its beloved glocken­spiel – only 100 years old – that recreates a royal wedding from the 16th century.

Nearby, you can experience small-town Munich at the Viktualienmarkt, long a favorite with locals for fresh produce and friendly service. While this expensive real estate could have been overrun by fast food places, Munich keeps the rent low so these old-time shops can carry on.

marienplatz

Marienplatz

Berlin Wall, Germany

Get orientated – It started in 1961, with rolls of barbed wire dividing the streets. But Die Berliner Mauer – the Berlin Wall – quickly became a more permanent structure: a 4m-high brick barrier, bolstered by a secondary wall of reinforced concrete, overlooked by watchtowers and patrolled by soldiers and guard dogs. It ran for 160km, dissecting Potsdamer Platz and making a border crossing of the beautiful Oberbaumbriicke, a double-decker bridge spanning the River Spree. For 28 years the barricade divided East and West Berlin, a very literal boundary between democracy and Communism at the height of the Cold War. It was the focal point of hostilities between Russia and the USA; 192 people were killed trying to cross it. Eventually mounting civilian pressure resulted in the wall being torn down on 9 November 1989. Now, 25 years on, only fragments remain.

Getting there – EasyJet flies direct from various UK airports to Berlin Schonefeld. Returns cost from £53; flight time is from 1hr 45mins. The airport (berlin-airport.de) is 18km south-east of central Berlin. Getting to the city centre is straightforward; the fastest route is via the Airport Express train, which takes 30 minutes to reach the Central Station. A single ticket costs €3.20 (£2.50). S-Bahn trains, buses and trams also link the airport to the city. If you prefer to get a taxi, expect to pay over €45 (£35.70).

Berlin-bridge

Berlin is the perfect destination to relax while discovering historical objectives and enjoying European culture.

The visit – If possible, visit during the anniversary. On the weekend of 9 November, a new type of wall will be forged: thousands of illuminated, helium-filled balloons will create a 12km border of light across the city; celebrations will reach a crescendo when the balloons are cut free. There’s still plenty to see year-round though. Visit Checkpoint Charlie, on Friedrichstrasse -once the only crossing point for foreigners between East and West Berlin. Today a replica booth, complete with sandbags, marks the spot. Next head to the East Side Gallery, in Friedrichshain.

Here you’ll find a 1,316m stretch of original wall, which is emblazoned with artwork and satirical images. Another section of the wall along Bernauer Strasse is now an official place of remembrance. The keen historian can follow the Berliner Mauerweg (Berlin Wall Trail), which traces the line of the former fortifications. The 160km route has been divided into 14 sections, making it easy to plan a foray on foot or by bike. If that’s not enough, don’t forget the city’s other 420 galleries, 50 theatres and 153 museums! Seelvisitberlin.defor more info.

 

Lake Constance: The Fairytale Spot For Every Cyclist

Love in a foreign country. It can happen in so many ways. There’s the obvious wham-bam type: adoration comes fast, followed by a proclamation to the world! Then there’s the slow, creeping onset of affection m that neither one of you sees coming. It was the former that I was witnessing on a bridge in the Austrian town of Bregenz. I watched as a couple took out a red padlock, which was engraved in gold with their names and two interlinked hearts, and clamped it securely around the railings. “It’s to show our unbreakable love,” the woman explained when they caught me staring.

With that they kissed and threw the key into the fast-flowing river below. At the same time, in this exact spot, another relationship was beginning to blossom, between me and my hired bicycle – though, being the second kind of love, I didn’t know it yet. Earlier that morning I’d picked the bike up from town, ready to start a week-long adventure circling Central Europe’s third-largest lake. So far we were getting off to a quarrelsome start, mainly because, as I watched the loved-up couple, I was emptying my pockets and panniers, desperately trying to find my own key – to the bike lock.

Pfander-Bregenz

Pfander, Bregenz – when you’ve finished your lake circuit, take the cablecar up 1,064m Mt Pfander for a perfect panorama of your cycling achievement and great views over to the Alps.

