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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Germany.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Germany.
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.
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 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.
The Bodensee, also known as the “Swabian Sea,” is Germany’s largest lake and the closest it can come to the Riviera. In Germany’s southernmost region and shared with Austria and Switzerland, it is best seen from the corniche road that follows the lake’s northern German shore with its string of pretty resorts.
Countless ferries crisscross the waters offering all kinds of excursions to the three different countries; most special is the “paradise island” of Mainau with its masses of riotous flowers and exotic vegetation. A scented isle that evokes balmy images of the Mediterranean, it was occupied in the 13th century by Teutonic knights who later built the island’s Baroque castle in 1732.
The Grand Duke of Baden took possession in 1853 and began bringing home rare plants from his travels abroad. His great-grandson and the present-day summer resident of the castle, Count Lennart Bernadotte, has kept up the family passion for botany. The lake’s near- tropical, moist microclimate leads to spectacular foliage and flowers, including more than 1,000 varieties of roses.
Konstanz is the lake’s largest and liveliest resort town, with a beautiful medieval core perfectly intact (it avoided WW II bombing thanks to its position at the border of politically neutral Switzerland). On its own small island, tethered to town by a causeway, is the Steigenberger Inselhotel, which began life in the 13th century as a cloistered monastery.
Reformer Jan Hus was held here before his execution, and Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin of hot-air-balloon fame was born here when it was a private residence. The terraced restaurant, where fresh fish plucked from the lake land daily on the menu, and most of the spacious balconied rooms enjoy lovely views of the lake.
The Traube Tonbach is one of the Black Forest’s great resorts: big, well equipped, excellently situated in a lush green valley in this fabled southwest corner of Germany. There are spa and beauty treatments and sporting facilities galore, all of which pale next to the large hotel’s famous restaurant Die Schwarzwaldstube (Black Forest Room).
France and its gastronomic capital of Strasbourg are just over the border, and the French influence is reflected in the refined style of head chef Harald Wohlfahrt: witness his signature grilled pigeon with chanterelle mushrooms. In the fifteen years he has held court here, Wohlfahrt has brought the kitchen from strength to strength.
A few days of meandering through this ancient forest with such sublime food awaiting your return is the perfect scenario. Despite the density of its lofty fir trees, this southwestern corner of Germany is filled with sunny charm at every turn. The hotel, owned and run by the Finkbeiner family for more than 200 years, is within striking distance of dozens of different hiking, bike-riding, and motoring trails and a memorable historic railroad journey.
Hitch up with the classic Schwartzwald Hochstrasse (the Black Forest Crest Road), from Baden-Baden in the northwest to Freudenstadt in the southeast for 41 miles of natural beauty.
Baden-Baden, located at the northern edge of the dense Black Forest, has been known as the “summer capital of Europe” since the mid-19th century, when Queen Victoria and Napoleon III basked in its curative springs. Its dignified old-world glory can be found in the dripping elegance of the gilt-and-stucco casino, in the shaded Lichtentaler Allee, a lushly landscaped promenade along the Oos River, and in the pastel houses where Europe’s royal families and high society made their second homes.
Today Baden-Baden is once again living unashamedly on leisure and pleasure. The new palatial Caracalla baths have no fewer than seven pools. There are 300 miles of hiking paths on the periphery of the Black Forest, and a 13-mile bike path meanders through rich farm country.
The rich and royal now stay at the Brenner’s Park Hotel and Spa. One of the few remaining grand spa hotels in Europe, the 125-year-old hotel commands a perfect location overlooking the Oos River. The columns and Pompeiian-style frescoed walls of the hotel’s large heated glass-enclosed schwimmbad call to mind the ancient Roman general Caracalla, whose Roman legionnaires first discovered the curative powers of Baden-Baden’s thermal springs in the 3rd century A.D.
The hotel also offers sophisticated beauty and health care, and a nearby golf course that the Duke of Windsor called “a real pearl.” In Baden-Baden the Belle Epoque lives on; the pace is as unhurried as in bygone times, when one came to take the restorative cures of the ionizing springs. “I fully believe I left my rheumatism in Baden-Baden,” wrote Mark Twain. “Baden-Baden is welcome to it.”