Like a clasped padlock, I’d always been closed to the idea of a cycling trip. But once I’d learned that a journey around Lake Constance meant crossing country borders almost daily, offered endless cafe stops, came with a multitude of escape routes (courtesy of efficient public transport), and that someone else would transfer my luggage, I began to feel more open. Before long, I found myself setting off on the first 41km of my 214km journey…

DAY 1 – Distance to cycle: 41km

Ice cream count: 0

Lake Constance. An over-inflated bulge in the River Rhine, here, Switzerland, Germany and Austria meet in a glorious mix of verdant vineyards, baroque churches, medieval castles and bench-lined promenades. It’s 273km in circumference, and with the official Bodensee Radweg trail covering 214km of that, there’s really only one way to tackle it: on two wheels. “You never know what will happen,” said the lady at the hire firm as I jumped on my bike. Immediately the saddle slipped, my over-stuffed panniers caused me to wobble and I proceeded to knock the bike over as I leapt off and tried to put it on its stand. Making my way out of Bregenz, I decided I disliked my seven-geared companion.

The small Austrian town was off to a sleepy start. Most of the coffee shops were still closed as sunlight started to hit the wooden-beamed buildings of the old Upper Town, which sat dreamily among the foothills of the Alps. These cobbled streets date from the 13th century, though further back the area was a Roman camp, patrolled by centurions; today only dog-wralkers and roller-skaters were doing the rounds, enjoying the sunshine. As I pedalled, I passed the floating stage that gets rebuilt anew’ every two years for the summer festival. The green and orange dragons flanking its edges seemed to watch me with their giant eyes.

Stein-am-Rhein

Stein am Rhein – meander around the old cobbled streets, gaze at beautiful frescos and grab a celebratory coffee or beer in the main square.

Following the trail was a dream. Navigationally there’s just one rule – keep the lake to your right. And despite my rocky start I began to settle into the saddle. I made my way under trees and over bridges covered with love locks; I stopped to take a walk, locked up my bike and – for what wasn’t to be the first time that day -briefly lost the key. At some point I made my transition into Switzerland. There was no fanfare; no passport office, no duty free. Only the greetings subtly changed, from “Gruss Gott” to “Gruezi”. Despite my initial reluctance to pedal I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt. Kilometres seemed to melt by with each turn of the spokes, my mind being distracted by cuckoo-clock houses, outdoor art and glimpses of the sparkling lake. By the time I arrived at my hotel in Arbon I felt like I could have cycled through the night. However, the promise of beer and spatzle (noodles) made me reassess my enthusiasm.

 DAY 2 – Distance to cycle: 67km

Ice cream count: 2

The next day was to be less gentle. Between me and a comfortable bed was over 60km of trail and my legs were a little heavy from the previous day. The air was hot and the sun glaring as I finally repacked my panniers (after having to look for my bike lock key – again). I set off, racing alongside a train that I could have taken to cut out 20km. Giant Swiss flags lined the streets and ferries emerged onto the lake at the harbour town of Romanshorn. The churches came thick and fast – tall white ones with elegant spires and friendly clock faces, then ivy-coated giants that looked like they’d been topped by giant witches’ hats. The German border was coming up, but I wouldn’t be crossing it yet.

Leaving the hectic traffic at Kreuzlingen, the route headed inland. Suddenly I was surrounded by farmland, allotments and barns. I slurped down an ice cream in the small village of Gottlieben, with its odd collection of dome-shaped turrets, oriental dragons and dark wooden shutters, before weaving my wheels through fields of wheat. An ugly grey and graffitied concrete bunker came into view, then I emerged back by the lake at Ermatingen. Children were jumping into the water, which certainly looked like a good idea – but then so did another ice cream (or two).

Reichenau

Reichenau – This island, connected to the mainland by a causeway, has a rich ecclesiastical history, vineyards and a great deli.

I trundled on and soon I could see the slopes on the opposite shore, dotted with churches and wooden huts. A downhill swoop brought me back to the water and to the town of Stein am Rhein; my hotel was within reach. Stein am Rhein is one of those towns you can spend hours ambling around with no particular purpose. Encased within the remains of medieval walls, each building has some interesting oddity. There are gilded frescos depicting real events and myths (created to boast of the residents’ affluence), an imposing former monastery (now a church), tantalising wooden doors leading into hidden alleyways and small bronze statues of cats. That night I sipped a beer and watched the sun set while crazy children leapt off the bridge into the water below. Though I kept my feet on the ground I could feel myself beginning to fall for this part of the world.

See Saxony In The Snow – Dresden, Germany

Dresden is Germany’s phoenix city – rebuilt and restored from the ashes of its WWII destruction to reclaim its former majesty as a cultural capital. Come high summer its squares are packed with tourists keen to witness this profound transformation – but see it in winter and you might have corners of it to yourself, with chunks of ice drifting along the Elbe, and a dusting of snow crowning the spires and rooftops.

Get your bearings with a trip to the Frauenkirche – the church whose Baroque dome affords sublime views over the city, currently celebrating the 10th anniversary of its reconstruction.

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Frauenkirche Church – Dresden, Germany

Take part in a local winter tradition by boarding the Lossnitzgrundbahn on a journey north into the Saxon countryside. Hauled by a chugging steam locomotive, services rattle through Dresden’s suburbs, before passengers dismount near Moritzburg Castle – a hunting lodge surrounded by sprawling parkland, likely swathed in mid-winter snow.

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Mortitzburg Castle, near Dresden, was built on an artificial island and began life as a 16th-century hunting lodge

MAKE IT HAPPEN

CityJet is the only airline directly connecting Dresden with UK, with flights departing from London City.
Dresden is also within a direct 90-minute train ride Leipzig-Halle Airport
The Lossnitzgrudbahn narrow-gauge train runs six timesdaily, departing from Radebeul Ost station at the northern edge of Dresden. From here, it’s a half-hour ride to the grounds of Mortitzburg Castle. The castle itself is shut in winter, though the grounds remain open, with skaters often venturing onto the frozen lakes.
Stay at Hotel Schloss Eckberg – a turreted stately home set in leafy grounds on the eastern edge of the city.

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Hotel Schloss Eckberg – Dresden, Germany

Germany: Adventures in the Heart of Bavaria

With 16 national parks, countless stunning lakes and a whole swathe of alpine trails to explore, both on foot and by bike, Germany is the perfect natural escape …

Think Germany and you can’t help but think Berlin – with its fascinating history and urban cool – or the legendary annual gathering that is Munich’s Oktoberfest. Yet, for anyone looking for a natural escape, there are few better destinations.

From the coastal mudflats of Hamburg to the Black Forest of the south-west, to the alpine ridges of Bavaria, Germany is a country packed full of dramatic and diverse landscapes just waiting to be explored.

Across the country, a vast network of cycle routes and walking trails slice their way through ancient woodland, up onto mountain passes and around glistening lakes. Whether exploring on two wheels or on foot, the sight of Germany’s serrated peaks is a rallying cry to anyone in search of a picturesque outing.

Then there’s the many nature reserves, biospheres and national parks that scatter the land. And keep your eyes peeled as the country is home to wildlife such as mountain ibex and wild boar. Get ready to take a leap into the wild …

Bavaria – traditionally different and unique

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Neuschwanstein Castle

Beyond its fairy-tale castles and beer halls, Bavaria is a land of old traditions, wild forests, snow-crested peaks and some of the most beautiful scenery in Germany …

The Free State of Bavaria is a region steeped in ancient customs. From pop-up village bars (zoiglstubes) fed by ‘community breweries’ to seasonal cattle drives (almabtrieb) stretching from Alpine pastures high in the mountains to the lush valleys below, it is a land where tradition remains a part of modern life.

Each area even has its own customs, as unique to that village or town as the high peaks and pristine lakes that make a visit here so memorable. And there’s no better way to experience them than by trekking Bavaria’s abundant trails, mountains and reserves,

The region is home to the Bavarian Forest National Park – the first created in Germany – and an unusual spot in itself. The park is wild in the most literal sense; its hands-off policy has allowed its forests and bogs to develop as nature intended, proving a boon to its native wildlife, including three-toed woodpeckers, wild cats and the rare boreal owl.

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A wolf at Bavarian Forest National Park

Nor is it Bavaria’s only protected area. The peaks of Berchtesgaden National Park are a haven for hikers, with a stunning trail linking the southern part of beautiful Lake Königssee to the equally serene Obersee. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the odd raft loaded with cattle, making the same journey they have made for hundreds of yean.

Away from the forests and peaks, the region is also sketched with a network of cycle paths. Explore its narrow valleys, winding rivers and mountain passes under your own steam, or simply drive the Alpine Road that weaves through the south’s high-altitude lakes and snow-flecked peaks for a bite-sized version of Bavaria.

And lastly, a word should be spared for the region’s lakes, with the areas around Ruhpolding and Oberaudorf blessed. But no matter what you do, from brewery trails and mountain escapes to diving into the region’s traditional pursuits, there’s no end of possibilities in this unique part of Germany.

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Lake Königssee